Cuba smiles across the waves and now — finally — we can return the grin. We long to splash over the divide, wade ashore and take it all in.
For now, we’ll start with yuca. The tropical shrub defines hearty. It thrives in drought, shrugs off neglect and produces long starchy roots that keep underground for years. Yuca is so tough it throws off cyanide, at least until cooked.
Boiled, steamed or pan-fried, the tuber tastes tender, like a potato with attitude. It’s delicious alongside grilled meats and stews, or solo, dipped in garlic mayonnaise.
Shaking off deprivation, isolation and toxicity, yuca — perhaps a bit like its island home — shines.
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1 1/2 pounds fresh yuca (see note)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
Grate: Peel yuca with a vegetable peeler, scraping away tough outer brown skin and inner purple layer. Quarter the long way, and trim away the woody core. Grate, using the food processor fitted with the large shredder disk. (A box grater and muscle work too.) Grated yuca may smell something like a cleaning product; fear not.
Soak: Submerge grated yuca in several changes of cold water. Soak 20 minutes. Drain, rinse and roll up in a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Mix: Toss yuca, cheese, eggs, baking soda and salt together in a bowl. Mix with a fork.
Fry: Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium. Scoop in 1/4 cup blobs of batter, and press each into a 3-inch cake. Cook golden brown, about two minutes per side.
Steam: Cover pan and cook one minute. Turn cakes, cover and cook one minute. Drain yuca cakes on paper towels. Repeat frying and steaming with remaining oil and batter.
Serve: Yuca cakes offer crispy deliciousness alongside roast pork, fried eggs or solo topped with a little garlic mayo.
Note: Yuca, aka cassava or manioc, is a root vegetable. Look for it near the potatoes. It resembles a long, ugly potato.
Yield: Eight 3-inch cakes.