I grew up on yucca, a root vegetable I continuously find myself introducing to friends.
As Cubans, we mainly eat yucca as a side dish either boiled or fried and topped with crispy garlic sautéed in olive oil. I love it in my all-time-favorite comfort food, a soup called ajiaco.
This week, I rediscovered the potato-like vegetable, also known as cassava, while sampling dishes from Samba in Montclair.
The restaurant is owned by Brazilian-born Islon Goncalves, who learned how to cook as a child watching his mom in their Santa Catarina home.
Goncalves said he doesn't create cheese bread and sortidos (pastries) using yucca flour to appeal to gluten-free eaters — they just do. He simply grew up with the ingredient and naturally uses it in his dishes.
The bite-sized cheese bread came to the table still warm, and was completely addictive.
Of the three sortidos, two were made with yucca flour which certainly fooled me for the "real thing." The appetizers served tapas-style in a mini-skillet were stuffed with dried beef and butternut squash; baccala (salted cod), potatoes and fresh herbs; and chicken. They were all good, but the flaky, fresh baccala stood out from the trio.
The final yucca dish I tried was the Mandioca frita com linguica calabresa e cebola. Translation: fried yucca cubes, with Brazilian pork sausage and sautéed onions. The spice of the sausage was a nice complement to the starchy yucca.
These Brazilian specialties are served only at dinner at Samba, and I can't wait to share them with friends.