The cookbook Tasting Brazil (Macmillan, 1992), by the historian Jessica B. Harris, provided me a richer picture in its recipes and descriptions of the many ways that cassava is used in Brazil—one of the homelands of cassava and therefore, I reasoned, as good a place to start as any. Take farinha de mandioca, a coarse meal made from cassava that's been soaked, dried, ground, pressed, and (sometimes) toasted. Brazilian cooks further toast this cassava meal in butter or palm oil to make farofa, a crunchy condiment found on tables throughout Brazil. On the country's northeastern coast, there is also vatapa, a creamy, polenta-like dish of coconut milk and palm oil thickened with farinha de mandioca and studded with shrimp, fish, or chicken. In the same region, fresh cassava is boiled and mashed, shaped into fritters around a filling of spiced ground beef, and deep-fried to make bolinhos de macaxeira recheado. Farther south, Brazilians use two kinds of powdered tapioca starch—a sour, fermented kind called polvilho azedo, and an unfermented kind, polvilho doce—to make a gougere-like pastry, pao de queijo, enriched with grated hard cheese. In Tasting Brazil, Harris notes that cassava even "turns up batter-fried in Sao Paulo's Japanese tempuras."