Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cassava, Yuca, Tapioca...and Sardines

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My Hunt for Cassava

It started when I finally persuaded an old friend, to visit. We’ve known each other since 1971, so when I say old friend I don’t mean defined by age, I mean by time.
She lives in the States now and we met ten years ago at her place…getting her to come to mine was like pulling a tooth bare handed, but she finally agreed when I told her another teacher and her husband from India were coming to visit.
As soon as she agreed, my mind flew to what I could do to make her visit special. She worked long hours, had had a rotten winter and spring with a spell of bad health, work, rain and tornadoes, and deserved a real holiday. A real holiday to me is good food, people you enjoy being with and interesting things to do.
The good food part was my department so I addressed myself seriously to it.
I remember her saying, (after a visit to India), that she had eaten cassava again, after ages, and that she loved it so much. A phone call to her aunt, revealed my friend had another great love: sardines.
Cassava and sardines made a perfect meal together, Aunty assured me.
First things first:
I started trying to find cassava in any form and couldn’t at the local grocery stores. At the rate of one store a day, which is all I could do, time was soon running out.
In desperation, I turned to my friend and ally: the Internet.
I searched for Kerala cooking sites (my friend had eaten cassava in Kerala) and recipes for cassava.
An e-mail to two blogs: Malabar Spices and Let Us All Cook, led to two prompt replies from Mallu Girl and Sangeeth Raghunathan. Sangeeth forwarded my mail to Cynthia Nelson, who is a great ally in this new world of blogging. Mallu Girl gave me a tip that led the way to enlightenment on the subject of cassava with one question: Did I mean yucca/tapioca? I followed her lead and discovered that’s what I meant, and googling those words finally opened up the world of cassava.
In the meantime, my daily walks had led me through grocery stores where I had finally found one a packet of frozen, grated cassava. There were no recipes for grated cassava anywhere. Another Internet search led to a site that gave me one recipe that I banked just in case…
Searching for yucca on the Internet (the name given by Mallu Girl) led to the fact it is available in Mexican supermarkets, and I hurried to the one close by, overjoyed to find they actually had the product…cleaned and frozen (the easiest way to use it).
That was a lot of work, my friend protested later.
“That wasn’t work! That was research and discovery. Nothing equals the triumph of discovering a new ingredient and a shot at making a new dish!”
My friend looked at me cautiously, “And you enjoy this?”
“For some people, I do.” I clarified, making it clear that I wasn’t insanely rushing around trying to find new ingredients and new recipes for anybody and everybody.
Finding the sardines was just as challenging, but I finally found frozen sardines at a Vietnamese store.
An then, after I had logged all those miles to the delight of my endocrinologist, who says diabetics MUST walk every day (I mean had she known she would have been delighted), I found my favorite neighbor, who is from the Philippines and lives across the street knows all about cassava, where to get it, the best kind to use, etc. Had I but asked!!!.
She said the brown tubers which had been lying under my nose, in every Oriental grocery store, were not easy to clean and sometimes rotten in the center, so I had done well by picking the frozen product.

I finally turned out these cassava and sardine dishes during my friend’s stay. Her true enjoyment of the food I made, was all I needed to encourage me.

Welcome dinner:

Cassava with spices. (made following Aunty’s instructions and reading three recipes.)
I cooked the frozen cassava pieces for ten minutes (not thirty, like the packet said) with turmeric in the water till a knife inserted into it came out clean.
I mashed it roughly and added salt to taste
Then I added a paste of coconut and green chillies.
Finally I seasoned it with red chillies, curry leaves in a little coconut oil.
It looked like potatoes/palya.

After a call or two to Aunty I realized she meant fresh sardines, not canned as I had thought. It was back to the hunt.
A search of Oriental groceries finally led to finding sardines in a Vietnamese Supermarket. Who knew there could be so many varieties of small fish that looked like sardines but were not sardines?
Wash and dry frozen sardines (mine were cleaned).
Heat four tablespoons of olive oil in a flat frying pan.
Place sardines in a row, sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn after one min.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove after one minute.
A little longer makes the outside crunchier but the frozen sardines start falling apart very quickly.
Later during my friends’ visit, we found fresh sardines which could be fried longer and came out crunchier.

Cassava Pancakes (remember the grated cassava that was my first find? I had to finish that while the friend-who-loved-cassava was with me).
(I got the basic recipe from the FAO Corporate Document Repository originated by Agriculture and Consumer Protection.)
Put cassava flour, in a clean dry bowl and add a pinch of salt and mix.
Make a well in the flour. Break eggs into the welt one at a time and mix together.
Add some water gradually. Mix well to a dropping consistency and leave to stand for 20 minutes.
I put 8 ozs of frozen, grated cassava in the blender jar with two eggs, salt, pepper and chilli powder and mixed it all for 2 mins.
Heat 1 tablespoonful oil in a clean frying pan.
Heat the frying pan with sufficient oil to prevent the mixture from sticking when cooking.
(I used a spray and a non-stick pan).
Pour mixture into the pan about two tablespoonfuls at a time. Make sure the mixture covers the base of the pan. Cook over a low heat until done.
Put a little fish mixture into the middle of each cassava cake and fold gently to look like an envelope.
(I made a spicy salmon curry and used that as an accompaniment)

And finally, buoyed by my friend’s enthusiastic reception and approval of these dishes, the fourth and final recipe was served for breakfast one day :

Spicy Cassava Pancakes
(This goes into my 5 star cookbook as the results exceeded expectations.)

8 ozs grated cassava.
1 tsp jeera (whole cumin)
1 sprig curry leaves.
2 green chillies.
½ finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp chopped haridhania (coriander leaves).
Salt, chilli powder, pepper powder (to taste).
1 pinch asafoetedia (hing).
1 egg.

Heat 1 Tbsp oil. Put in hing and jeera. When jeera browns add chopped onion and curry leaves and chopped green chillies. Fry till onion is light brown. Add salt, pepper powder and chilli powder. Mix. Remove from stove. Add haridhania. Cool.
Beat egg and mix everything with cassava into thick pancake like batter.
(This looks like peserhettu mix...a South Indian, moong dal dosa).
Spray non-stick pan with cooking spray, heat, and put in one round spoon of batter (1/2 cup).
Spread like a thick pancake and let it cook. When browned on one side, flip over and brown the other.
Tastes excellent with coconut chutney…or sardines (of course!)

It was fun discovering cassava and experimenting with it. Of course the whole thing was made easier by my pal’s amazement and appreciation.
I’m sharing this in case you need to make stuff with cassava…and also because I like to record rare/uncommon recipes.


Cynthia said...

Oh how I love Cassava! And you have given me a great idea - cassava and sardines! We don't get fresh sardines here but I will more than make do with the canned ones! Ummmm, I can't wait to try this.

I also like cassava boiled just like that in salted water and eaten with a hot fish curry! I am drooling here at the thought :)

mallugirl said...

wow..all those dishes with cassava.. u did a great job. i am sure ur friend felt absolutely special. said...

Thanks Cynthia and Mallu Girl.
My friend loved the dishes as much as I enjoyed the journey of discovery, with help from both of you of course.


lan said...

your friend is lucky because she has such a good friend. cassava and sardines used to be household items in childhood. i love making cassava whenever i can. never tried with powder though. interesting!
thanks for coming by.

Eco_smith said...

Hi Geetha!
Thanks for inviting me to your blog! Loved it!

I myself was searching for fresh mackerels the whole of last month! Found it at one of the asian markets..
Now searching for other vegetables thats are pretty common in India like ash gourd etc!