Thursday, August 11, 2016

All About Versatile Yuca Dough and Using it to Make Grain Free Vegan Goodies

Baked yuca dough wild greens gnocchi, absolutely delicious, grain free, and vegan!

First off, I need to write that there are two plants, one named yuca and one named yucca and people often misspell them. Yucca with two c's is also known as Spanish dagger, and grows wild in many places and is ornamental in others, is in the asparagus family, and can be foraged to use as food. This yuca, with one c, is also known as cassava, manioc, and tapioca, and surprisingly to me, is in the spurge family, the family with many, many poisonous plants...

Yuca roots, where I live, are not cheap at all, at approximately $3.89 a pound, but in many areas of the US, as well as other parts of the world, yuca can be bought very cheaply, for as little as 50 cents a pound in many parts of the US.
I first heard about the uses of yuca root when I was researching how to make your own tapioca starch, and then I heard about cassava flour (unavailable to buy here, or even to ship here) which works wonderfully in gluten free/grain free products. Then I heard more and more about yuca dough, and how it has so many uses. Many typically gluten items, such as baked goods, can generally be made gluten free with a bit of finessing, but making them grain free is harder. However, gluten free, grain free items are possible when using coconut flour, eggs, and/or nut flour, but if you can't use coconut flour or eggs (both bother my stomach) and try to use no or fewer nuts (it can get expensive) it's quite hard to come up with ideas on how to make things.
Enter yuca dough.
Without any grains, gluten or not, without any eggs, and without any nuts or coconut flour, you can make all sorts of items generally made from grains, from pizza crust to ravioli to gnocchi to empanadas, just by using a dough made from yuca.

So, how do you do it and how does it work?

Well, I will admit that I am not such an expert on yuca, and have only made things with yuca a few times, as it is expensive round these parts, but the few times I did make them, this is what I learned.

First, you have this really hard root covered in a brown bark looking exterior. The exterior is actually toxic, and needs to be cut off. (Remember, it is from the poisonous spurge family; it makes sense that it would have a poisonous part.)
Then, you have to cook it. Yuca raw has toxic compounds, that get destroyed via cooking.

You have to peel the brown outer layer off the yuca and then chop it roughly. The yuca root is very hard--it isn't so easy to chop it. You don't want pieces to be too large or they won't cook well, nor too small or they'll be water logged. Typically, after peeling, I cut my yuca into half circles about 1 1/2-2 inches thick.

Next step is to boil the yuca. This is where it gets a bit tricky. If you don't cook it enough, you won't be able to make your dough properly, but if you cook it too much, it will get waterlogged and won't be as effective as a dough- you'll need a binder and/or flour to make it workable. Keep an eye on your yuca and cook it until fork tender. And if you aren't 100% what stage that is, it means just until you can put your fork in the pieces, without too much effort, but not nearly as soft as a boiled potato.

After straining your yuca pieces. you stick them in a food processor (while still hot) and blend up as much as you can, scraping down the sides so you have as few lumps left in as possible. Your yuca will be very sticky and pasty at this stage, and you'll need to spread it out on a piece of oiled baking paper until it cools down to room temperature.

If you have experience with things made with potato or corn starch, you'd know that there are a few stages of food preparation with starches. At first, corn starch and potato starch thicken things a drop when cooled, but once cooked they thicken, but once they cool down their texture changes (and that's why your gravy looks congealed weirdly when cold, if you thickened it with potato or corn starch). Yuca dough works the same way. When you cook the yuca pieces, the starch activates and becomes sticky, but only when cooled does it thicken the rest of the way and can be used as a dough. If you try using your yuca dough when it is still hot, it won't thicken properly and will be very sticky to the touch.

Yuca dough still will be sticky to the touch once cooled down, but it changes from the texture of sticky mashed potatoes to more of a workable dough. To deal with this stickiness you have a few options.
You can oil your hands very well and just grab pieces of dough in your oiled hands, and your slippery hands will prevent the dough from sticking to you.
You can mix some oil into the dough: this will make the dough less sticky, but also possibly a little less thick, depending on how much oil you use.
You can mix some flour of sorts into the yuca. If you are trying to make this paleo, of course it would need to be some grain free flour. Options are coconut flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, ground flax seed, ground chia seeds, nut meal, plantain flour, cassava flour, or a variety of other dry, powdered, blandly flavored things that can thicken the overall texture.

