When it comes to yuca root, looks can be deceiving. Its rough, fibrous exterior may not look appealing, but yuca, also known as cassava and manioc, is often prepared in a similar way to potatoes: boiled, fried, baked or mashed. People in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia eat this root vegetable, and each country puts its own spin and flavor on yuca dishes.
One cup of raw yuca has 330 calories, almost all from carbohydrates. The same amount offers less than 1 gram of fat and almost 3 grams protein. Yuca's most notable nutrient is vitamin C, with one raw cup providing a whopping 71 percent DV. The vegetable is also a good source of dietary fiber, providing 15 percent DV, folate (14 percent DV) and potassium (16 percent DV). Also in yuca's favor as a health food are its anti-inflammatory properties, which are potent enough that yuca has long been used medicinally in Native American cultures.
Most yuca dishes start with boiling the vegetable. Cut off the tapered ends of the yuca with a sharp knife, then divide it into manageable sections. Slice down the length of each section on all sides to remove the peel. Cut each section in half lengthwise and remove the woody cores, which resemble white string. Cut each section into cubes, or leave them as is, if you prefer. Add the peeled yuca to a pot of boiling water and cook until it's fork tender. Drain the water and serve. In some West African countries, boiled yuca is served with saucy meat stews poured over it. In Caribbean countries, including Cuba and Puerto Rico, boiled yuca is often seasoned with mojo sauce, made with olive oil, garlic, salt, lemon juice and chopped parsley.
In some Caribbean and South American countries, including Cuba, Peru and Columbia, yuca is fried and served with a flavorful sauce. To fry yuca, cut the peeled and cored yuca into thick french fry shapes. Boil the yuca in water just until tender. Deep-fry the yuca until it's golden-brown on all sides, then drain on paper towels. Season with salt immediately. Fried yuca is typically served with mojo sauce in Cuba. In Peru, fried yuca is served with a spicy cheese sauce that includes cheese, cooked eggs and a Peruvian yellow chili known as aji amarillo. In Columbia, it's a spicy avocado sauce made with habanero peppers, cooked eggs, lime juice, vinegar and diced onions.
Yuca is served like mashed potatoes in the Dominican Republic, where it is often served for breakfast. Peel and cut the yuca into large chunks, removing the woody cores. Add to a pot of cold water and bring to a boil, cooking the yuca until tender. Drain the water, leaving just a little to make mashing easier. Use a potato masher or food processor to mash the yuca, just as you would mashed potatoes. Add butter, salt and milk and mash until the yuca is smooth and creamy. You can also add shredded cheese.
Yuca is also served as a sweet snack or dessert in several Latin American countries. To make sweet yuca fritters, peel and grate the yuca, then combine it with egg yolks, sugar and baking powder to form a thick dough. Roll the dough by hand into bite-sized balls. Deep-fry the yuca balls until they are a deep golden-brown, then drain on paper towels. Drizzle the fried balls with syrup before serving, or roll them in cinnamon sugar. Yuca cakes are also common in South America. Recipes vary, but the batter typically includes grated yuca, eggs, baking powder, coconut milk, shredded coconut, sugar and cinnamon. Pour the batter into a greased baking pan and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.