Fried yuca strips, the Latin American french fry. Yuca is popular in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. It’s the third largest source of carbohydrates after corn. According to archaeologists, yuca made its first appearance in the Americas long before the arrival of Columbus. It is thought to have been a staple of Pre-Columbian people since it is often found represented in indigenous art. Yuca is club-like in appearance (yes, think caveman club), brown in color with a slightly scaly looking skin, closely resembling the bark of a tree. The inside is a creamy white.
The yuca plant is drought tolerant, a saving grace in times of bad harvests. Yuca also grows well in poor soil. Given this valuable botanical attribute, it is not surprising that yuca occupies a sacred place in Latin American folklore. Legend has it that once during a terrible harvest, a woman lost her baby to starvation. She was so distraught that she buried the child under the dirt floor of her hut. In the middle of the night a good spirit, took pity on the woman’s sorrow, sneaked into her hut and transformed the lifeless body of the baby into a root that eventually grew into a yuca tree. From then on the tree fed the village and that’s how it became a staple in the diet of the indigenous peoples.
Yuca is not only enjoyed in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also in Africa and Southeast Asia with Thailand being one of the top exporters. Although yuca is rich in carbohydrates, it lacks protein.
Cooking yuca is a bit of a challenge since you first have to peel the tough outer bark and then boil it for about 30 minutes. After it is boiled and cools down, you can cut it into strips (like French Fries, but thicker) and then fry it (my favorite). Fried yuca strips can be enjoyed with a multitude of sauces/dips, from the lowly ketchup to the more sophisticated aioli (my personal preference). Yuca can also be eaten boiled and seasoned with salt and garlic for those who prefer a simpler taste. Yuca is one of the main ingredients in Sancocho-a typical Latin American soup (yes, a recipe is in the works)!
I normally like top buy the frozen yuca because it has already been peeled, to save a step (you got it, I don’t like peeling). Goya makes a consistently good product. Serve with aioli if you want, or feel free to experiment with your favorite dip!
Here is a favorite recipe from my childhood. Fried Yuca strips or cassava fries with a garlic aioli. These are very similar to potato french fries but have a creamier and sweeter flavor. You will love these!
- 1 lb frozen yuca (I like Goya brand frozen yuca)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 qts water
Oil for frying - I like canola or peanut oil
- In a 4 qt. pot add water (about 3/4 of the way up) and add the salt. Bring to a boil and add the yuca. Boil for about 20-30 minutes.
- Drain and allow to cool.
- Cut yuca lengthwise into strips.
- Fry in hot oil a few at a time until golden brown.
- Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with a little salt
- Serve with aioli or your favorite dip