I know for a fact that Yuca al Mojo de Ajo (Cassava with Garlic Sauce) is a popular dish in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic. I could have spent some more time researching where else it turns up, and its many possible incarnations. However, I’ve written about yuca before, and mentioned that it’s popular in many Latin American dishes, so I’ll turn my eyes elsewhere: garlic. The ingredient that takes this dish from pleasant to somebody-hold-me-or-I’ll-eat-all-this.
Yeah, garlic is one of those things that define our cuisine. There’s a good reason why our trusty pilón (pestle and mortar) has become a symbol of our traditional cuisine. We love garlic and we add it to a lot of our savory foods. And we’re not alone.
Humans have been eating garlic for over 7000 years, both as a food ingredient and as part of the traditional pharmacopeia of several ancient civilizations.
“Since garlic then hath powers to save from death, bear with it though it makes unsavory breath.” – Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum
Garlic was first domesticated in China, from a wild variety of Allium sativum. There are currently two main subspecies of garlic and hundreds of cultivars grown in a vast region of the world. Right now China is — by far — the world’s largest garlic producer. In the Dominican Republic, garlic is grown in the Constanza region where the much colder climate lends itself to this task.
We owe our love of garlic to our Spanish ancestors. In fact, if we divide the world according to whether they routinely use garlic in their cuisine or not, a map emerges in which Latin America is decidedly on the side of the “white gold”. Countries where garlic is not as big a deal: Northern Europe, former British colonies (with a few exceptions), and parts of Africa and Asia. Things are changing, though, and garlic is being used more and more in non-traditional cuisine in these countries.
Here’s a bit of garlic anatomy: The bunch in which garlic comes is called “a head”, and each individual piece once the papery peel is removed is called “a clove (of garlic)” — not to be confused with cloves, a spice that is also very popular in our cuisine.
Garlic does better when cooked over low heat, where the taste gets milder, yet deeper. Cooked at high temperatures garlic becomes bitter, so keep this in mind when you use garlic in marinades for grilling or roasting.
The taste and aroma of garlic also change depending on how fresh it is. Ironically, fresh garlic tastes and smells milder than older garlic. Past a certain time, garlic may develop a green stem inside the cloves that some people find overpowering, but you can discard it and still use the garlic. Garlic can be used as an unpeeled head (like in roasted garlic), or by slicing, mincing, or crushing the individual cloves – each depending on the intended effect.
A simple, humble dish that you can easily find on any roadside stand in the Dominican Republic, it combines the delicate flavor of yuca, with a strongly flavored sauce that you'll love too.
- 2.5 lb [1.1kg] of fresh yuca (cassava) peeled, chopped, washed
- 1.5 tsp [9g] of salt
- 6 cups [1.5l] of water
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 1 head [50g] of garlic minced
- 6 tbsp [12g] of freshly minced parsley
- 6 tbsp of bitter orange juice (or lime juice)
- 1/2 tsp [3g] salt (or more, to taste)
- 1/2 tsp [1.1g] of freshly cracked pepper (or more, to taste)
Place yuca into a medium-sized pot. Pour in water and add salt. Simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, or until tender (test by poking with a fork). Remove the yuca from the water.
While the yuca is boiling, heat the oil in small saucepan over very low heat. Stir in the garlic. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Mix in parsley, bitter orange juice, salt and pepper. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if you find it necessary.
This recipe is often prepared using raw garlic. I find that it overpowers the mild, delicate taste of yuca, so I prefer to gently cook the garlic to tame it just enough so that it works well with the yuca.