The Proven Platter – Nicaragua
Let’s try something new this month! Yuca (pronounced YOO-ka) is also known as manioc or cassava. Although you will often see this plant referred to in the US as “yucca,” that is incorrect. Yucca is a totally unrelated desert plant in the agave family.
The tuberous roots of plants in the yuca family have long provided a carbohydrate-rich food source for indigenous peoples in arid areas of the Americas. The starchy root is highly nutritious and low in fat, containing many vitamins, minerals and plant-based nutrients. The leaves of the plant can be cooked as well. Yuca tastes a lot like a potato, and can be boiled, fried, or mashed; it is even used to make tapioca.
Our recipe of the month is known as “Vigoron” or Yuca and Cabbage Salad with Pork Cracklings. To be quite authentic you would actually make pork cracklings by rendering the fat of a pork belly until crisp and crackling, with bits of meat attached. As delicious as that sounds it may be a bit much in terms of preparation for this simple recipe. But there is a “quick and dirty” solution for this — you can purchase a bag of “chicharrones” (pork rinds) that you should be able to find in just about any grocery store snack aisle.
Much of the yuca that arrives in our markets is from Costa Rica. It is often covered in wax to retard spoilage. You will want to buy a little more than you’ll need to allow for peeling and trimming off any bad spots. The flesh should be dense and bright white or light yellow, with no blotches, purplish veins or grayish rings.
In fact, when I did cut into one of my yuca roots, to my dismay I found the grayish rings that were described as undesirable. The other root was perfectly white inside. Since I don’t have any experience cooking yucca, I decided not to take a chance and discarded those pieces. They were probably safe to eat, just not as tasty as you’d want them.
You can also find yuca peeled and frozen, which is very convenient and perfectly acceptable to use. That way you can be sure that a 2-pound bag will yield just that. I hope you’ll give yuca a try!
Nicaraguan Yuca and Cabbage Salad with Pork Cracklings (Vigoron)
Vigoron is a specialty of Granada. The story goes that when the city was hosting a group of athletes who were training for a baseball game, an astute vendor touted the salad as vigoron, or “invigorating.” The salad caught on and the name stuck. Nowadays you will encounter street vendors serving up Vigoron in the plaza. It is a popular and filling Nicaraguan fast-food.
About 3 pounds yuca, enough to yield 2 pounds prepared, OR 2 pounds frozen prepared yucca See this link on how to prepare yuca– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcS7XyRPDXg
2 tsp. salt
4 cups finely shredded green cabbage (about ½ small head)
1 to 1½ cups diced tomatoes (about 8 ounces)
1 medium white onion (about 8 ounces), cut in half lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 medium carrot, cut into julienne strips, or shaved with a carrot peeler
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
½ bunch of cilantro, bottom stems removed, tender stems and leaves slivered
4 tbsp. lime juice (about 1-2 limes)
1½ tsp. kosher salt (or 1 tsp. regular table salt)
cabbage leaves for garnish
1 bag chicharrones (pork rinds) for garnish
avocado for garnish
After you’ve peeled the yuca, cut the root into 4-inch pieces, then cut the pieces in half lengthwise. The interior of the yuca should look white throughout, without any brown or gray streaks or veining. Drop pieces into a bowl of cold water until you are ready to proceed. (This can be done as much as one day ahead of time and stored in the fridge.)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil to cook the yuca. Add the salt to the water and add the yuca. After 30 minutes, check to see if it is done. You may have to remove some chunks as they are done and leave others in longer, this could take up to 45 minutes. When done, the yuca should pierce easily with a knife, and it should look opaque, with no firm white areas left. I found that on some pieces, although they were cooked on the inside, the outside where I had peeled them was still firm; I shaved off the firm exterior until I got to the tender interior.
After you’ve pulled the yuca from the water, place the pieces on a platter. You will see a spindly vein running through the center. Remove this hard vein and discard. Cut any larger chunks of yuca into smaller pieces, about 2 inches. (The cooked yuca can be stored for a day or two in the fridge before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.)
In the meantime, while the yuca is cooking, prepare the slaw. Combine the cabbage, tomatoes, onion, carrot, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and 1½ tsp. salt in a bowl.
To serve, place the yuca (it can be warm or cold) on a serving platter and top with the cabbage slaw and pork rinds.
Recipe and photo credit: Linda McElroy