The Cassava Variations

by B.K.

Research and recipe testing for this issue’s story about cassava (“Taking Root”) left us very much in awe of the tropical tuberous root. After all, it contains twice the starch of your average potato—and starch not only accounts for about 75 percent of people’s caloric intake worldwide, it’s also a fundamental element of cooking, one that can mean the difference between watery and thick, mushy and crunchy, mere subsistence and food that’s truly satisfying. Cassava starch contains less fat and protein than, say, wheat flour or cornstarch, which means its flavor is more neutral; it also thickens more quickly, which makes it a handy ingredient for adding to a preparation at the last minute.

Tapioca Pudding

Cooks around the world have found different ways to use cassava, and so it's available for purchase in a wide variety of forms. The one most familiar to North American cooks, tapioca, is the pure starch extracted from cassava by pulping, filtering, and centrifuging. Tapioca comes in a fine powder, coarser granules, or the pearl form found in tapioca pudding, all of which are used to thicken gravies and sauces. Many cooks prefer tapioca to other kinds of starch because it tends to bring an attractive, glossy sheen to otherwise dull-looking preparations. See Recipe For Tapioca Pudding »

Farofa de Ovo e Cebolinha (Eggs and Scallions with Toasted Cassava Flour)

Farinha de mandioca is made by soaking and grinding cassava, then drying the pulp to produce a coarse meal. If it's labeled torrada, it means the cassava meal has already been toasted; the untoasted kind is usually labeled branca (white). Cooks in Brazil use both types to add body to all kinds of dishes; cooked in butter or palm oil, farinha becomes farofa, a condiment kept on Brazilian tables for spooning into any dish that could use some body or crunch. See Recipe For Farofa de Ovo e Cebolinha (Eggs and Scallions with Toasted Cassava Flour) »
In Spanish-speaking Latin America, cassava is called yuca and is thinly sliced and deep-fried to make crisp yuca chips, a popular snack.
Garri is a cassava meal made in West Africa via a process similar to the one used to make Brazilian farinha de mandioca. Garri is allowed to ferment before drying, which gives it a pleasant sour flavor. It comes in three grades: rough, which is sometimes soaked and mixed with sugar and evaporated milk to make a rich pudding; medium, which is used in much the same way that Brazilian farinha is, to thicken various dishes; and smooth, a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour (with a similar consistency) that can be used to make pancakes or breads.
Cooks from Central and South America to the Caribbean, tropical Africa, and South and Southeast Asia prize the tuber itself for its mellow, nutty flavor and silky texture, and you can find it in markets fresh, frozen, or canned.

Yuca con Mojo (Cassava with Garlic and Citrus)

Cassava is delicious boiled and dressed with a spicy condiment like a Latin American mojo or a Southeast Asian sambal. The tuber also has a wonderful capacity to release its starch into a stew, soup, or casserole, adding body and a velvety consistency. See Recipe For Yuca con Mojo (Cassava with Garlic and Citrus)»
In Guyana and a few other places in the southern Caribbean, cassareep is made from juice extracted from grated cassava that's boiled down along with sugar, chiles, and warming spices like clove and cinnamon to produce a thick, intense, and inky syrup. Cassareep not only has an appealing, bittersweet flavor, it also has powerful preservative properties. It's a key ingredient in Guyanese pepper pot, a meaty stew traditionally kept on the stove for years at a time, with fresh ingredients and more cassareep introduced continually. It's an ancient recipe, a legacy of the Amerindian people who first cultivated cassava and recognized what an astonishingly versatile ingredient it can be.

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