We already have a recipe for cativía (or catibía, more on that later) in our collection, so this may be confusing. Let me start by clarifying what cativía is: Dominicans also use the name for Empanadas de Yuca (Cassava Empanadas), but cativía is, in fact, the name for cassava flour (also known as tapioca flour).
Cativía is an ancient food, and what I found during my research is what led me to re-write the other recipe and write this one.
First, cativía is part of our Taino heritage. It was an important part of their diet, and they used it to make Casabe (for which they used slightly damp cativia before it dried completely). We are lucky that colonial writers paid attention to this, and wrote about it. As a result we have a pretty good idea about the importance of this ingredient and how it was prepared.
Here are a few things about cativía (or catibía, which is the preferred spelling in Cuba1 ): Making it during pre-Columbian times was very labor-intensive, especially because the variety of yuca widely available at the time had a high toxin content that was eliminated by the cativia-making process.The process of squeezing the liquid out of the yuca (which is also how most yuca-based dishes are made) was needed back then to eliminate these toxins 2 . For other yuca-based dishes, other methods like fermentation were also used. In the Dominican Republic, we are lucky that the yuca we buy practically anywhere is non-toxic, and can be cooked in any manner we wish.
Frying wasn’t part of the Taino culinary repertoire, so the fried empanadas we know now could not have come from their culture. That came later, and it’s probably one of the first examples of “criollo” cuisine, merging a Taino product with a dish and cooking method that came with either the conquistadors, African slaves, or both.
So, if you’re asking yourself what’s the point of making this, other than a clumsy attempt at Luddism or misguided purism (after all, cassava flour is available in supermarkets), the answer is no: I have not fallen victim to some sort of culinary prescriptivism – this is an entirely practical matter. Let me explain…
As I mentioned before, Dominicans also use the word cativía to describe yuca empanadas, and this is, as I remember clearly, a recipe that was requested by a reader over 15 years ago, back when this project was in its infancy. Since then I have tweaked this recipe so many times I’ve lost count, each time to make it more approachable, easier to understand and easier to make, the only requisite being that you have to be able to find yuca wherever you happen to live. This last detail is no small matter in most of the world: yuca, unlike potatoes, did not catch up and become a nearly-universal ingredient outside of its land of origin.
The purpose of this recipe, or how-to, if you will, is to make another attempt at simplifying the process of making Yuca Empanadas, and, having taught you how to make cassava flour at home, to teach you how to make other dishes with this ancient ingredient. We already have a dessert recipe we published long ago that also includes yuca flour, so you can try that one too.
Cativía (Cassava Flour, Tapioca flour)
- 1.17 lb yuca (cassava) [530g], peeled and washed
- Grate the cassava with the least coarse side of the grater.
- Using a clean cotton cloth, squeeze the cassava until you extract as much liquid as possible.
- Spread on a baking tray, breaking clumps, it should be slightly damp and the texture will be similar to grated parmesan.
- Refrigerate uncovered for 24 hrs or until it has dried completely (see notes). Sift and discard any large clumps.
1. Comer Catibía. Josefina Ortega. La Jiribilla: Revista de Cultura Cubana.
2. Cocina Caribe