Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yuca Chips

My sincere apologies in advance to those of you unfortunate souls living in the large swaths of the world where this delectable root is unavailable. As a longtime erstwhile dweller in such places, I have many times been frustrated by a lack of access to certain products and items that didn't make it to the shelves of my local grocery story or natural foods cooperative. Now that I live in San Francisco, and it is absolutely everything you imagine it to be, dear reader-living-elsewhere, I suffer from no such condition of scarcity. This ubiquitous abundance has lulled me into a false, but not totally unwarranted, sense of security. You might also call it a certain grocery-related cockiness. It went like this: After thinking about yuca off and on for the last year or so, I finally decided to make some chips as a delicious, greasy accompaniment to nice, salty savory black bean soup--Cuban style. Well, I'm not totally sure it isn't actually Colombian style because every component of this dish is traceable to the influence of my friend tatiana de la tierra. When we all lived in Buffalo, and C and I were super lucky and well-behaved, tati would have us over for dinner. One my favorite things that she made was an intensely garlicky black bean soup, greens, and yuca. Mostly, she would boil the yuca, insisting that the important step was to "shock" the frozen chunks of root by quickly immersing them in boiling water. She would then dress the cooked chunks very simply with  bit of olive oil and vinegar (I think). While I haven't tried boiling it in this way, I did try my hand at frying it into thinly sliced chips. I like that so much that I haven't branched out far beyond it. Perhaps this is a mistake and my kind readers will show me the error of my ways.

On this specific occasion, perhaps because I have walked by the piles of yuca so frequently in the grocery store, blithely certain that it would be there when I wanted it, I had a hard time finding it. I actually had to go to no fewer than four stores before I located it (for 99 cents a pound!) at a little grocery store on Folsom. The moral of the story? Stay humble.  Learn from my mistake, dear reader.

But perhaps I should back up just a bit. Dear readers, meet yuca-->. Yuca, readers. (image lifted from this lovely website). My understanding is that this white root is one and the same with cassava, which we hear so much more about. My friends in Montana are always a bit confused--as I was once--about the difference between this plant and the more familiar (in drier states) yucca (on left). Don't confuse the two. One has leaves like razor wire and no edible root to speak of, the other is deliciousness incarnate.

When I first had yuca, the best way I could think of to describe it is like a potato if potatoes were super-powered and extra delicious. Yuca has all the tenderness and durability of a potato without the cloying starchiness. It truly is wondrous. If you are lucky enough to live where you can find this root, and you haven't already tried it, may I heartily recommend that you do so? As a bonus, if you prepare like I describe below, it's super fast and easy.

Yuca Chips--this barely qualifies as a recipe, I realize

yuca--Have at least two roots to make it worth your while. Trust me, you're not likely to have leftovers!
oil for frying--I used canola, but you could use any oil that performs well at high heat
1 lemon

I know, right? I feel a little silly. Peel the yuca. It will have thick, waxy skin, but it comes away easily enough with a sharp paring knife. Cut off the extra hard stem at one end and remove any dark or unappealing bits. Do I really have to tell you that? Now use your excellent knife skills to slice the yuca width-wise into thin chip-sized pieces. Fry in hot oil until golden and just a little crispy. Sprinkle with salt and squeeze the lemon over the chips. Delicious. Potatoes can go to hell.

Incidentally, I wasn't planning on blogging at this time about the Cuban/Colombian style black bean soup, but let me know if that's something you would like to see. I live to serve you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Desperation Lasagna

Doesn't "desperation lasagna" sound like something you might eat with Calamity Jane? The two of you could slam forkfuls of the stuff into your starvling mouths and wash it down with brimming tumblers of sour mash. Don't forget to swear. A LOT. I'm not sure why, but this morning I have a bit of Deadwood on the brain. If you haven't seen that regrettably short-lived show, I assure you that you are missing out. After watching a single season, you will doubtless notice a marked uptick in your use of the f-bomb, and you might even find yourself unconsciously mimicking Tim Olyphant's signature loose-and-stiff-at-the-same-time saunter. That's how you walk when you're not afraid of anybody or anything. And, really, couldn't we all use a little less fear? My goal for the day is to channel Olyphant. Not a bad objective, as such things go.
But I didn't name this dish Desperation Lasagna specifically thinking about the Old West, except for the fact that my work schedule has me running around so much that a patient observer might have been treated to the sight of tumbleweeds blowing through the virtual landscape of my much-neglected blog. Never fear, dear readers. Though I have taken other mistresses, writing for other sites, you are still my first love. But I digress. Desperation lasagna is actually sort of a euphemistic name. I also could have called it "kitchen sink lasagna," since I made free with the ingredients based on what we had around. For example, we didn't have mozzarella daiya, which is what I would normally use for lasagna, but we did have cheddar. Thinking about yellow and lasagna led me to sub other ingredients for those of a similar hue. Thus, I discovered that butternut squash and corn are actually quite delightful in a cheddary dish of lasagna in place of sausage and mushrooms. And why not? I already put all kinds of unconventional things in my enchiladas. Lasagna is the next logical step. I think if C could testify, he would tell you that it was quite delicious.

Finally, a note about the noodles. I don't precook lasagna noodles. Ever. In my view, it's a total waste of time and energy. And the no-boil lasagna noodles are a rip-off. Don't bother with them. Regular noodles work just fine without pre-boilng, so save your money for some beer and chocolate. That's what I do.

Desperation Lasagna

1 pkg lasagna noodles--I used brown rice because our new roomie has wheat issues, and I thought she might want some eventually, but any kind is fine. Just keep the quinoa away from me. It hates me.
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 pkg cheddar Daiya or Follow Your Heart cheese (Or go traditional and use mozzarella. See if I care. Or be totally crazy and skip the cheese altogether. You won't miss it that much.)

Ricotta -- Should I be calling this something clever, like "RiNotta"? Oh well.
2 pkgs tofu (28 oz total), extra firm
1/4 c nutritional yeast
1 T, heaping, dried basil
1/8 c olive oil
4-5 minced garlic cloves

Mash everything together in a big bowl, and set aside while you prepare your veggie filling.

Veggie Filling
2 T olive oil
1 pkg frozen butternut squash. (Normally, I would use fresh, but it's still pretty spendy in these parts--not quite yet in season--and I was [as usual] short on time. Sue me.)
1 c frozen corn kernels
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3-4 minced garlic cloves
1 head curly kale, chopped
Thyme and marjoram to taste
A few splashes of Bragg's

Saute onion in oil with garlic until translucent. Add squash and herbs and cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in kale and corn, add some Braggs, and cook until kale is softish and dark green. It can finish cooking in the oven.


Lightly oil a casserole dish.  Open the can of tomatoes and spoon about 1/4 of them directly into the pan. Spread around to cover the bottom in a thin layer. Layer half the noodles on top. Don't worry if they need to overlap a bit. It doesn't matter, and what are you going to do with leftover lasagna noodles? Nothing. So don't waste them. Spoon 1/2 of the tofu mixture on top of the noodles, then cover that with half the veggies. Add 1/2 cup of water to the can of tomatoes and stir, then spoon 1/2 of that mixture onto the veggies. Sprinkle with 1/2 your cheese. Repeat with the second layer: Noodles, ricotta, veggies, tomatoes, cheese. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. This is an important step as it traps the moisture for the noodles to absorb instead of releasing it into the oven. Cook 1 hour and 20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.