Shopping in the produce section of any South Florida grocery store means you’re going to see lots of root vegetables everywhere!
I’m talking yuca, malanga, plantains, and boñiato. Root vegetables are a big part of our Cuban culture and cuisine, particularly yuca.
If you want to learn all about yuca and how to cook with it, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive right in!
What is Yuca?
Yuca (pronounced yoo-ka), also known as cassava root, manioc, mandioca, or Brazilian arrowroot, is a starchy root vegetable from the root of the cassava plant that you often find in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, and in parts of Asia and Africa.
These versatile tubers are long and tapered with brown skin, similar to the skin of Russett potatoes except more waxy and rough.
On the other hand, yucca is not the same as yuca. Even though they’re spelled almost the same, yucca is an ornamental desert plant with perennial shrubs. They don’t have an edible root like yuca.
How To Peel & Cut Yuca
Unlike potatoes, fresh yuca has a tough, waxy exterior which means you can’t peel its exterior with a vegetable peeler. You have to use a very sharp knife, not a paring knife, to cut this rough tuber.
Here’s how to peel and cut a yuca:
- Using a very sharp knife (be careful!), cut the ends of the yuca first.
- Next, you want to make a cut all the way down the vegetable deep enough that it cuts through the thick brown skin. Don’t cut all the way through, it’s more like you’re scoring it so the skin can be peeled off the flesh.
- Lastly, you want to slowly and gently separate the skin from the flesh using a knife. This is where cutting the ends first can help to stand up the yuca on the table so you can cut the skin off easily.
Depending on what recipe you’re making, you would proceed by either cutting the yuca into:
- Chunks for boiled yuca
- Diced or chopped for buñuelos, stews + soups
- Fries for yuca frita
- Thin slices using a mandoline for yuca chips
How To Cook With Yuca
You can eat these root vegetables boiled, fried, or even mashed, however, it needs to be peeled first before you can cook them. I’ve linked a few recipes below.
Us Cubans love making yuca with mojo, especially for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) which is made by boiling the peeled and cut chunks of yuca and serving it with a citrusy-garlicky mojo sauce.
Our Christmas1 Day lunch then involves turning that leftover yuca into yuca fries (yuca frita) by cutting the boiled/cooked yuca into fries and frying them until crispy. I enjoy eating the yuca frita with cilantro garlic sauce.
As if that wasn’t enough, this root vegetable is also used to make a dessert! We make Cuban Buñuelos for Christmas which is a pastry made from yuca and malanga that’s mashed then turned into a dough, shaped into a figure 8, and fried to perfection.
What Does Yuca Taste Like?
The insides of the yuca root are a white, cream color. When cooked, yuca has a slightly sweet, mild, and nutty taste with a creamy texture.
Difference between Fresh Yuca and Frozen Yuca
Fresh yuca has a paraffin wax on the outer coat which is harder to peel while frozen yuca is already peeled and cut in chunks.
The fresh kind is found in the produce section. The frozen kind comes in a bag and typically can be found in the frozen Hispanic section of the grocery store.
Personally, I prefer the frozen yuca for 3 reasons:
- Already peeled (woohoo!)
- Convenient + saves you time
- No fibrous core!
Just make sure the frozen yuca is fully thawed before you start cooking.
Yuca’s Fibrous Core
Boiled yuca always has this string in it, called a fibrous core, that is not edible. This is what it looks like. The frozen kind has this string already removed.
When cooking the fresh kind, you want to remove this string after boiling the peeled chunks of yuca.
Yuca is dense, full of fiber, low in calories, gluten-free, fat-free, and rich in carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. It’s loaded with vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B, magnesium, and potassium.
You can store unpeeled yuca in the fridge for up to 1 week. If you don’t plan on using it in a week or less, you can peel it, cut into chunks, transfer it to a freezer bag, remove all the air from the freezer bag, and store it in the freezer for no longer than 30 days.
Recipes Made With Yuca
1. Cuban Yuca con Mojo
2. Yuca Frita (Yuca Fries / Fried Yuca)
3. Yuca Chips (Cassava Chips)
4. Cuban Bunuelos with Cinnamon-Anise Syrup
5. Sopa de Pollo (Cuban Chicken Soup)
How will you be using yuca next? Tell me in the comments below!
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