Cassava — best known by the Arawak name yuca — it’s one of the most ancient ingredients in Dominican cooking, and perhaps the most important culinary inheritance bequeathed to us by our Taino ancestors.
Here we’ll show you how to cook yuca, and 10 popular recipes to do it.
If you don’t know what it is, yuca is the starchy tuberous root of the shrub Manihot esculenta. It is also known as manioc, mandioca or Brazilian arrowroot. It is native to a region centered in west-central Brazil and brought here by the indigenous people who first populated the island of Hispaniola. Yuca was a staple of the Taino diet, and the only ingredient in casabe, a dish that we still eat. Cassava should not be confused with yucca, which is an ornamental plant native to arid areas of North America.
While the original variety of yuca contained toxic substances, the variety currently grown and sold in the Dominican Republic has been bred to eliminate toxicity. It can be safely eaten without having to undergo traditional processes to get rid of the toxins.
How to cook yuca – 10 recipes to start:
Arañitas and Arepitas de Yuca (Cassava Fritters)
This one is a no-brainer, Arepitas de Yuca (recipe here) is the most popular yuca recipe in our blog. Arepita is a generic name for “fritter” in the Dominican Republic, Arañitas (little spiders) follows the same preparation, but the yuca is grated more coarsely, which results in a fritter with little “legs” sticking out in all directions, hence the name.
Casabe (Cassava Bread)
Another no-brainer. Casabe (recipe here) is the oldest dish in our culinary culture, it was the staple of the Taino diet, and it has been consumed in our country ever since. Dominicans use it to accompany fried foods (like Chicharrones), as a snack (best with Mambá), as a side with Habichuelas con Dulce, and more. This dish contains just one ingredient, requires little skills, and is a nutritious, healthful addition to any diet.
You can read more about the history of this ancient dish here.
Bollitos de Yuca (Cheese-Filled Cassava Balls)
This is one of the most decadent and popular ways to prepare yuca. Bollitos de Yuca (recipe here) are a popular street food, inexpensive, filling and inoffensive to most people. I have rarely encountered served at homes, but if you don’t have a neighborhood fritura around, you should definitely try our recipe. There’s a good reason it’s one of the most popular in our collection.
If you are worried about eating fried food, you can try this other non-traditional, non-fried version that I’ve created.
Buñuelos de Yuca (Cassava ‘Beignets’ in Spiced Syrup)
Buñuelos have always been a traditional Hispanic food, the original ones are made from flour, but several variations made with non-traditional ingredients can be found throughout Latin-America. In the Dominican Republic, Buñuelos de Yuca (recipe here) are traditionally served during the Lenten Season. It’s a humble dish, made at home mostly for Lent; and found throughout the year on many a colmado and cafetería counter.
If you are curious about the buñuelos made from flour (we call them Buñuelos de Viento), we also have that recipe.
Chulitos (Cassava Mini-Rolls)
Chulitos (recipe here) is one of those dishes that take me back to my childhood. There was a fritura not far from my childhood home famous for Chulitos. People would drive for miles just to stop by and eat these. I still miss those little chewy rolls stuffed with spicy meat, street food can’t possibly get better than this.
Pastelón de Yuca (Cassava and Chicken Casserole)
Pastelones (Casseroles) are a popular food in our country. Put layers on something in between layers of some other stuff, add some cheese to the layering and you’ll have a full meal that nobody can resist. Yuca lends itself very well for this purpose, and for a bit of a change, this Pastelón de Yuca (recipe here) combines creamy chicken with cheese.
Yuca Frita (Cassava Fries)
It’s human nature. We need to cut things into sticks and deep fried it. I have seen “fries” made of anything short of cardboard, and yuca is no different. These crispy Yuca Fries (recipe here) are probably my favorite type of fries. They come out crispy and are perfect to serve in whatever manner you’d usually serve fries. You need to try them.
Empanaditas de Yuca or Cativías (Cassava Pasties)
If you love empanadas, then you definitely need to put Catibías (recipe here) on your to-do list. Yuca produces a more elastic dough than the traditional empanadas, which gives it an interesting twist. This dish is very popular with readers on a gluten or grain-free diet. In the Dominican Republic, this is another traditional street food.
Panecicos (Cassava and Pork Crackling Rolls)
Panecico (recipe here) is really an obscure Dominican dish. There are only a few places in the country where it can be bought made the traditional way: On an open fire hot plate, wrapped in plantain leaves. The traditional bread is quite dense (no leavening), and plantain leaves and open fires may not be as readily available to your common urban dweller, so we went ahead and simplified the recipe, spiffed up the presentation, and still preserved all the flavors that make it a special dish in our cuisine.
Pasteles en Hoja de Yuca (Cassava and Chicken Pockets)
Right after Panecicos, Pasteles en Hoja de Yuca (recipe here) are almost certainly the most complex yuca dish in our recipe collection. It is usually served as part of the traditional Dominican holiday feasts and is second in popularity after the more traditional Pasteles en Hoja. I frankly prefer this one.
If you have some time, I highly recommend you try this one. It’s really a lovely dish.
We have many more dishes in which yuca is the main, or an important ingredient, and there is a good reason it’s so popular in our country. Make space for it in your pantry.