What exactly is cassava? This tuberous root vegetable has a dark, fibrous outer layer and a white, pulpy interior. It is often known by other titles such as yuca, manioc, mandioca, casabe, and tapioca, although it should not be confused with yucca, an ornamental plant. Originating in Brazil and the Americas’ tropical areas, cassava has long been a staple of Latin American and Caribbean diets. Before the advent of Christopher Columbus, the Taino, Carib and Arawak people used it in the form of cassava bread, which was highly revered. It is still widely consumed in the Caribbean, and is available for purchase in markets, usually for six to ten times the price of a russet potato. Before being used, it must be peeled first.
Before cooking cassava, the peel must be removed since it contains a high amount of hydrocyanic acid and has a bitter taste. To do this, use a paring knife rather than a vegetable peeler since the exterior is more like bark than a potato peel. Start by cutting off the cassava’s ends, then slice it into four equal parts. Place one piece on a cutting board so the cut side is down, and use the paring knife to slice off the bark from the top to the bottom, making sure not to take away too much of the white flesh. Rotate the piece and keep cutting off the peel. Lastly, cut each piece into quarters and remove the woody core like with a pineapple.
Cassava is a highly flexible food that can be boiled, grilled, fried, steamed, mashed, made into chips, or incorporated into stews. It is commonly smashed, seasoned with salt, pepper, and lime juice, and served with meat. It can be used to make dough for empanadas and tamales, as well as tapioca, which thickens desserts. Cassareep, a key component of Guyanese pepperpot, is composed of boiled cassava juice and a variety of other spices.
In Jamaica, the term bam-bam is utilized to refer to food made of cassava, such as bread, pancakes, and muffins. Bammy, or bammie, is a thick bread made from cassava flour that is usually eaten with fried fish, saltfish, and ackee. Cativias, a savory yuca turnover, is a dish popular among Dominicans.
Regarding flavor, cassava root is quite subtle, possessing a combination of earthiness, sweetness, and nutty quality, along with a slightly bitter taste. Due to its delicate taste, adding it to dishes with bolder flavors is recommended.