Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kappa Puzhukku (Fresh Yuca, Cassava, or Tapioca Stew)

"Kappa Puzhukku"

Woody looking cassava, yuca, or tapioca roots (Manihot esculenta), are marketed as yuca (yoo-ka) in the U.S.; they should not be confused with yucca (yuk-ka) which is an unrelated plant altogether. Cassava originated from South America and traveled with the explorers to other tropical and subtropical areas of the world. In India cassava is known as tapioca (in English), as kolli, kappa, marachini, marakkizhangu, etc in Malayalam and Tamil, and manioc or mandioca in other countries.

Cassava/tapioca has a unique and delicious flavor and is utilized in various ways in Kerala - freshly boiled/steamed, in curries and stews, as chips and papadams. Kappa Puzhukku is a tasty traditional offering in Kerala homes and snack shops. The bland starchy roots cook up translucent and buttery tasting; they readily absorb whatever seasonings they are cooked with and provide delectable and filling fare.

Puzhukku means boiled or stewed; they are simple curries typically flavored with fresh coconut, chiles, and sometimes cumin and/or shallots. Typically puzhukkus do not get a thalippu at the end but only crushed curry leaves and a bit of coconut oil - but you can choose whichever option you like .... with thalippu or not.

"Cassava, Yuca, or Tapioca"

Whether called tapioca, cassava, or yuca, it is an easy crop to grow with minimum effort, therefore inexpensive, and a boon for many people in reduced circumstances in many countries. Tapioca pearls are made from cassava tubers.

Cassava/tapioca provides mostly carbohydrates, a very small amount of protein - albeit of good quality, a goodly amount of calcium as well as some B vitamins. Purchase plump hard roots free of soft spots, mold, etc. and keep refrigerated until ready to use; use within a few days for maximum freshness. Cassava is not eaten raw as it has a small amount of cyanogenic glucosides which is toxic; cooking renders it harmless.

4 Servings


2 medium Tapioca/Yuca roots
1 pinch Turmeric
1 Tsp Sea Salt

1/2 cup fresh Coconut
2 dry Red Chiles
1 tsp whole Cumin Seeds
3-4 Shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped (optional)

1 Tbsp Oil
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 or 2 Dry Hot Red Chiles
1-2 stem fresh Curry Leaves, minced


Wash the cassava/tapioca roots, cut into two or three pieces, peel both the outer bark-like brown layer and the inner thicker one and drop into a large bowl of water while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Grind the coconut and the rest of the masala ingredients except the shallots. When the coconut is well ground, add the shallots if using and coarsely crush.

Drain and rinse the cassava roots and add to a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook until the tapioca is tender but not mushy and turn off the heat. When cool enough to handle, remove the veggies from the cooking water using a slotted spoon into a colander and drain well.

Break up the tapioca pieces apart into segments and remove and discard the woody cordon in the middle. Coarsely break up into small bite-sized pieces.

The alternate way is to cook the cubed cassava in just enough water with salt and turmeric and cook until soft; draining is not necessary.

Heat the oil in a kadai/skillet and add chile and mustard seeds. When mustard seeds pop, reduce heat, add the curry leaves and stir for a few seconds.

Stir in the cassava with the turmeric and the coconut masala and heat through; add a little more salt if needed. Some like the puzhukku soft - if you like it soft, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of boiling water mash and stir well.

Serve hot by itself or with other dishes. Enjoy!!

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