The markets in Panama are full of things unfamiliar to many North Americans and Europeans. Two of those of Yucca and Otoe are known by different names in other places. Yucca is known as cassava and Otoe as Taro. Each is potentially toxic unless cooked correctly, both are common here and can be enjoyed instead of ignored.
I prepared both this week and want to share.
First the Otoe. According to Wikipedia, “The plant is inedible when raw and considered toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals, typically as raphides. The toxin is minimized by cooking, especially with a pinch of baking soda. It can also be reduced by steeping taro roots in cold water overnight. Calcium oxalate is highly insoluble and contributes to kidney stones. It has been recommended to consume milk or other calcium-rich foods together with taro.“
My preparation is simple and simply excellent. Below is the plant, so common here as to be a road side weed, or on my finca a prized food crop. The difference between many weeds and desired plants is just where they grow.
Below is the tuber as you would find in bins at the market. I cleaned of the skin and cut it into thick slices for boiling. Then boiled it until soft like a potato.
When it was soft I mash the Otoe and add a mixture of pureed garlic, butter, salt and milk. Then mix again, just like garlic mashed potatoes. The result is a savory treat great with a roast pork sandwich.
Yucca or Cassava is also toxic is not boiled. It is slow to soften, about 45 minutes in boiling water to soften and to eliminate the toxins.
From Wikipedia, “Cassava is classified as sweet or bitter. Like other roots and tubers, cassava contains anti nutritional factors and toxins. It must be properly prepared before consumption. Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and may even cause ataxia or partial paralysis.“
Like Otoe, Yucca is very common here and when we harvest the tuber we just replant the stem and have yucca again in a few months. It is grown in large quantities in Panama because it produces the most calories per hectare of any crop.
These are the roots. Select carefully because some are too big and woody to eat. When peeled and cut it should be white inside not woody.
I have two favorite preparations. Each starts by peeling and cutting into large steak fry portions.
Then boiling with salt for at least 45 minutes until soft.
One method that goes over with all takers is to take the cooked yucca and deep fry it, then salt it. Yucca Fries are always a hit. Sorry we finished them before I remembered to snap a photo.
The other is the make a sauce of olive oil, Culantro, garlic and salt and pour it over the boiled yucca, yum.
So next time you see a bin of roots at the local vegetable vendor try buying some Otoe or Yucca and give it a try. They are nice substitutes for potatoes and other starches in a balanced local diet.