vegetable of the week: Manihot esculenta
I thought I would kick this new segment off with a vegetable that we have all eaten, but that goes by a wonderously bewildering array of names:
Yuca (but not yucca- I think that is a cactus), cassava, manioc, tapioca (starch), boba, and a MILLION more names!
I have at one time or another had this plant growing wild in my yard in Brunei, but was unaware of its luscious roots, eaten yuca chips and fries in the Americas, eaten cassava cakes when poverty stricken in Fiji (one cake keeps you going for DAYS!), and drunk boba iced tea in the asian tea shops in Australia, and eaten tapioca pudding everywhere (and when you are eating it, who cars where you are, you got tapioca pudding, what else matters??), without ever realising that I was eating the same thing!!
Cassava (seems to be the most common name when not speaking about the plant in terms of dishes) is EVERYWHERE! It is the third most important carbohydrate source in the world. And probably the most overnamed too! It originally hails from Brazil, but pretty soon it was everywhere, just like slavery, smallpox and syphillus, just tastier!!
Essentially, the game with cassava is to take the tuber that belongs to a perfectly innocent, peaceable plant that is just trying to get by in a cold world, and devise the most exciting and outlandish way of preparing it to be eaten.
Here is a beheaded cassava plant, trying to disguise itself as an octopus to fool loitering vegans that it is not a legitimate food source, that it might make its escape back to its hungry children.
You got to skin it though, and get rid of the wax everybody seems to apply to the outside. And you got to beware of the crazy fibre running down the middle of the tuber (I guess it was the plant’s last ditch attempt to stop us from stealing its roots!), which get bigger in the bigger tubers, so I go for fresher, smaller tubers myself.
I read in a book once (a really sketchy piece of American neo-colonial literature that informed my first and only bout of Rastafarianism James A. Michener’s ‘Caribbean’) that cassava requires elaborate purification prior to cooking to eliminate toxic chemicals in the tuber, but I have since cooked it without the elaborate reed and string serpentine contraption he describes, and I am yet to die. It will come, but perhaps not from consuming un-purified cassava!
I guess I am not too good at the game though. Some people keep it real by just boiling it up just like potatoes (prolly the subject of a post quite soon!), which is nice. Some people take it to the next level by then frying the chunks and dipping them in mojo (refer to morros y christianos recipe posted previously), which rules! Then some people (you can’t stop people from tinkering can you?) grate or grind the whole thing up and make cakes and patties. The genius who came up with making the flour into little balls is int he running for the best food innovation of all time, presenting fierce competition to the inventor of the ‘double-decker taco’, but I digress! People eat the leaves as a drink, use them in medicine, and now as a biofuel!!
Nutritionally, it isn’t really anything to write home about, unless you need carbs fast, or have scurvy! http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2389/2 It is moderately filling, moderately nutritious, and nowhere near a complete protein or nutrient.
But it tastes AWESOME, and it has a million names, so there you go.