Mandioca: from Root to Flour
It looks like an old tree log, but is actually a delicious edible root-vegetable: Mandioca is the most versatile and authentic ingredient of the Brazilian cuisine. In English, you may call it Manioc or Cassava. Actually, you may find different names for that even in Brazil: mandioca, aipim, and macaxeira are the most common ones.
Originally from the Amazon river region, the name mandioca comes from Tupi (one of the native Brazilians languages), and literally means “house of Maní”. According to the guarani mythology, Mani was a beloved girl from an indigenous tribe. After dying from a mysterious disease, Maní was buried inside the tribe’s hut. An unknown plant started to grow over Mani’s grave, and, after digging that, instead of Mani’s body they found a delicious root, that helped satisfying the hunger of the tribe.
It is possible to grow and find Cassava in other countries, but I bet that in Brazil you can find the widest range of usages and the most delicious recipes. Besides tasting good, Cassava has many benefits: low-fat, gluten-free and rich in minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese.
Mandioca Frita (Fried Cassava)
In Brazil, fried Cassava is as popular as french fries in the US. In fact, Brazilians normally have it as an appetizer, and it is possible to find it in most restaurants and bars. It goes super well with beer, by the way.
That is my favorite Mandioca usage. Simple, easy to make and delicious. To prepare it, all you have to do is pour some manioc tapioca flour on a heated pan for a few minutes until the flour grains stick together. Then fill it with whatever you want: banana with nutella, dry meat with cheese, or simply butter. Fold it and, voilá, you’ll have some sort of gluten-free delicious crêpe. That is also very popular as street food in some parts of Brazil.
It tastes way better than it looks (I know, it looks like sand, but is delicious). Farofa is basically roasted cassava flour mixed with other ingredients (normally bacon, onion, boiled-egg and spices). Among other usages, Farofa goes along with Feijoada, which is the most famous Brazilian dish. It is also a staple food for many families in Brazil.
Tucupi is a yellow sauce extracted from a specific specie of Manioc. After extracted, the liquid must be boiled in order to eliminate its poison (hydrogen cyanide). Tucupi is very popular in the Amazon region, but has captured attention from high level gastronomy chefs. Helena Rizzo (awarded as the best female chef in the world in 2013) uses Tucupi in some of her dishes in her restaurant Maní, not coincidentally.