Thursday, July 07, 2011

Recipe #76: Cassava (yucca) Dough

The Ewe people number between 3 and 6 million people (I've seen figures citing both),  mostly living in Southeastern Ghana in the Volta Region and also southern parts of neighboring Togo and Benin. While my collaborator Barbara Baeta can and does prepare dishes from all 10 regions in the country, she is an Ewe woman, and her heart belongs to places like Keta along the coast. On her own table, she displays a love of dishes featuring the  riches of the sea and coast, fresh and dried seafood, garlic, okra, and dishes including cassava dough, such as akple, the Ewe answer to banku. The main difference between the two is fermentation and the  cassava dough (banku is all or mostly made from fermented corn dough; akple is made from unfermented corn dough and cassava dough).

One of the challenges in writing our Ghanaian cookbook for folks outside of Ghana  is the difficulty in duplicating some of the ingredients easily found in any open-air market there,  such as corn dough and cassava dough, or even fresh cassava. However, the name of this blog and network, "BETUMI," comes from the Akan word "tumi," meaning "to be able to."

So, in the spirit of "can do," here is my approach to creating the doughs. I've already explained how to make fermented corn dough using white Indian Head corn meal (see the link to banku above), and 2 days ago I decided to try using dried hominy corn to make a smoother corn dough. That's the whiter one in the photo to the right and the  one I may use when I make the akple after my cassava dough is ready in a couple of days (Incidentally, the Goya corn I ground doesn't seem to be fermenting anyway. I wonder if it was treated with lime or something?) Or, you can make the dough as for banku (the one on the right in the photo), but without letting it ferment.

To make akple you need to combine twice as much corn dough as cassava dough. Today's recipe, following the sketchy directions in my notes, is for cassava dough:

"Peel cassava, wash it, grate it very fine, mix water if not too wet, put in a sack and put a stone or heavy pot on it and let drain for 2-3 days."

Recipe #76: Cassava (yucca) dough
  • Finding fresh cassava is the first challenge. It is a root and will probably be called yucca in the market. It will be likely coated in wax. Unapologetically ask someone in the produce department to cut a few tubers in half before you buy them to make sure they are not rotten (I usually find they are when I shop).  When you get them home (I bought 3 and still had to discard part of one), peel them and drop them in some water. I usually cut the ends off, cut them in half at the center, then use a sharp knife to kind of peel back the dark bark. I ended up with about a pound of peeled cassava.
  • The next step is not for the fainthearted. Roll up your sleeves and use some elbow grease to grate the cassava into a clean bowl. I used the "fine" side of a box grater. It's possible that a food processor could also do this, but I'm sticking exactly to my notes this time. If you also cut the pieces horizontally, you'll see a kind of stringy piece that runs down the cassava. I pulled a few of those out, but also grated some of them along with the rest of the cassava.
  • "Mix water if it is not too wet" was cryptic, so I decided to add some water, reasoning that if it was too much it would just drain out eventually. To my 2 1/2 cups of grated cassava, I added about a half cup of water in the bowl and swished it around in the stainless steel bowl I was using.
  • How to drain it? I decided to put the grated cassava into a clean pillowcase, set a stainless steel bowl weighted down with rocks on top of it, placed the pillowcase on a patio chair with a plastic pan under it to catch the starchy water draining out. Not too elegant, but it seems to work. I also doubled the pillow case, and put a paper towel between the chair. If rain threatens, I'll move the chair into the garage, but I've got it outside during the day.
  • On Saturday I'll take it out and see what we have. . .

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