If you are looking to two foods that speak of the history of Dominican food it has to be cassava and sweet potatoes. Both were part of the Taino diet, long before a European ever set foot in this side of the planet. It is our luck that this roots, who grow easily in our island, have remained an important part of our culinary culture.
These two ingredients are probably the most important elements in our kitchen bequeathed to us by our pre-colombian ancestors.
Cassava is a tuberous plant, native to America, that grows in the tropics. Cassava tolerates poor soil and drought fairly well, which makes it an ideal crop for resource-poor populations. It is very rich in carbohydrates but poor in protein. The bitter variety of cassava is fairly toxic when not prepared correctly. But fear not, this variety is rarely available commercially.
Good cassava is very tender, with a rich buttery taste. It can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner and goes well with nearly any dish in our cuisine.
Another staple of the taino diet was batata: sweet potato. Its name originates from the Taino language and it grew in our island in pre-Columbian times. In the US sweet potatoes are often mislabeled as yams. Yams are of Asian/African origin.
There are many varieties of sweet potatoes. The one with orange flesh common in the US is know available in the DR, the most common one here has purple skin and greenish flesh. It is also sweeter and richer in starch than the orange one. This is important because in some dishes the lack of starch will yield poor results in your recipe (like in pan de batata)
These simple fritters are usually found in frituras, the humble neighborhood food stands, but also as appetizers in fancier restaurants. You can also serve them to accompany your meat dishes.
- 1 lb [0.45 kg] of sweet potatoes or cassava (yuca), peeled
- 4 cups of water
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 3 cups of oil for frying (soy, peanut or soy)
- Cut the sweet potatoes into slices about ¼-inch thick (if you use yuca cut into sticks).
- Mix water and salt. Soak the cassava or sweet potatoes in the salted water for half an hour. Remove the cassava or sweet potatoes from the water. Discard the water. Pat cassava or sweet potatoes dry with a paper towel.
- Heat the oil over medium fire. Fry cassava or sweet potatoes until light golden (be careful with splatters).
- Serve hot.