Yuca: A New World Root For Passover

standard Wednesday March 14th, 2012 Leave a response

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice


The earliest Ancient Israelite Passover dinners consisted of lamb shawarma.  As Jews spread around the world, the Seder menu evolved to incorporate new fruits and vegetables that they encountered.  One of the best things to happen to the Passover Seder was Columbus’ discovery of America.  He brought back foods that we now consider indispensable for our festive meal, such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and cacao.  The process of enhancing our Passover observance with the addition of exciting new fruits and vegetables continues.  This Passover is an opportunity to discover the yuca, a tuber that originated in Brazil. The yuca root is versatile, nutritious, low fat, and gluten-free.  Why not add yuca to your traditional repertoire, and spice up your Passover with some Latin flavors?

The yuca tuber is also known as cassava, mogo, and manioc. Yuca is very starchy and high in calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin C.  Its flavor is very subtle, and it can be used in place of potatoes in any dish.  It should never be eaten raw, because it has cyanogenic glucosides, a form of cyanide.  If you eat yuca without preparing it properly, you can get acute cyanide intoxication, which can result in paralysis.  To be safe, peel the cassava, and then boil it in salted water for at least 30 minutes.  This will detoxify it.  Drain well.  It is now safe to consume!  The easiest way to cook cassava is to buy it pre-peeled and frozen.  You may purchase it online.

In Trinidad, yuca is boiled, and then sautéed with vegetables and spices to make a delicious, filling dish.  You can add chicken, meat, or fish and pair it with a crunchy green salad for a complete meal.

Trinidadian Yuca
Adapted from Roxanne Jr.

  • 1 package frozen yuca (1.5 Lbs.)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, cut up
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Fresh cilantro, minced
  • 3 large tomatoes, cubed
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Boil the yuca in salted water for at least 30 minutes.  Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the raw yuca.  When the yuca is soft enough to be easily pierced by a fork, drain it well.
  2. In a separate pot, sauté the onion, garlic, and tomatoes in the olive oil.
  3. Add the yuca to the vegetable sauté.  Mix well.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Sprinkle some minced cilantro over it before serving.

In all of Latin America, yuca is fried into crispy, golden spears and served with a variety of exotic dipping sauces.  Here is a recipe for fries from Colombia, with Peru’s famous creamy and spicy yellow dipping sauce.

Colombian Yuca Fries
Adapted from Erica

  • 1 package frozen yuca (1.5 Lbs.)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  1. Boil the frozen yuca in salted water for 30 minutes.  When it is tender, drain well, and dry the yuca with paper towels.
  2. Heat some olive oil in a pan.  Fry the yuca until it is golden-brown and crispy.
  3. Blot the yuca on paper towels.
  4. Sprinkle some salt over the yuca fries to taste.

Aji Amarillo: Peruvian Yellow Sauce
Adapted from Chocolatl

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 2 green onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Salt to taste
  1. Char the yellow bell pepper in the broiler.
  2. Remove from the oven and seal in a pot.  This will make it easier to remove the peel.  The steam trapped in the pot will separate the flesh of the pepper form its peel.
  3. Allow to cool to room temperature, then peel as much as you can.
  4. Remove the seeds.
  5. Mix all of the ingredients in a food processor.
  6. Serve with the yuca fries as a dipping sauce.

One of Cuba’s most famous exports is Yuca con Mojo, a yuca mash flavored with garlic and lime.  This soft, salty, garlicky mush is the ultimate Cuban comfort food.

Cuban Yuca Con Mojo: Yuca With Garlic Sauce
Adapted from Manami

  • 1 package frozen yuca (1.5 Lbs.)
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 limes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Boil the yuca in salted water for 30 minutes.
  2. Drain well.
  3. Sautee the onion and garlic in one tablespoon of olive oil.
  4. Pour the yuca into the onion-garlic sauté.
    Mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Squeeze the lime juice over the yuca mixture.
  6. Serve immediately.

Sancocho is a descendant of the Spanish Cocido Madrileño, which came to Latin America with immigrants from the Canary Islands in the 1500s.  It is the centerpiece of the family meal on Sunday.  This hot soup filled with meat, yuca, and vegetables is very satisfying.  Fresh cilantro, jalapenos, and lime accentuate it deliciously.

Latin American Beef Sancocho (Soup)
Adapted from What4eats:

  • 2 pounds of cubed beef
  • Beef soup bones with marrow
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 package of frozen yuca (1.5 Lbs.)
  • 1/2 pound of cubed pumpkin or any other squash
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, cubed
  • 4 celery sticks, chopped
  • 1 plantain, peeled and sliced
  • 1-tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Oregano
  • Fresh cilantro, minced
  • 1 sliced jalapeno
  • Limes, quartered for garnish
  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil.
  2. Sautee the onion, garlic, green pepper, celery, and tomatoes.
  3. Add the meat and soup bones.  Add the frozen yuca and fill the pot with cold water.
  4. Add salt to taste and bring to a boil.
  5. Allow the soup to simmer for at least 60 minutes.  The longer you can let it simmer, the better it will be.
  6. Forty-five minutes before serving add the squash and plantain.
  7. Season to taste with oregano, cumin, saffron, and black pepper.
  8. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro, sliced jalapeno, and fresh lime juice.

I like to respect my family traditions when preparing the Passover Seder.  Yuca will not be making an appearance then.  After the first and second Seders are completed, I will still have six days left to experiment.  This Passover, join me and indulge yourself in some new discoveries from South America.  Yuca was the staple food of the pre-Columbian natives in America.  It was such an important part of their diet that the Portuguese explorers named it “the bread of the tropics.”  With the addition of lime, peppers, and garlic, it will tingle your tongue, satisfy your stomach, and liven up your Passover week.

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