Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cassava (or manioc, or yuca, or tapioca, or...)

Last week a visitor to this MFAA-Interchange blog asked me what to do with cassava root.  I thought my answer might be helpful to other readers, especially since it is a great alternative starch both as a vegetable (e.g. in place of potato) and as a baking ingredient.

First, though, keep in mind that cassava (or cassava root) is also known/sold as manioc, manioc root, mandioca, yuca, yuca root, or even tapioca (yes, the same kind that you find in pudding).  It is NOT related to the casava (or casaba) melon, and NOT the same as “yucca” (which is a type of aloe plant) even though you may see this spelling used.  Cassava root is a starchy white tropical tuber that is said to be high in Vitamin C and fiber.  Sometimes taro root is used interchangeably with cassava root, but be aware that these two are NOT from the same biological/food family.  Similarly, “tapioca” can come from at least three different biological/food families, so you may not be able to tell from the package whether it’s really cassava or not.

Cassava is sold in several forms that can be used in numerous ways; the forms most commonly sold – and most easily found in the USA – are frozen, fresh, or canned cassava root, and sometimes cassava meal/flour.  Generally the frozen and canned versions are pre-peeled; the fresh version looks a bit like a thick tree-branch and requires peeling before use. 

I also use a wonderful gluten-free commercial flour mix called “Chebe” which uses manioc (cassava) as its primary ingredient; I have successfully used Chebe to make breadsticks, hamburger buns, bourekas and turnovers, and I still have more ideas to explore!

The frozen cassava root that I buy at the supermarket (Goya brand -- good brand for a lot of different Hispanic foods) I just boil in water until soft and then drain, mash, and treat like mashed potatoes (mixed with cream, butter, garlic powder), either eating "as is" or making a sort of pancake with the mash and lightly frying in oil or butter.  You can also freeze the "pancakes" before frying them and then take them out to fry whenever you want some.  They are a nice snack or accompaniment to a meal.

Cassava meal/flour can be found online or at ethnic markets/food stores (ranging from Mexican/South American to Caribbean/African to Indian/Asian especially Filipino) and can be used much like wheat flour to make cakes etc. I personally haven't used it yet, but I have found quite a few recipes online – have been trying to find time to make them, and will share with you as soon as I can. Below are a few links where I found some great-looking recipes...If you’ve got a good recipe using cassava, please share it with us on this blog too!  

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