Welcome to Meat Free Monday and we’re cooking up Yucca Tossed in Garlic Sauce, other wise known as Yuca Con Mojo, a Central American and Caribbean side dish made by marinading yuca root in garlic, lime, and olive oil. We are using onions in our marinade. This dish is one of Cuba’s national dishes.
The national flower of New Mexico, USA, Yucca is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae. There are 49 species of Yucca, which are recognisable from their rosettes of evergreen, sword-shaped leaves and large white flowers. They are native to the arid bits of North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. It is known in the lower Midwest (United States) as “ghosts in the graveyard”, as it is often found in rural graveyards and when in bloom the flowers on their thin stalks resemble ghosts.
The natural distribution range of the genus Yucca (49 species and 24 subspecies) is vast. From Baja California in the west, north into the southwestern United States, to the drier central states then as far north as Alberta in Canada (Yucca glauca ssp. albertana). Yucca is also native to the lowlands and dry beach scrub of the Gulf and South Atlantic states from coastal Texas to east Virginia. To the south, the genus is represented throughout Mexico and extends into Guatemala (Yucca guatemalensis). Yuccas have adapted to withstand a huge range of climatic and ecological conditions, from rocky deserts to badlands, from prairie to grasslands, in mountainous regions, in light woodland or coastal sands (Yucca filamentosa).
Yuccas are usually pollinated by yucca moths (family Prodoxidae). Fascinatingly, it is a symbiotic relationship because the insect purposefully transfers the pollen from the stamens of one plant to the stigma of another, and whilst laying an egg in the flower. Then the moth larva feeds on some of the developing seeds, always leaving enough seed to perpetuateefxesvm the species. Although Yuccas are normally grown as ornamental plants, many species also bear edible parts, including fruits, seeds, flowers, flowering stems, and sometimes roots, but beware, yucca root as food is often confused with the botanically unrelated, yuca (cassava or manioc – Manihot esculenta).
If yucca is specified in a recipe, therefore always check that cassava or manioc is not what’s meant! Roots of soaptree yucca (Yucca elata) are high in saponins and are used as a shampoo in Native American rituals. Dried yucca leaves and trunk fibres have a low ignition temperature, so fantastic for starting fires via friction. In Appalachian areas, species such as Yucca filamentosa are referred to as “meat hangers” because their tough, spiny leaves were used to hang meat for salt curing or smoking.
The flowers are particularly beautiful and flavoursome, tasting like a combination of a green bean and the innermost leaves of an artichoke. The flavour obviously varies depending on species and age but generally, they are firm, slightly crunchy, and taste great. Most recipes for yucca flowers involve eggs. Omelettes, frittatas, huevos rancheros, eggs, yucca, tomatoes and chillies – delicious!
- 700g of yucca root, cut into chunks
- A pinch of sea salt
- The juice of one lime
For the garlic sauce
- 8 garlic cloves, crushed
- A large pinch of sea salt
- The juice of two lemons
- 120 ml of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
Place the chunks of yucca in a pan and cover with the lime juice and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the yucca is tender. Drain and place back in the pan and cover to keep warm. Mash garlic cloves into salt using a mortar and pestle to form a smooth paste then add to a saucepan together with the oil, lemon juice and onions, heat the garlic sauce until just bubbling then remove and pour over the yucca in the other pan. Toss to coat the yucca then sauté over a medium heat, to give them some colour. Serve immediately.