Prepared by Zoe Brent
Yucca, or yuca, a food crop with many names and spellings – also commonly called manioc or cassava – has been a staple of the Cuban diet since the island was inhabited by the Ciboney, and subsequently, the Taino peoples in pre-Columbian times. The plant is native to Brazil, but has been adopted by cultures around the globe from Thailand to Costa Rica.
There are two types of this starchy tuber, one bitter and one sweet. The sweet variety is the one typically seen in U.S. supermarkets, perhaps because the bitter kind contains toxic levels of cyanide in its juice that must be pressed out before eating. Ciboney and Taino hunters used this byproduct to coat the tips of their arrows. The flesh of the yucca was then dried, pounded into flour and used to make a kind of cracker called cazabé.
Showcasing this traditional food, chefs Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs’ modern rendition of cazabé bread offers an easy twist on a foccaccia-like snack. Their version uses no yeast, so it is quick to prepare. A yucca mash is mixed into the dough, giving it a silky texture. In the absence of yucca, Cox and Martin suggest a russet potato. The basic concept is a great foundation for an imaginative chef. This bread would be a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes, or perhaps even yams or winter squash.
Toppings are optional, though a dip, sauce or preserve of some kind is recommended to liven up this great basic bread. I added some California flavor to this Cuban dish with carmelized shallots, apples, rosemary and cheese baked onto it, then topped with sautéed kale and a fried egg.
Pan de Cazabé
Modern Cassava (Yuca) Bread
Adapted from Eating Cuban (2006) by Beverly Cox and Martin JacobsBread dough 1 lb Yuca, potato, or a combination of the two 2 1/2 Cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting your work surface 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 2 large eggs 1/2 Cup olive oil 1/4 Cup of water Topping 1/4 olive oil 1-2 large shallots 1 apple Cheese of your choice 1 bunch of kale 1 clove of garlic 1/4 Cup of light vinegar A dash of sweet cooking wine, or mirin 1 fried egg per eater
Put a large pot of water on to boil. Peel the yucca and/or potatoes. Cut yucca lengthwise and into two or three sections. Keep the pieces big so that it is easy to remove the tough core once boiled. Cube potatoes. Boil until soft and pieces of Yucca begin to split, about 20 minutes. Once tender when pierced with a knife, drain and remove fibrous core of the Yucca. Mash potatoes and yucca together thoroughly until smooth. If you are modifying the recipe, add any additional herbs or spices to the mash at this point.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt, create a well in the middle and set aside. In a medium sized bowl or large measuring cup, stir together 1 Cup of the mash with the eggs, oil and water. Pour this wet mixture into your dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until dough comes together. Add a little water or flour if consistency is too wet or dry. Knead dough on a floured work surface until smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes.
Spread or roll dough out to about 1/2 in thickness so that it fits on a baking sheet or pizza dish. Add toppings of your choice.
For optional topping described above: Dice shallots and sauté in olive oil on medium low heat until they become translucent. Sprinkle them evenly on rolled dough. Slice apple thinly and arrange evenly across dough. Top with shavings or crumbled cheese of your choice. Drizzle the entire thing with some olive oil for moisture and bake.
Whether you add toppings or not, bake for 8 to 10 minutes until golden. Cut into wedges and serve.
Optional: While bread is baking rinse and chop kale into bite size pieces. Sautee on medium heat with a dash of oil, garlic, vinegar and sweet cooking wine or Mirin, until tender, about 5-10 minutes. If tough, add more liquid (water is fine if you don’t want to intensify the dressing).