“Recipe: Yucca with Mojito”

  • “This is what yucca looks like before you peel and cook it”

The time has come to share with my katieincuba readers the recipe for my favorite dish in Cuba, “yucca with mojito”. Noooooo….not that kind of mojito!  In this case, mojito is a sauce consisting of garlic and lime and oil….and it is oh, so yummy!!!!!!!      A common root vegetable, yucca comes in various sizes and is cheap and full of
nutrients.  According to a friend from Granma, a trick in the Cuban countryside is if you buy a ton of yucca and will not use all of it before it spoils, you dig a hole in the soil and place the yucca in the earth, cover it with dirt and add a little water.  With this method of preservation the yucca will last for weeks.  Otherwise, if you do not use the yucca within a few days of buying it, it can form a blue type of mold throughout and spoil.   Once you have the basics down of this dish, such as the process of selecting and peeling the yucca itself, this is a VERY easy and inexpensive dish.  It is also a great source of carbs for my distance runner friends who are still in training during the winter months.  Just have patience with these stubborn veggies and you will find it is worth the wait!

“Yuca con mojito”

Tools:

  •  Big, strong, non-serrated knife
  • Soup pot with lid or Pressure Cooker
  • Paring knife
  • fork
  • slotted Spoon

Ingredients
(Appx. for 2 people):

  •  3 or 4 yucca, depending on size
  • Coarse salt
  • Oil (a few tablespoons)
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 or 2 limes (depending on juice content)
  • 1 small white onion (optional)

Preparation:

 Step 1- Peeling the Yucca

  • (This is a process that takes practice and you need to pay attention and really FEEL the yucca.  Do not be discouraged if you demolish a few in the process while you get the hang of things, just try not to slice your hand. Also, keep in mind that some yuccas allow you to remove the skins more easily than others, and these are often the ones that taste best.) Holding the knife in your dominant hand and the yucca firmly in the other, remove the ends of the yucca with one swift chop.  They should separate easily and cleanly, revealing a clean white interior of the yucca. If they cut easily (“se pican bien”), the Cubans say they cook better.
  •  If the yucca is larger you may cut in half so that the entire piece fits nicely in your palm. Place firmly in your palm without wrapping your fingers around the yucca.  Very firmly and carefully, slice the blade lengthwise into the yucca so that it penetrates the skin from top to bottom, but does not cut into the meat of the vegetable. Slowly angle the blade to apply force to remove the skin.  Again, for some this will begin to peel away like an orange. Others will require more work, like a potato.
  • Continue until skin is completely removed, being careful not to remove too much of the yucca itself.
  •  Thoroughly wash brown sediment from yucca until white.  Shave away spots that will not wash off.
  • Wash knife thoroughly.

Step 2- Cooking the Yucca

  • Place yucca in reina, cover with water that covers the tops of all by a few inches.
  • Add a generous dash of coarse salt.
  •  Seal pressure cooker and cook for 30-45 minutes or until the majority have plumped and are tender. (Use fork method like with potatoes.)
  • Remove from water with slotted spoon and place on serving dish.
  • Remove obvious fibers/strings (located in center of each yucca.)

Step 3- Preparing the Mojito

  • Peel garlic (and onion) and thinly slice.
  • Cover bottom of frying pan with oil.  Heat oil over medium-high heat.
  • When oil is very hot, remove from flame and add garlic (and onions, if desired).  Swirl oil in pan until garlic begins to brown. (Be careful not to burn the garlic!)
  • Squirt lime into oil and garlic mixture.

Step 4- Plating the Dish

  • Drizzle mojito directly over top of yucca and serve immediately.

***Variation***  

In my opinion as an eater, the preparation listed above is the best way to eat yucca.  However, another preparation of this method exists that is very popular here, as well as in Cuban restaurants in the US.

To prepare FRIED Yucca with Mojito:

  •  Follow all of the above steps for prepping and boiling the yucca.
  • Be sure to remove the yucca from the cooking water before they become so tender that they begin tearing apart.
  •  Remove them from the water and place in a colander to cool and drain water
  •  When the yucca is cool enough to touch, place all on large cutting board.
  • Slice in half lengthwise and remove strings/fibers from center.
  •  Depending on the size of the yucca, continue to cut into quarters or eighths lengthwise until they have the rough appearance of french fries.
  •  Heat a generous amount of oil in a large frying pan until very hot, add yucca a little at a time, cooking until browned on all sides and then plating, adding a little more salt if desired.
  • When all of the yucca are fried to perfection, you may drizzle the mojito over the plate or serve it on the side as a dipping sauce.

