I was very surprised when I read that cassava or manioc was such an important food staple in the Central African Republic. This root is also very important in the indigenous cuisine of Venezuela, where I was born but we call it ‘yuca’.
So I decided to focus on this as I researched about the cuisine of the Central African Republic.
One thing I learned is that many people confuse cassava and yuca (or yucca) in Latin America. We are using the wrong word for it as they are scientifically different! I was so surprised by this! In Venezuela we call ‘casave’ a sort of tortilla made from the cassava root. It is extremely dry so it’s often eaten with soups.
So this is cassava or “manihot esculenta” a root plant that is native to South America:
Yucca is a shrub that looks a lot like aloe vera at the base (spiky) and it has a huge stem in the middle with tons of white bell like flowers. It’s cientific name is ‘Yucca filamentosa‘ also known as ‘Adam’s needle and thread’. You are probably not going to believe this but yesterday I saw this plant in my neighborhood! So my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw its photo under yucca! I guess this post was totally meant to be! ^ ^
Love the flowers!
This plant likes really dry areas and so does cassava which is why it is so important in places with little water.
So how did the cassava make it from Latin America into Africa? Can you guess? Yes… the Portuguese. Cassava was introduced to Africa by Portuguese traders from Brazil in the 16th century. Around the same period, it was also introduced to Asia through Columbian Exchange by Portuguese and Spanish traders, planted in their colonies in Goa, Malacca, Eastern Indonesia, Timor and the Philippines.
So I decided to attempt making Fufu, a cassava bread eaten a lot in the Central African Republic. And …also Kanda, meatballs with pumpkin seeds. I decided to add okra another African indigenous vegetable. I will share the recipes and photos below:
I know the name is FUnny! It is also known as Foufou and Foofoo. This dough like food made from cassava is not only popular in the Central African Republic but many other countries there like Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Angola and Gabon. In other countries in Africa it is mixed with platains like in Nigeria and Ghana. In Latin America it is popular in the Caribbean: Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico Fufú is called ‘mofongo’ and it is made with green and ripe plantains.
There are two types of cassava sweet or bitter. The sweeter ones are found in Latin America and the bitter one in Africa. Like other roots and tubers, both bitter and sweet varieties of cassava contain anti-nutritional factors and toxins, with the bitter varieties containing much larger amounts. And this scared me: ” It must be properly prepared before consumption, as improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication, goiters, and even ataxia, partial paralysis, or death.” Geez! I was ready to get a processed cassava flour but then I read that the cassava brought into the US is the Latin sweeter kind so the amount is very low. Phew!!! However to be safe I soaked it for a day and a half and let it sit in the sun too!
A little bit about the process of making manioc or cassava into the base from which they make the Fufu in the central African Republic:
“Food preparation is very much a group activity. Much of the preliminary work, such as the soaking of cassava, is done with others. When a woman ready to cook, she usually goes to the house of a neighbor who has already started her cooking fire to get a light. Also, if a woman does not have all the ingredients she requires to prepare a certain dish, she will ask someone in her lineage or her village to give her what she needs. In the past, reciprocity was the norm in this type of transaction, although today cash may be preferred.”
One of the most time-consuming, yet necessary, culinary tasks is making manioc (cassava) edible and transforming it into gozo, manioc flour. Although the process described is specific to the Gbaya bodoe, there are many similarities in its preparation with other ethnic groups. The first step is unearthing the manioc tubers. Then women put the tubers into a basket and carry everything to a pond where the tubers will soak to remove the cyanide. The pond is shared by a number of women, each of whom gets her own section. The warmer the water is, the faster the manioc is ready. When it has soaked for enough time, the manioc is removed from the water, peeled, washed, and placed on a slab for crushing. Using special mallets, women beat the manioc into crumbs and set it out to dry. When the manioc is dry, it is beaten into the flour, gozo.
The manioc is sifted so that it can better continue to desiccate. Once it is sufficiently dry, the flour is swept into a basket and taken back to the village. In the village, the gozo is beaten in a mortar by women who are sitting either on the ground. The beating of the gozo is done by one woman per mortar, although many women will be performing the task at the same time. Usually the women hold the pestle in one hand for a while then switch to the other; sometimes both hands are used when more force is needed. The hand that is not beating the gozo with the pestle pushes the flour to the center of the mortar. Then the flour is sifted again. This gozo will be the bais of the fufu, which is so popular. The flour must be transformed into an edible state and the boule, or ball, of manioc flour mixed with water to form a gelatinous orb is the mainstay of many meals.”
To see some photos of this process go HERE.
I found a recipe that did not require me to dry and pound the cassava into a flour. This is how I made ‘my’ Fufu. I followed the recipe from Precious Meshi Nkeih (née Nchifor) born in Cameroon, living in the US. She says it is a water fufu made from scratch:
- 6 large tubers of cassava (yuca root)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda optional
(I used 2 cassava tubers)
- Start by cutting your cassava into pieces:
2. Then cut and take the peel circling with the knife (apple style but using a lot more of the knife.) Careful! By the way this sounds crunchy somehow!
3. Then take the middles off, they are more fibrous there.
4. Place them in a bowl and add baking powder. Let it sit there for 2 days. (She said 3 or 4 )
It looked different after and it had a foul pungent fermentation smell so I knew I was on the right track! ^ ^
5. Then washed the pieces and place them in a food processor or blender.
I used as much water as I needed for it to blend.
6. Put it in a cheese cloth and extract as much water as possible.
When I took it out… it looked a lot like a dough that could easily break apart… and by the way it still had that pungent smell here!
7. Then use your hands to mix it and remove any other left hard pieces that were either fiber pieces or pieces that did not blend well:
Place it in a pot on medium heat and stirred for like 15 minutes. Push the mix to the sides to blend it well. Do not leave it alone. Stir almost constantly.
Mine became smoother and in some way more put together to the point it one could almost form a ball with the spoon and the entire amount! It was really cool! It also changed color from white to cream.
8. Then talking about cool, let it cool off for a bit and then make into a cylinder/bread shape.
And Tadaaannnn! This was my Futu!
I served it with another Central African Republic typical food: Kanda meaning meatballs with pumpkin seeds. I will show you how I made this dish in a different post!
How was it? Its texture was like a cornmeal bread as in tamales… kinda!… but it tasted different. Cassava has its own particular taste. I broke pieces with my hands and dipped it in the tomato sauce of my meatballs… that mix was so, do good! So I can see how dipping this in soup is the way to go. Sadly, it is summer time where I am in Boston, US. so soup is not really what my warm body craves!
Here is Precious’s video:
Thank you so much Precious! what a great name by the way! Just becareful with Gollum OK! ^ ^
And on an ending note and not related at all to what I just wrote about except maybe that the meal fueled my body?! ^ ^. I thought this may have some possibilities in the future:
Who would ever imagine that cassava could fuel a car! It made me think of Doc. from Back to the Future throwing all the food scraps into his car… Geez! Can you imagine?!
If I have time, I will draw this Cassava fueled car… I can just seeing in my mind’s eye!