A Tale of Two Sides: Mushroom-Barley Risotto & Cassava (Yucca) Fries

In all honesty, I have been slacking on the cooking front as of late. I think this is due to the general monotony of late-winter and my anticipatory feelings surrounding the arrival of spring (which will no doubt be the sweetest spring in ages). I was fortunate to receive this week’s mushroom-barley risotto recipe from my good friend “AO”, while the cassava fries idea stemmed from a blissful brunch at an NYC eatery. Both of these dishes are a stark departure from the generic french fry and rice risotto recipes that people have become so accustomed to. It’s always stimulating to change it up, even as staple foods are concerned.

Every now and then, I garner my cooking inspiration from various restaurants and eateries I’ve tried. Much of my free time outside of work is spent thinking about new places to try, fresh recipes to conjure up, and undiscovered places to travel to. I have recently come to the realization that I do not extract these previously untapped foods and recipes from restaurants nearly enough. I had cassava (or, yucca) fries at a restaurant situated in NYC’s Nolita area, Public. They were incredible and equally satisfying. also thanks in part to the trio of delectable dipping sauces that accompanied them. I’ll plug this brunch spot before I forget:

As one veers in from the street, the restaurant itself looks unassuming. I was pleasantly surprised that upon entering, we were met with a rustic, yet inviting feel, complete with incandescent lighting and a variety of different dining rooms and settings. Overall, I found Public to be a well-rounded brunch spot. The ambiance, menu, service, and quality of food proved to be more than worthy of our time and I will definitely be back to indulge in the ‘Sunday Supper’.

Cassava is a root vegetable that hails from the tropics of South America and has even denser overall properties than the potato. The two starches are not that different; as both contain almost no fat, small amounts of protein, and are high in carbohydrates. Comparatively, cassava has double the amount of carbs per serving when compared with the typical potato. Due to this simple fact, portion sizes should be slightly smaller, as cassava is both satisfying and satiating. Cassava contains slightly higher amounts of Vitamin C than the potato, whereas both contain about the same amount (and fall in the middle of the range) in terms of dietary fiber. Both possess moderate amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber, which lessen overall cholesterol, blood sugar counts, and assist with overall digestion. The soluble fiber is found within the actual starch of the cassava, whereas the insoluble fiber is found within the skins, which were obviously omitted from this recipe.

The recipe itself is about as straightforward as it gets: peel/cut skins off the cassava, cut into strips, and deep fry over a skillet. The only trials and tribulations I encountered came when I severed the skins off the cassava. While a bit time consuming, I found that the skins were slightly easier to chop off than the exterior of a butternut squash. I liken the skins to “tree bark”, so once you’ve made the initial incision, it becomes manageable enough. My own take on this recipe came in the form of adding chopped mint, tarragon, and lime zest. The lasting touch was the sprinkling of coarse sea salt. These fries pair well with the classic ketchups and mustards, as well as horseradish sauces of any kind. Highly, highly recommended!

The mushroom-risotto recipe also makes a great side and comfort food, in any season. Thanks be to AO for this recipe. You saved my as** this week. Barley is a slightly healthier alternative to rice and is a whole-grain that possesses more of a pasta-like consistency. Hulled barley is perhaps the best option if you can find it, but pearl barley, which is widely accessible works just as well. Like many grains, barley contributes positively to digestive health, contains fiber, and lowers cholesterol.

My favorite part about cooking this recipe is that a slow-cooker crock pot comes into play. Whereas most risottos are time-consuming and labor-intensive (especially with stirring), the presence of the crock pot eliminates unnecessary cooking time. As with any dish that contains a multitude of vegetables, the prep time is often the most tedious part of all. The presence of the carrots and thyme a made for a more unique dish and despite the omission of wine from the original recipe, I just had to add some Sauvignon Blanc to the dish as I feel it is an essential component of any risotto. This risotto is absolutely perfect for the winter months. Please find the risotto recipe as well as the cassava fry recipe below.


Slow-Cooker Mushroom-Barley Risotto
Recipe courtesy of Annie Onzik
Yields 4 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cups pearl or hulled barley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
8 ounces carrots, finely chopped
3 cups lower-sodium vegetable broth
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (2/3 cup)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the barley and thyme and cook, stirring, until the barley is just golden, about 2 minutes. Add wine throughout, if using.

Transfer to a 6-quart slow cooker and add the carrots, broth, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook on high until the liquid is absorbed and the carrots and barley are tender, about 3 hours.

Discard the thyme and stir in the Parmesan, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Thin out the risotto with warm water for desired consistency as needed. Top with parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cassava (Yucca) Fries
Recipe adapted from http://www.latinfood.about.com
Serves 4

2 lbs. Cassava (Yucca)
3 cups canola oil, for frying
Sea Salt
2-3 tbsp. of mint, tarragon, parsley or other herbs (optional)

Peel cassava (yuca) and cut into 4-inch pieces, lengthways. Add cassava to a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. When the pot comes to a boil, season with salt to taste. Let cassava cook until fork tender.

Drain cooked cassava well and let cool to handle. Cut cassava pieces in half and remove the stem in the middle. Cut the halved pieces into half-inch strips.

Heat oil in deep pan until smoking hot. Working in batches, fry cassava until they are gently browned. Season with sea salt and other herbs immediately after cassava is done frying.

Serve with ketchups, mustards, horseradish sauces, and any other condiments you deem appropriate.

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