Yuca 101 for expat retirees in Costa Rica

Yuca is widely consumed in Costa Rica but it is known by several different names such as Manihot  or mandioca and casabe or casava in other countries. Don’t make the mistake of confusing yuca with yucca. It differs from the yucca, which is an unrelated fruit-bearing shrub from a different family.

Yuca root is the third largest source of food carbohydrates after rice and corn and is considered a main food staple for millions. The starchy tuber is high in calcium, dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamins B6 and C. It has relatively no protein, but does contain high levels of essential fatty acids and twice the calories of potatoes.

The starchy inside of the Yuca root is a light white or cream color with a grainy texture similar to potatoes and has a mild, sweet flavor that is somewhat like a nutty taste. However, raw Yuca must be cooked prior to consumption. It can be used just like potatoes in many dishes and can be boiled and pureed, mashed and roasted.

Yuca roots are similar in size and shape to a sweet potato and can be anywhere from one to several pounds in size and can grow up to 4 feet below the ground. But recently, a 65-pound yuca was unearthed in Costa Rica. It took more than a half-hour and three people to extract the large yuca from the ground.

There is a funny yuca related anecdote that appeared in the local Spanish newspapers about four months ago. I won’t go into all of the details but you can guess what actually occurred. An adult male was taken to the hospital and operated on with a foot-long yuca that was lodged in his intestine.

Here are two fantastic recipes with yuca:

Fried Yuca (Yuca Frita)

yucafrita

Ingredients (SERVES 6-8)

  • 2 Lb fresh or yuca
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1Ž2 tablespoon salt

Directions

  1. In a large pot cover the yuca with water, add salt and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cook about 15 to 20 minutes or until is tender.
  2. Remove the yuca from the water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the cooked yuca into 1Ž2 – inch strips.
  3. Fill a large frying pan with enough vegetable oil to 350° F. When the oil is hot, place the yuca into the heated oil carefully. Fry them until golden brown on both sides about 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Remove the yuca pieces from the oil using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

Yuca Balls Stuffed with Cheese are called yuquitas in Costa Rica

bolitas-de-yuca-main

To make these crispy little yuca balls, the yuca is cooked over medium heat until very tender, then mashed into dough, stuffed with cheese, formed into round balls, and then fried again until crispy.You can make them ahead and freeze them. Just fry them over when guests show up .

Ingredients (12 balls)

  • 1 pound frozen or fresh yuca, peeled
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Guacamole for serving

Directions

  1. Cook the yuca in a large pot with salted water over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until fork tender.
  2. rain the yuca and remove any fibers from the center. Transfer to a large bowl and mash.
  3. Place the eggs in a bowl. Place the breadcrumbs in another bowl.
  4. orm 12 balls with the mash. Flatten them with your hands and place 1 piece of cheese in the center and form the ball again to cover the cheese.
  5. Dip the balls into the beaten egg covering all sides, and then cover them with breadcrumbs.
  6. Fill a large skillet with oil and heat over medium-high heat to 350F. Place the balls into heated oil and fry for 4 minutes or until brown on all sides, turning over once about halfway through. Remove from the oil and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
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