Cassava—known as Yuca in Mexico— is a starchy, woody root that has been in Mexico for more than two centuries, and is found in the states of the Yucatan peninsula. In the State of Tabasco, it is commonly found in a dish called puchero, a stew made with beef and vegetables. Cassava is also used to make several sweet desserts, including these buñuelos (fried dough balls). It is a basic food in some southern states and is often cultivated in the family’s own vegetable garden. Yuca is also known as cassava, tapioca, and Brazilian arrowroot, and can be found here in the States in many Latin and Asian grocery stores.
If this is your first time cooking with yuca/cassava, don’t be intimated by the thick rind. The brown rind is thick and rough but can easily be removed with a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife. The texture is similar to that of a sweet potato, but slightly harder, as it has some veins that run along the center of the root. The starchy flesh is usually white and with a sweet smell. You can prepare lots of recipes with cassava once it is cooked: you can fry it or use it to make breads, empanadas and all sort of dishes where you need a starch. I’ve been thinking about making small dumplings with it and cooking them with tomato sauce… Give it a try! I’m sure you’ll be surprised with its versatility.
FOR 20 – 24 BUÑUELOS
- 2 lb. yuca (about 1 1/2 lb. when peeled)
- Water, enough to cover the yuca for cooking
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- Flour (for dusting the working area to form the buñuelos)
- Vegetable oil for frying (about 1 1/2 cups)
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FOR THE SYRUP
- 8 ounces of piloncillo
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 2 cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon anise seeds
It is better if you start this recipe early in the morning to allow time to cool the dough before frying, or better yet, place it in the refrigerator for at least one hour for easy handling when forming the buñuelos.
1. Peel the cassava; cut it lengthwise and then in smaller pieces. Place in a pot and cover with water. Cook between 30-45 minutes until the cassava is soft enough to make a puree with it. Note: This time will depend on how old the cassava is and on the size of the pieces.
2. Once the cassava is cooked, drain the cooking water, and smash using a potato smasher to from a puree. The cassava has some veins that can be removed by pulling them with your fingers, or you can use a strainer to remove any of these veins by pressing the puree with a wooden spoon. It is normal if you have some lumps of the cassava puree.
Personally, I like the dough very smooth, so I pass all the dough through the strainer, pressing it with a wooden spoon, and then I set it aside to cool. (PREPARE THE SYRUP, INSTRUCTIONS BELOW)
3. Once the cassava mixture has cooled, place it in a large bowl and stir in the egg, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix and knead until you have a smooth dough. Place it in the fridge for at least one hour. It will be less sticky and easier to work with. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour if you need to while forming the dough.
4. To form the buñuelos, dust your hands with flour and roll a small ball of dough, of about 1 ounce, between your hands. Place over a plastic or wax paper while you keep forming the rest of the dough into balls.
5. Heat one inch of oil in a large frying pan or cast iron pan over medium heat. About 320 degrees on a candy thermometer. Working in batches, place the buñuelos in the oil to cook. Turn occasionally, until cooked through and deep golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. If you turn the heat too high, the buñuelos will not cook evenly inside. Make sure to keep the heat at medium high. Transfer the buñuelos to a plate covered with paper towels to drain any excess oil. Place already cooked buñuelos in a small baking tray in a warm oven while you finish cooking the rest of the dough.
Buñuelos are better when served warm!
TO PREPARE THE SYRUP:
1. Place piloncillo, water, cinnamon, cloves, and anise seeds in a saucepan over a medium heat and cover. Let the piloncillo melt and form a syrup.
2. Let cool and pour in a small saucer, passing first through a strainer.
Pour over warm buñuelos right before serving.