This post and recipe is a special treat. But a bittersweet one. See, in 2008, shortly after I started this blog I started working on my cookbook, appropriately working with the title ‘Cooking Under Pressure.’ I was on a focused mission to realize a dream, literally, I’d developed in the 90s. In retrospect, I’m not sure how I managed to handle the 30 gigs I had going plus produce a beautiful hardcover proposal and mock with 25 full color images and 40 recipes AND sign a contract with Food Network to compete in their show Next Food Network Star (season 5) Really.
Don’t even know what I was on sipping on. Whatever it was, I need to fill up on it again. Anyway, working on selling my book was a lovely experience , taking me on an emotional rollercoaster of sorts as the book garnered great attention from various well-ranked publishing companies, like Running Press and Double Day…. but I had a lousy literary agent who royally screwed my proposal and all went to to shot. I tried to juggle some serious damage control, and even continued communicating with the editors once I severed the agency relationship. Truthfully, it took my heart out. The entire experience of trying to rectify what a young agent had jacked up took so much energy and discouraged me in the publishing process, I totally back-burned it.
I’m in a different state of mind today. I’m feeling on-coming massive overhaul of my brand, my work, my mission, and my dreams. I still want to publish my book and the inherent spitfire personality known as moi has decided and committed to revamping the concept and go back at it hard…like I did in 2008. And so now the search for a new and effective literary agent is in full effect.
In the meantime, since I know I’ll be featuring different recipes in a new book concept, I thought it’d be great time to unleash and share some of the recipes I have in the mock. This picadillo-stuffed yuca balls is one of the more fun ones, but kind of tedious recipes I included in the book and still love to the core. It’s funny, actually. I demo’d this recipe for a super low-budget video I did back in 2009 to much disaster! If only a real camera crew had been around to capture the “explosion!” While treating a sweet friend and her two kids to an intimate dinner, these yucca balls being part of the menu, something went wrong with one of the balls as I gently placed them in the deep fryer. That little jerk exploded open while sizzling and you know what happened next… hot grease all up on my clothes but what’s worse… it scorched my eye. Thank God I had a hat on to protect my face from any real scarring. It was Hell’s Kitchen kind of drama. Ironically and perhaps the inspiration for pulling this recipes from my archives, that same friend jokingly mentioned the incident just yesterday on Facebook.
At least I have this incident-free video on how to make yuca con garlic mojo.
The embarrassing moment was worth it. It’s called making memories in this journey of realizing a dreamy career in food and TV. The recipe stands tried and true and I’d make it over and over again for her and on TV! It invokes memories of my childhood in Miami when my mother used to make picadillo-stuffed potatoes and sell them every Thursday with her friend Gloria. She sold them for $2 and were extremely popular. That’s how this recipe came to fruition — my mom’s hustle as a vibrant 30 year old.
Back to the book. With each recipe, I wrote a personal story connecting the dish to my life as a Cuban-American girl. For these yuca balls, the anecdote reads like this, with an updated modification:
”My paternal grandfather, whom I loved dearly and served as beautiful inspiration in so many ways, was Jamaican. Oddly, he showed no signs of being from Kingston. At least from a food perspective. I think that’s unfortunate considering the wonderful use of foods both islands share. One in particular is yuca, or cassava. This starchy root vegetable is popularly grown and eaten throughout Cuba. After Spanish colonization, it made its way to Europe and Africa and was eventually incorporated into their respective cuisines. The same is true of our use of their indigenous foods.
Compared to other white potatoes, yuca ranks number one in my kitchen. I’ve prepared it many different ways, but the classic Cuban dish of boiled yuca with garlic and onion sauté is a must have at every major family function. This particular recipe takes two staple ingredients and jovially results in a great party appetizer or main starch side dish. You choose! “
And this is the book page preceding the dish picture page…
If you’re not too familiar with yuca, know that it’s in an incredibly versatile root tuber full of iron and Vitamin A. There are a handful of other ways I incorporate yuca and use it as secondary ingredient… like in this the most ridiculously sinful buñuelos recipe, or beignets as the French call them. Which ever you way you make it, I like the idea of putting the American potato aside for a long while!
From my pending book to your kitchen, I hope you enjoy the makings of a treat I dearly love and have woo’d plenty of friends and clients with.
Beef Picadillo Stuffed Yuca Balls (Yuca Rellena con Picadillo)
- 18 oz frozen yuca or 4 large fresh yuca roots
- 1 lb. ground beef chuck
- 1 c. parsley, finely chopped
- 3/4 c. raisins
- 1 packet of sazón Goya (without annatto or achiote)
- 4 garlic cloves, mashed
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 2 tbsp. capers (optional)
- 1-2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. black or cayenne pepper
- 3 tsp. canola oil
- 1/2 gallon canola or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- Salt for water and picadillo, to taste
Rinse yuca and bring to boil in salted water. Be careful not to over-salt water. Cook for 25 minutes or until yuca is almost opaque. While yuca is cooking, prepare picadillo. In a deep skillet, heat canola oil. Add beef, garlic, and seasonings and immediately begin breaking up into small pieces. Let cook for about 15 minutes on medium heat, uncovered. Add raisins, capers, and nutmeg. Stir and combine all ingredients. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Add parsley and stir and turn off heat. Drain yuca and remove all root stems. Let cool for about 10 minutes or until you are able to handle with bare hands. Transfer to large bowl. With a fork, mash yuca until all bumps are gone and it is smooth. Place a golf ball size amount of yuca in your palm and make an open face patty. Fill the center with 2 tsp. amount of picadillo, making sure you drain each scoop. Close up yuca ball into a 3" ball. Smooth out any bumps in yuca with your finger.
Add oil to deep fryer or deep pot and heat to 375 F. Using a scooper, gently place 3-4 yuca balls in fryer. Place as many yuca balls as your fryer will hold, allowing some space to move around. Make sure oil fully covers the top of the yuca balls. Fry until yuca balls are golden grown. Using scooper, remove and place on paper towel covered plate to drain all excess oil. Repeat until all your yuca balls are cooked. Serve hot.
Yields 15-18 balls.
* If your hands get sticky while working with mashed yuca, place 1 cup of flour on parchment paper. Cover the inside of your hands with flour. You can even add a bit to the yuca mix. This will prevent yuca from sticking while forming patty and closing ball.