Fresh cassava root is a versatile, budget-friendly starchy root vegetable (tuber) that can be eaten in a variety of ways.
Some ingredients are extremely versatile and can be used to make sweet treats, savoury sides or even snacks. I love picking up these types of ingredients, bringing them home and deciding in the moment what to make depending on what I feel like eating. Sometimes, though, they are a bit of a pain to prepare. Cassava is one. But it doesn't need to be that hard! Read on.
What is cassava?
Cassava, also called yuca or manioc, is starchy tuber with a tough brown outer skin and white flesh. When purchasing a whole cassava you'll find that it is covered with a wax, which is applied to help prolong the shelf life.
When raw, a cassava is quite hard and it can be challenging to get the skin tough off. I know, I've tried. Over the holidays I was with the family in the kitchen, and one of my tasks was to peel the cassava. I did what I always do, grabbed a sharp paring knife and started to peel like I would a potato. I was struggling to get it done when my mom glanced over, shook her head as only moms can do, came over and showed me her way of doing it. I'm pretty sure this is not just 'her' way but the way it's done in Caribbean households all over and it fairly simple. Much simpler than struggling with a darn paring knife!
Simple way to peel a whole cassava
1. Cut the ends off with a sharp knife.
2. With a small sharp knife, score around the cassava from top to bottom. I like to do it in a wide spiral around the root. You want to score deep enough to get through the wax, thick brown skin and down to the white flesh.
3. Using the knife start to gently pry the skin away from the root. You want to remove the brown skin and the thin pinkish layer just under the skin.
4. You may need to use your knife in a pushing motion to help it along at first, but once it's started it is relatively easy to peel the entire thing and you have a cassava root ready to cook.
In the centre of the cassava is a stringy, inedible bit that should be removed before eating. If you are boiling the cassava this bit is easy to remove once it is cooked.
Different ways to buy cassava
If buying and peeling a whole cassava root sounds like too much work there are another options.
- You can find frozen cassava root in lots of Caribbean or Asian markets. These are already peeled and either whole or shredded. All you have to do is thaw and cook. Frozen cassava is an easy and budget-friendly option.
- Cassava flour has become quite popular in the past few years as a gluten-free flour option. It's important to note that there are 2 varieties:
- Cassava flour has been around and used for years in African, Caribbean and South American cooking. This variety is often a tan colour and has a nuttier, sometimes slightly sour flavour. It is often fermented, which imparts the sour taste. It can be found in Caribbean, African or Asian shops and is relatively inexpensive. Because of the flavour, this is not the best cassava flour for baking sweet treats.
- The newer variety of cassava flour used for gluten-free, nut-free baking is often sold is health food stores or online. It is lighter in colour and has a more neutral taste. This is the most expensive option.
- Cassava is quite common in many different countries around the world. My family is from Trinidad & Tobago, and I grew up eating it.
- Tapioca starch is the starch extracted from the cassava root. It is often used as a thickener and is not interchangeable with cassava flour.
- The root cannot be eaten raw. There are toxins near the surface that are eliminated once cooked.
- Cassava is a budget-friendly resistant starch.
- It can be used to make sweet or savoury recipes. Bread, fries, tortillas and even noodles! Cassava is gluten-free and is a good option for those who are sensitive to gluten.