I have decided to try planting cassava as a crop here. I’ve now tried four recipes for cassava/yuca that we’ve all liked, and this one was a big winner with the kids. The only drawback is the time involved in preparing cassava. Breaking the preparation into separate steps would ameliorate this to a certain extent, such as grating several cassava roots at a time and freezing the grated cassava, or boiling several and then freezing the boiled cassava, ready to be chucked into hot oil.
Cassava is so inexpensive, why bother going through the time and hassle of growing and preparing it from scratch at home? Food security, that’s why. This is an experiment in food security. Most cereal crops don’t grow here. If for some reason food stops being shipped into Florida, what caloric staples would we have? What grows easily here? Many people would automatically assume corn, beans, potatoes… but those plants don’t love growing here without a lot of chemical fertilizer, irrigation, and pesticides. What does grow here with little work or irrigation are the deep southern staples- sweet potatoes, peanuts, and field peas, and we are right on the edge of being able to grow the almost-perennial subtropical staples like cassava. Even if this knowledge never becomes necessary in my lifetime, my kids will know how to grow and prepare cassava from scratch, too. The best reason to cook cassava is flavor- it’s delicious!
Oven Baked Cassava Bread with Pork
3 large cassava roots
2 tbl lard or olive oil
1/2 lb pork stew meat
4 cups water
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp chile flakes
1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
Buy cassava/yuca roots that are firm and not too wide. Big roots often have a woody core. Check carefully for soft spots, bruises, or moldy spots. Cassava doesn’t store well, so packaging companies coat the roots with wax to keep them from drying out too quickly. This is fine, since the peel is poisonous and you have to cut it off anyway.
Get a sturdy grater and place it on a large bowl or pot with several inches of water in the bottom. Peel the brown skin and the purple inner layer away, until the surface is white. Discard the peels. Then grate all of the roots into the water. This is a tough job, get someone to help you and take turns. The water will turn milky from the sap. When the roots are completely grated, discard this water and repeat three more times with clean water, until the water runs almost clear.
Now take your pork and cut it into small pieces. Put the meat, water, oregano, thyme, and chile flakes in a small pot. Bring it to a boil, then simmer rapidly until the water evaporates and the pork begins to fry in its own fat. Stir the pork until it browns and let the bottom of the pot get a little brown. Remove the pork and add 2 cups of water back to the pot. Scrape the bottom to get all that browned goodness mixed with the water. Set broth aside. Chop pork.
Turn your oven on to 400. Heat the lard in a large non-stick pot or frying pan. Working a handful at a time, squeeze the grated cassava as dry as you can. Add the dry cassava to the hot pan, stirring often. Once all of the grated cassava is in the pan, add the chopped pork, and mix it in thoroughly. Then start adding the pork broth about 1/2 cup at a time. As the cassava cooks it will absorb the liquid and turn from white to yellow. Keep stirring and adding liquid until it’s the consistency of bread dough and almost all yellow. Take it off the heat and dump into a bowl. It should be a similar consistency to raw potato latkes.
Grease a baking sheet with lard or olive oil. As soon as the cassava dough is cool enough to handle and the oven reaches 400, start scooping out the dough and shaping into patties. The size is up to you- I found that they stuck together better when they were about 3″ across. Place the patties on the baking sheet. If the dough sticks to your hands, use a little more oil and oil your hands. Once they’re all formed, put in the oven. Check them in 20 minutes- the bottoms should be nice and browned. Carefully flip with a spatula and bake for another 20 minutes until they’re nice and golden brown and crispy on both sides. Sprinkle with a little more salt as soon as they come out of the oven. Serve immediately.
Oven Baked Cassava Bread with Chorizo
This version is a little faster because it uses prepared cassava, but the texture is more like mochi than latkes.
1 lb package of frozen grated cassava
1 link of Spanish-style chorizo, chopped fine, about 3 oz
2 c chicken broth, preferably homemade
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp salt
Lard, butter, or oil
Thaw the cassava in the bag. Line a colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Dump the thawed cassava into the cheesecloth, pull the corners up to make a bag, and squeeze as much liquid out as possible. Discard the liquid.
Turn the oven on to 375. Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat and add 2-3 tbl lard or oil. Add the chorizo and fry until slightly crispy. Add the garlic, salt, and oregano, toss, then add half of the grated cassava. Stir to get the meat and spices evenly distributed, then add the rest of the cassava. Stir thoroughly until the mixture is starting to sizzle. Then start adding the chicken broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture turns from white and opaque to mostly yellow and translucent and soft, stirring constantly. You may need to add water or broth to get the dough to a soft bread-dough-like consistency. Once it’s there, dump the dough into a bowl to let cool.
Grease a baking sheet with lard or olive oil. As soon as the cassava dough is cool enough to handle and the oven reaches 375, start scooping out the dough and shaping into patties. The size is up to you, mine were about 3″ across. Place the patties on the baking sheet. If the dough sticks to your hands, use a little more oil and oil your hands. Once they’re all formed, put in the oven. Check them in 30 minutes- the bottoms should be nice and browned and the tops crusty and golden. These will rise slightly from trapped steam, then collapse as they cool. Serve immediately.