Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fried Cassava Wedges or Yuca Frita Desi Style

Cassava goes by many names. In the US, it is widely known in English by its Spanish name, yuca.  (Sometimes spelled yucca, but not to be confused with the spiky perennial decorative plant yucca, so I will spell it yuca here.) Yuca is a delicious, starchy, potato-like tuber with its own distinct taste. In terms of subcontinental cooking, yuca is more of a South Indian ingredient. In the North, it is only widely known through its by-product, sabudana, or tapioca pearls, which are used in a variety of preparations.  Note that sabudana and sago/sagudana are not the same thing, though many people mistakenly think that they are. They are actually made from different sources. Barring a few Gujarati origin East African friends who I have observed grew up eating cassava as mogo (from Kiswahili mhogo), I am not familiar with it being used much in the North of the subcontinent. Please let me know if I am mistaken about this, because I am always interested in new regional culinary information and recipes. Yuca is eaten in South India in a variety of forms. In some parts of South India, yuca is cut into wedges and cooked in wet gravy preparations (aka 'curry'). Cassava pops up in many cuisines from the Americas to Africa to Asia, but in terms of subcontinental flavor, there are also a lot of diasporic desi recipes for cassava, from Trinidad to Fiji. It is well worth looking into recipes to expand your repertoire with this simple yet delicious tuber. Cassava leaves are also delectable, and can be cooked like any saag.

I enjoy fried yuca, and I wanted to share with you how I make it at home.

Ingredients: yuca, chaat masala (I use Shan brand), roasted red chile powder, roasted cumin powder, and salt. I am not specifying the quantity of powdered spice, but I'd say it is a pinch of each spice per yuca that you use. (I seem to love to deep fry things and sprinkle them with chaat masala. I love chaat masala!)

Put some water in a deep pot and bring it to a boil. Take your yuca and cut off both ends of it. Cut it in half latitudinally. Then use your knife to peel off the skin. (The skin contains toxins that you don't want to eat.) Once the two halves of yuca are peeled, cut them down the middle length wise, and remove the long inner fiber if there is one. Don't worry if your yuca has any purple coloring. That is normal. Submerge your yuca in water and strain it a few times, rinsing away the excess starch.

Once your water is boiling, put the yuca pieces in it. Allow the yuca to boil for about 25 minutes. The yuca should be cooked completely, and you should be able to break it apart into starchy shards if you press it down. There will be visible ridges in your cooked yuca, and these will create a delicious mouth texture when crisp fried, plus the seasoning will sink into the crevices. Yum! I digress.

You have removed your yuca from the boiling water. Set it on a paper towel to dry. Allow it to cool completely and air dry very well. I sometimes allow it to cool, refrigerate it, then bring it to room temperature and fry it the next day. That is also an option if you don't have time to complete the process all at once.

Once your yuca is air dried and at room temperature, cut it into wedges. You can make them larger or smaller depending on your own preference, since the inside of the yuca is already cooking and your goal is simply to crisp fry the exterior rather than to cook through the tuber. Heat some oil in a pan, and fry it till lightly golden in color and crispy. You may shallow fry or deep fry at your discretion. Take care not to over-fry it, as it will dry out and become dense. Ideally, each yuca wedge should have a very crispy exterior and a soft, moist interior.




Set your yuca fries on a paper towel for a few moments to remove some of the oil.

Now here is a trick: Take a brown paper sack. (Do not use a plastic bag as steam will be trapped inside and your yuca will lose crispness.) Pour in a dash each of all of the dried masalas and salt. Use more or less masala depending on how much yuca you have and how spicy you want your fries to be. Put the yuca fries in the paper sack, roll it closed, then shake shake shake your bag to evenly distribute the salt and masala.





Oila, yuca in hot and tangy chaat masala!

Serve alone, with tamarind chutney, or ketchup. This can be a snack, or a side dish with a meal. My kids love spicy yuca fries, too.