I was on the phone with my mom recently when she asked me if they sold yucca in New York City supermarkets. I told her that with the amount of Hispanic people in New York, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and every other nationality south of the border, I was sure they did. I had never seen it myself but that’s just because I never looked for it.
Yucca, a starchy vegetable which is actually the thick, gnarled root of the plant it’s part of, was just as commonplace in our kitchen, if not more so, than your standard potato in a regular American household. My mom cut off the thick, ugly brown exterior to reveal the white, fibrous inside, which she then either boiled, mixed in soup, mashed, or fried.
“Ok, well I think I’m going to mail you some,” she announced.
“NO!” I blurted out. “Please, do not mail me any yucca. Please.”
I imagined myself opening a box at work, where she usually sends my packages, and pulling out the large, ugly, almost turd-like yucca roots. What would I even do with that? My flimsy set of butter knives and the one fruit paring knife I own wouldn’t know what to do either when attempting to get through the yucca’s tough outer layer.
Thankfully, I was able to talk her out of it.
But it’s almost a shame, because yucca, when it’s cut into wedges and fried, is one of my favorite things to eat. But the other night, when I decided to join a coworker and a couple of other people out for drinks, there it was on the menu: fried yucca!
The restaurant was Esperanto, an East Village Hispanic spot with a Brazilian slant. We’d originally come for the Caipirinhas but decided that if we were going to drink, we should probably eat something too.
Along with our pitcher of caipirinha (hey, there were four of us, ok?) we ordered a plate of fried yucca and the house ceviche.
As far as yucca goes, this was some of the best I’ve ever had. Yucca’s starchy so if it’s cooked too much or fried too long the inside can get really dry while the outside gets greasy and heavy. Esperanto’s fried yucca though was cooked enough that it was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside without leaving anyone with oily fingers or dry mouths. Unlike my mom’s version, these yucca wedges were sprinkled with a garlicky, salty, cilantro seasoning that made each piece extra packed with flavor. A tangy, spicy garlic mayo dipping sauce only completed the dish.
The ceviche, which had a tough act to follow once I’d tried the yucca, was pretty good too. The red snapper was zesty and refreshing in its lime, pepper, onion and cilantro juice. Instead of crackers or bread it was served with crisp, crunchy, thinly sliced plantain chips.
The next time I spoke to my mom I mentioned the tasty yucca I’d had with friends and she was happy to hear it.
“Oh good!” she gushed. “I’m so glad you’re eating healthy. You know, yucca’s so good for you.”
I left out the part about the caipirinha pitcher and sangria pitcher that followed it…