What is Yuca?
When I describe what a traditional Cuban Christmas dinner is I tell people there is Lechon, black beans and rice, maduros, salad and yuca con mojo de ajo. Most people nod and nod until I get to the yuca part, then I get that look that says, “What is yuca?” I simply say you have to try it, you will love it! Yuca, pronounced Yoo-ka, is a starchy tuberous root also commonly known as cassava. However, yuca is not the same thing as yucca. I see many recipes and articles interchanging the two. Yucca is a shrub with white flowers that grows in dry climates.
Yuca is a tubular root vegetable like a potato. It grows in the ground and averages 6-12 inches long and 2-4 inches in diameter. It has a thick rough brown skin and a white starchy flesh on the inside.
For more information on the health benefits of yuca check it out here.
How Do You Eat Yuca?
Let’s start with peeling yuca first. Do not try to peel it like a potato. It will take forever and leave your hands exhausted.
First, using a large sharp knife cut the yuca into segments about 3-4 inches long. Score the brown skin just deep enough to get inside of it. Work the edge of the knife under the skin and peel around the yuca to separate the skin from the flesh. Once peeled, cut it in half and remove the center that looks like a stem running through it. Look here for step by step picture instructions.
If you are looking for an easier alternative you can always buy frozen yuca in the grocery store. If you can’t find it in your local store check out any latin supermarket.
Yuca can be enjoyed in many different ways. The most common is to boil yuca and eat it with a garlic mojo sauce. However, it can also be mashed like mashed potatoes. It can be cut into sticks and fried like french fries, yuca frita (again, my favorite). It can be roasted in the oven too. Add it or replace it with any recipe calling for potatoes like in soups or stews.
How To Peel Yuca
Do not try to peel yuca like a potato. It will take forever and leave your hands exhausted.
First, using a large sharp knife cut the yuca into segments about 3-4 inches long. Score the brown skin just deep enough to get inside of it. Work the edge of the knife under the skin and peel around the yuca to separate the skin from the flesh. Once peeled, cut it in half and remove the center that looks like a stem running through it.
Sometimes it is easier to cook the yuca first and then remove the stem. If you cannot find fresh yuca look for frozen yuca in the freezer section of your local Latin grocery store.
- Flavor the water – When I boil the yuca first, add salt, lime juice and garlic.
- Don’t overcook – Cook the yuca to fork tender, drain and then cool.
- Remove the stem – Don’t forget to remove the stem in the middle of the yuca.
Yuca Con Mojo de Ajo (Yuca with Garlic Mojo)
Yuca con mojo de ajo is yuca with a garlic mojo sauce. Cooked yuca is served sauteed in a bright garlic and onion sauce.
Mojo De Ajo (Garlic Mojo)
Wash, peel and cut yuca if using fresh yuca.
If using store bought frozen yuca, remove from the package and put in a large sauce pot. Fill the pot with 6 cups water to cover the yuca. Add the salt, lime juice and garlic cloves to the water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium, cover and let simmer. Cook for about 20-30 minutes until yuca is fork tender.
Mojo de Ajo
While the yuca is cooking we're going to make the garlic mojo.
First mash the garlic using a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt. If you don't have a mortar and pestle a ziplock sandwich bag works great too. Next chop the onion.
Heat a saute pan on medium heat and add olive oil.
When the olive oil is warm add onions and cook 3-5 minutes. Do not fry the onions.
Add garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes.
Last add lime juice and season with salt until desired taste.
Drain yuca from water. Remove stems from the middle of the yuca.
Put the yuca in a serving bowl. Pour mojo all over yuca and let the mojo get in all of the nooks and crannies of the yuca.