US Variation-Without a Pressure Cooker:

  •  Place peeled and washed yucca in large soup pot.
  • Cover with water that covers the tops of all by a few inches.
  • Add generous amount of salt, cover and bring to a boil.
  • Allow yucca to cook for 25-30 minutes after water begins to boil before checking tenderness.  Some yucca will be done in this time, while others require a longer cooking time.  Remove when tender.

  • “My new favorite dish!”

 

 

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Introduction to “Food in Cuba”

 

As an enthusiastic eater of all things tasty and delicious, I am hereby dedicating an entire category of this blog to FOOD.  This section will likely have the most photographs of the categories, as taking pictures of my food is my second favorite thing…next to eating it!  Given the overwhelming popularity of food travel shows in the US, I am assuming that others share my interests in cultural food, so I will do my best to be your Anthony Bourdain here in Cuba.

History

Something interesting happens to “Cuban food” when you get to Cuba: It in no way resembles the Cuban food we get in the US!  Yes, congris (white rice cooked with black beans) is a staple.  Yes, pork in all forms and deliciously fried sweet ripe plantains are abundant.  Absent from Cuban tables, however, are the mojitos, ropa vieja, and Cuban sandwiches that exist in every state-side Cuban restaurant.  There is a myth of Cuban food throughout the US, and even the tourist hotels here on the island, insisting that food in Cuba has not changed with the times.  The harsh reality of scarcity of resources in 21st century Cuba, however, trumps this pre-revolutionary culinary fairytale.  The myth of Cuban cuisine aside, however, I am in food heaven down here!!  (Please note I said food heaven, not foodIE heaven, as I recommend that “foodies” travel elsewhere if they want a culinary tour in the Caribbean or Latin America.)

A walk of 5-10 minutes anywhere in Habana will land you smack in the middle of huge outdoor agros (markets) with selections of fresh produce that changes daily.  Yucca is a wonder food, in my opinion, and must replace the potato as the starch staple in the world.  Grapefruits here are green, garlic is tiny and avocados are GINORMOUS!  Cuban mayonnaise is homemade and garlicky and tart and delicious on Cuban bread, and mermalada de guayaba, the Cuban answer to applesauce, is an incredibly sweet treat.  (As a side note: Applesauce and Mayonnaise are the only two things I will not eat back home.)  All of this is enough to make anyone wonder why the desperate attempt in the hotels and in the US to hold on to a culinary past that is no longer the reality for today’s Cubans.

So, my dear readers, I am here to shatter the illusion of “the Cuban sandwich”, end the run of the ropa vieja, and dethrone the mojito.  It is time to replace the myth with the very yummy and very different REALITY of food in Cuba today.

Blog Topics

These posts have no rules or guidelines, if it is edible (or at least non-toxic), I will write about it!  This includes drinks, typical meals, snacks, restaurants, unique fruits, recipes, photos, the role of food in Cuban daily life and much more.  Also, as I learn my way around a Cuban kitchen, I will share photos of my concoctions and tips for anyone wanting to try their hand at home-style Cuban cooking.

Author’s Objectives

In my quest to correct misconceptions about Cuba, food is a simple yet essential step.  Most US Americans assume that Cuban food is exactly what they see in restaurants.  Many less adventurous eaters go around thinking that Cubans eat chips and salsa, tacos and enchiladas, like many of our other neighbors to the south…a rather amusing error as the tortilla as we know it in the US does not exist in Cuba, thereby eliminating any hope for tacos, burritos or the tortilla chip.  Ultimately, little steps like understanding the culinary tradition of a country and its people can bring you one step closer to understanding the culture.

Suggestions

To my readers:  Having read the introduction for this blog category, if you have a relevant topic or event that you would like to learn more about, please mention it in the ‘COMMENTS’ section of this page.  (Even if it is not in Habana, I am happy to travel to the other provinces for a good story!) I will do my best to research and write on all suggested topics.