Tapioca (yuca/cassava) is a staple food in Kerala. Referred as the “poor man’s food”, it is grown in the backyard of most houses in the state, and also extensively in farms. The root is steamed, boiled, fried, grilled, and eaten with an assortment of relishes, chutneys and curries. The most famous is the tapioca and fish curry (Kappa and meen curry), immortalized by the toddy shops of the state
(click HERE to see photos of a toddy shop in Kerala. This particular shop has one of the best and most extensive dishes I have seen in a toddy shop. The shop is in a town called Mapranam, in Trichur district)
When we had a farm, during the season tapioca was a regular fixture in our house. My mom would sell most of the tapioca, and still we would have enough to feed a large family. One of my mom’s favorite way to cook tapioca was boiling it along with beef till they were buttery soft. The spices and beef flavor permeated the pieces of tapioca and gave a whole new dimension to the otherwise bland root.
For this dish I boiled the tapioca root along with the beef I used to make the “Beef Plantain Roast“.
1. 1 long tapioca root (about 2 pounds)
(buying good tapioca is key. As a thumb rule, try to buy thinner tapioca roots. thicker ones sometimes have very stringy fibers and it is hard to chew through them. They also don’t cook very well to get the buttery consistency.)
For relish (two types)
shallot tamarind relish
1. 2-3 shallots chopped fine
2. 3-4 green chillies
3. 1/8 teaspoon tamarind pulp
4. 5-6 curry leaves
5. 1 teaspoon coconut oil
6. Salt to taste
red chili relish
1. 4-6 dried red chillis
2. 1 shallot chopped fine
3. 4-5 curry leaves
4. 1 teaspoon coconut oil
5. Salt to taste
Cut and skin the tapioca. To skin tapioca make a cut along the length of a tapioca piece. Then firmly and smoothly run the knife (with the blade facing away from the interior of the tapioca) along the exterior skin of the tapioca (the root should be resting in the palm of your left hand). Do not jerk the knife because it can cut through the tapioca skin and cut the hand.
Add the tapioca pieces to beef curry (see “Beef Plantain Roast“) or in beef broth till they are cooked through. If cooked well, a fork should run cleanly through a piece.
To make the shallot tamarind relish, place the shallots, green chillies, and tamarind pulp in a food processor and blend till all the ingredients are mixed well. The relish should be chunky. Add the mixture to chiffonaded curry leaves, coconut oil and salt and stir well.
To make red chili relish, fry the red chilis, shallots and curry leaves in oil till the chillies turn bright red. Place the mixture in a blender, add oil and salt, and blend to a smooth consistency.
Serve the boiled tapioca with the relishes.
Where to buy tapioca?
I have seen tapioca in Safeway, Giant and Harris Teeter in the Washington DC area. It is also very common in Hispanic neighborhood stores.