Tapiok, Manioka, Cassava, Yucca, and Tapioca are relatively all the same thing. It is a rooted plant that grows in the tropics around the world. You are probably most familiar with it in the dessert form of tapioca, those little pearl beads that you soak in water before using in a pudding or a thickener. However, in most other places it is known by the edible tuber. It can be baked, boiled, or fried. It is a starchy root with a potato like texture which soaks up the juices and liquids from whatever it is in and it is good for vitamin C. Its one down side is that it tends to go bad very quickly once out of the soil, so it must be cooked and eaten as soon as possible, at least within 24 hours.
For those cooks out there who would like to try their hand at it, you can find them at the International food stores in the US. Usually they have been dipped in a layer of wax so they will look a bit different than my pictures of fresh. If you are buying one in the states, look for one that does not have the tip broken off, obvious splits or exposed bits.
Take a sturdy knife and cut long-ways down through the outer layer of skin (about 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch). You should then be able to use the blade to pry off that outer layer, kind of like peeling away bark. Once the outer layer is discarded, hold the root firm in one hand and with your knife blade perpendicular to it, and scrape off the slightly slimy/moist layer. I’ve been told that this layer can be bitter, but I haven’t personally tested this. At this point the root is ready for cooking.
To make it last longer (and keep in the fridge) I boil it covered with water, just until it splits down the middle. Then I put it on a cooling rack and remove the tough string in the middle. Once cooled and dry it can be stored in the fridge for a week or the freezer for a month. I like to grate it and use it like hashbrowns or scalloped potatoes (recipe below). If you are frying it remember, it will burn more quickly than potatoes, so you have to keep your eye on it! Oh, and by the way, don’t eat tapiok raw or undercooked, you can get a bad stomachache.
Anj’s Scalloped Tapiok and Cheese (Or Fake Cheesy Mashed Potatoes)
Note: when covered well with milk it comes out a lot like mashed potatoes!
2-3 large tubers or 5-6 smaller ones, peel, scrape, boil 10 minutes until it cracks down the middle, remove from water, remove string, let dry, grate
1 lb cheese, Edam, Colby, or a Mild cheddar
Salt & Pepper to taste
Margarine or butter 2-4 TBSP
1 cup cooked ham or bacon (optional)
Milk to cover (approx. 4 cups)
Layer tapiok in a 9×13 greased baking pan (it is better to do this in a larger pan and layer it thinner than you would normal do scalloped potatoes) in layers with grated cheese, salt & pepper, dot with butter or margarine, (add grated ham or bacon). The last layer should have cheese on the top. Pat down so that layers are compressed and below the rim of the pan. Pour on enough milk over to cover tapiok. You may want a piece of foil or a baking tray under the pan incase of spillover. Bake 350 for 1 hour or until bubbly.
Options: Sliced ham is also good. Sliced spring onions can be used as well.
In our village you can often see tapiok roasting in the coals of a fire OR on special occasions find it grated, mixed with coconut milk and yava bananas, wrapped in banana leaves, and cooked on heated rocks. When it is done it tastes a little like cherries! So, the next time you eat some tapioca pudding, remember that there are people on the other side of the world eating it too, and pray for us!