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
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.