Cassava (aka: Yuca, Manioc), Ñame (Caribbean Yam), Yautia (aka Taro), Batata (aka Boniato, or Sweet potato)… if you haven’t come across these staple root vegetables of Hispanic and Caribbean cuisines, what better time than autumn, when roasted roots and chunky stews take front and center?
I was formally introduced to my Hispanic roots when I had the opportunity to take a tour of NYC’s historic Essex Street Market with Lorena Drago, a fabulous dietitian, author and diabetes educator. Lorena opened my eyes to the wide, wonderful world of starchy root vegetables that hail from the southern hemisphere. Cooked, these root veggies would generally take the place of a potato or serving of cooked grains as the carbohydrate in your perfectly-balanced plate. Generally, these root veggies are good-to-excellent sources of potassium (which helps lower blood pressure, especially in conjunction with a reduced sodium diet) and Vitamin C; and while not extremely high in fiber, will have more fiber than a calorically-equivalent portion of white OR brown rice, which makes them a nutritious substitute.
If you’re ready to get in touch with your Hispanic roots, consider this:
- Yautia (Taro) should be relieved of its thick and sometimes hairy peel (not unlike that of a coconut) before cooking; Drago describes its flavor as sort of a “combination of artichoke heart and boiled chestnuts.” Um…hello? Could that possibly sound more appealing?
- Ñame is probably the most nutritious of the bunch; it’s the highest in fiber (1/2 cup serving has 3g fiber and counts as 1 starch exchange) and is loaded with potassium, vitamin C and Vitamin B6, which makes this Caribbean version of the yam resemble a banana more than a conventional American sweet potato, nutritionally speaking. Drago describes the flavor as a “slightly sweet, smoky baking potato” with a texture that is “softer and lighter” than a typical yam.
- Batata (Boniato) is a Caribbean sweet potato very popular in Cuban cuisine. It sort of resembles a typical sweet potato on the outside but tastes more chestnutty than overtly sweet and squashy like the sweet potatoes you’re probably used to. You can use it as a substitute for conventional potatoes in all the usual ways.
- Yuca (Cassava, Manioc) is generally eaten boiled or fried, but must always be peeled before eating! Baked yucca “fries” are a nice compromise; they’re more fibrous than potatoes, and therefore offer a nice textural change from the ordinary.
Equally interesting to me is the role of flour derived from cassava/yuca (which you’re probably more familiar with under its alias of Tapioca Flour) in traditional (gluten-free) breads and rolls.
Casabe is a crispy, crackery Latin American flatbread made from Cassava flour; look for it in the Hispanic food aisle of your local supermarket; it’s usually sold wrapped in paper. And then there is Pan de Yuca, which goes by many different names depending on the country, but is essentially a tapioca flour-based cheese roll. They are beyond easy (and fast) to make, and have a wonderful savory, chewy appeal when served hot from the oven. While they get hard as rocks after a day or so of baking, they are easily revived to their soft, chewy selves with a quint stint in the microwave, and are versatile enough to accessorize breakfasts and dinners alike. Stale rolls could also be cubed, toasted and stored in an airtight container to be used as a gluten-free crouton or possible base for an upcoming gluten-free Thanksgiving stuffing. Using lactose-free milk and a nice, mature hard cheese like Parmesan will keep these rolls virtually lactose-free, if that’s also a concern.
Pão de Queijo- Brazilian Cheese Buns
- 1/2 cup lowfat milk (use lactose free or your favorite milk alternative as desired)
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 1/4 cups tapioca flour (aka Cassava flour)
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Bring the milk, oil and salt to a boil
- Remove from heat. Slowly combine half of the tapioca flour into the liquid mixture. (It won’t all absorb at this point.)
- Add the eggs one at a time, each followed by half of the remaining flour, and mix into a well-combined batter, which will be thick, gummy and somewhat difficult to stir. Do your best.
- Using your hands, mix the cheese into batter, kneading until well incorporated.
- Using wet hands, roll the dough into golf-ball-sized balls; this quantity of batter should yield 15 rolls.
- Bake for ~15 minutes at 375 degrees , or until rolls are puffy and golden brown on top.
- Serve immediately; they taste the best when hot!