Because I don't do so well with coconut flour, and was trying to do this without added starches, I used a mix of flax seeds and almond meal one time when I made it, and another time made it with no added flours, just a bit of oil and oiled hands, etc... Coconut flour does seem to be the flour of choice that people add to their yuca dough.

Once you decide what to add to your dough, add a little bit at a time to your dough, working it well, until your dough has a decent texture. While mixing (add some salt at this stage, unless you're avoiding salt), you'll need to pull out some thick fibrous parts from the mixture. The yuca root contains a thick fibrous bit that doesn't get blended up, so as you go through it, simply pick them out and you're good.

And now, to put that dough to use.

I have successfully managed to boil something made out of yuca dough, but honestly, it's not as good. It starts falling apart and getting soggy.
Yuca dough items work best when first baked until solid/browned (guess the baking makes it lose more of its moisture), and then after baking, it can be fried, sauted, or even boiled lightly.

A note- yuca dough items don't taste as good when cold or even reheated, so I suggest you make them to eat immediately.

Things I've made with yuca dough, and what I learned:

Garlic knots. Take a small piece of yuca dough with oily hands, and make it into a snake. Fold it over on itself so you have a twist, kind of like a knot but not exactly. Sprinkle with either minced garlic or garlic powder, olive oil, and salt. Put them on a baking tray, with some space between them, so they have room to brown and aren't overlapping. bake until golden. They were absolutely amazing!

Perfect paleo garlic knots.
Pizza. Spread the dough out on a baking paper and bake until solid, then flip over and bake again for a little bit more. Then top with sauce and toppings and bake again. To be honest, the one time I tried making yuca pizza I overcooked the yuca so it was too waterlogged and I ended up adding a lot more "flour" (actually ground flax seeds) to solidify it enough, so it wasn't as good as it should be (but still yummy), but I plan on trying it again without overcooking the yuca.

My imperfect but still yummy paleo -yuca pizza topped with
almond feta, ground beef, and pineapples.

Gnocchi. I made a few types of gnocchi as an experiment, some boiled and some fried, some with added pureed wild greens (going to share an exact recipe later), some without, and they all came out delicious. But boiled gnocchi ended up the most waterlogged and a little sticky, so I suggest baking it first, before sauteing it or adding sauce.

Boiled yuca gnocchi made with wild greens.

I tried making a dessert with yuca dough- I tried a jelly roll type thing, and it left a lot to be desired. It was yummy, but weird. They kind of fell apart from the moisture of the jelly, and then to solidify had to be baked a ton. They looked funny and burnt... and their taste was kind of like crispy and sweet mashed potatoes with jam. Not an experiment I plan on repeating exactly as is, but I would like to figure out a yuca based paleo and egg free dessert in the future. I'm open to ideas and suggestions.

My flopped "jelly rolls".

My next plans for yuca, when I buy them again, are yuca empanadas- basically taking yuca dough, flattening it in your hand, filling it with meat or another mixture, folding it over, then baking it until solid, and frying afterwards is optional.

I look forward to playing around some more with yuca. Hopefully, those of you who live in areas where yuca is more affordable can get some great ideas of things to do with yuca that you previously thought would need to be made with grains, or at the very least, eggs. And one day, hopefully, yuca will be cheaper where I live.

Have you ever cooked yuca before? What about making it into yuca dough? If so, what did you make with it, and what did you think? Any tried and true yuca dough recipes to recommend?


  1. I think yuca might be readily available where I am. I am intrigued!

  2. I often buy yuca in Toronto when I visit, but so far have only used it as a cooked starchy vegetable which is very good. I usually use yuca flour as a thickener, but now will combine these two to make pasta. Thanks for a very informative post.

  3. I am so impressed at your willingness to try new types of food and recipes!


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