Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cassava, oiled-down

This item stymied me for a while, since I bought it under the name "arrowroot", but it looks nothing like any arrowroot I've been able to find online.  That's because it's, uh, cassava (also known as manioc, yuca, and many other names not including arrowroot).

So, happily having identified it, what the heck is this?  A very popular starch vegetable in tropical regions throughout the world.  Once I'd tasted it, I wasn't surprised.  Even raw, it has a pleasant sweet-starchy taste, which only intensifies as it cooks.  Cassava arrives in our supermarkets heavily waxed because, apparently, otherwise its staying powers are not great.  Mine stayed very well in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator for a week, however, while I identified it.  It's used much like potatoes, so boiled, cast into stews, and the like.  But when I saw this recipe, I was hooked!  Oiled sounds decadent and somehow wicked and delicious all at the same time.  The authentic version of this dish "oils down" various kinds of meat which, veganism aside, I can't get my head around although no doubt many consider it very tasty.  I didn't even consider adding a meat analogue to this dish, however.  Should you not have cassava, this would probably work fairly well with the boiling type of potato--the baking type would fall apart--and it gets made with breadfruit a lot, but breadfruit, as much as I've wanted to try it all my life since reading about it as a child (around the same time as those fascinating lunch boxes in Ozma of Oz with which I have confounded it ever since) has never found its way into my sphere, unfortunately.  Those who have tried both, however, lean toward cassava as being the most successful in this dish.

So what do you do?  First, peel the cassava.  It's not a big deal though you read that it is--a simple vegetable peeler will do the task nicely.  Cut it into large pieces, and make sure to cut these pieces exactly in half.  There's a thin woody vein that runs right down the middle of cassava that has to be removed, along with any other vein-like areas in the body of the root.  I've peeled a few back in this picture to show you:

If you miss one, it's no big deal, also no fun biting into it though, so do your best.  Now, fry a little onion, garlic, hot red pepper, green onion, and thyme for a few minutes, until softened:

Add coconut milk, salt, a little Earth Balance, and the cassava:

Here's where the "oiled down" part comes in.  Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn the heat way down, cover, and simmer about 35 minutes, until the cassava is tender and the coconut milk is basically gone--converted into a thick oily sauce.  Here's what the finished dish looks like:

Very oily, yes, but oh, so good!  This is melt-in-your-mouth vegetable essence, my friends.  The cassava retains a little bit of a bite, compared with potato, which would be all soft, but it tastes delectable.  And here's what I had it with:

An Indian besan flour savory steamed cake called Khaman dhokla that was quite interesting (I'd never steamed a cake before), as well as a chayote-cucumber salad, some tamarind-date chutney, and some more Buddha's chicken.  This is a new batch, and I tried dusting between the layers with a little seasoned flour as well as brushing on the marinade--I think I'm on to something there--it was so good, and had a better texture in my opinion than the original kind.  Click for a closeup.  Let me do a few more experiments and I'll blog it...


  1. Oh my gosh Zoa, this dish sounds amazing, but your whole spread is even more so. I love the little steamed cakes, and with the salad and chutney (which sounds so interesting) make it look like a perfect meal to linger over and savor. The Buddha's chicken looks really good too; when I first saw them, I thought they were palmiers...they look delectable.

    Thanks for this recipe; I will definitely be making it in future.

  2. Eating is nothing less than an adventure at your house. I've never had cassava but it certainly looks interesting.

  3. You're reeeeally raving about this stuff! Melt-in-your-mouth and delectable. I will buy some!