Native to Central America, yuca is a widely used root in Latin cooking. Also referred to as cassava, mandioca, or manioc, the tropical root is treated as a vegetable and is found in a wide assortment of Latin dishes. Since the root spoils quickly, it is rare to find fresh cassava, however the dried versions are more readily found.
Dried cassava roots are used to make starch tapioca or cassava flour. The starch is used as a thickener in soups, while the flour is used to make biscuits. Since the flour is both wheat-free and gluten-free, it is an ideal substitute flour for those with celiac disease.
Although the root is normally harvested for eating, it’s the leaves that contain the most nutrients. The cassava root is very starchy, comparable to a potato. There are two varieties of the yuca root, both of which are consumed.
The first is called bitter cassava, and this particular root needs to be handled carefully and cleaned especially well, as it contains high levels of natural cyanide. When left in the sun for long periods of time, the cyanide will eventually disperse and make the root safe for eating. The second variety is the sweet cassava. Although it too contains cyanide, the levels are low enough that the root can be cleaned and eaten like any other conventional vegetable.
For centuries, Native Americans used the root for its numerous health properties. The root is believed to have antioxidant properties due to its resveratrol content. The root also contains high levels of saponin, a natural property that helps to lower cholesterol. Whether you eat yuca for its starchy goodness or potential health benefits; here is a quick and easy recipe that can be combined with a main dish, or with something simpler:
Recipe for Yuca Balls
2 or 3 large yuca roots
4 ounces of fresh cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes (a white stringy cheese works best)
2 slices of bread
Your favorite sauce for dipping
Cut yuca into 3-inch pieces and place in boiling water. Cook until soft, about 30 minutes. Push soft vegetable through a strainer to remove all woody strings and pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mash and let cool for 15 minutes.
Roll 2 tablespoons of root into a ball with your hands. Place a cube of cheese in the center and fry in vegetable oil until golden. Whip egg, mix bread, and crackers together and roll each cooked ball into the egg and bread mixture. Refry the cheese filled balls and serve with your favorite sauce. Enjoy!