How is it that I have been on earth this long and never thought of cooking with and/or eating yucca?
You know – that spiny evergreen desert plant that looks like it would rather stab you than nourish you (flashback to several past relationships).
I’ve spent my life walking this earth and putting things I’ve picked up in my mouth – many of them much more menacing than yucca (prickly pear glochids anyone?), but somehow I’ve skipped over this culinary opportunity.
I’ve been missing out and, I’m just guessing here, but so have you (unless you are from El Salvador, Guatemala or certain parts of Mexico).
So, don your chef’s toque (even if it’s the 10-gallon variety), cowboy up and yucca it up with us. We have three recipes for adventurous souls to try.
A couple of notes about the plant and preparation
The yucca chips, yucca mash, yucca this and yucca that you find in restaurants of late don’t come from the yucca that dots the landscape of the southwest (and urban gardens in the last 15 years or so). Those items are cassava/manioc. Don’t, I repeat, don’t dig up a desert yucca, remove its root and try to prepare like the yucca root you find in some markets. You will get sick.
Stick with the flowers of the desert yucca. (Other parts can be used to make everything from shampoo to chord, but they aren’t recommended for eating.)
1. Take a pair of loppers (hedge trimmers, etc) and cut off the flowering stalk of the yucca plant. Choose one that doesn’t look like it has started to wilt. (If the plant is in your neighbor’s garden, or on the other side of a fence line, you might ask first or do your harvesting very late at night).
2. Remove the flowers. This can be done by simply pinching them with your fingers. Discard any that have started to wilt. Expect bugs. There are some that are teeny tiny and almost imperceptible unless you have a very white counter or piece of paper that you can put them against. My advice is to pick your flowers on your porch.
3. Prep the flowers. We have experimented with two variations below. The boil and the soak. Eat one petal. At first, it is all about the texture and then a bitter taste follows. You obviously don’t want that bitter flavor in your dish. Some of the resources we have found say to remove the stigmas, pistil, anthers and stamens (reproductive organs in the center of the flower) because that is where the “bitter” really resides. Not from our experience. The petals aren’t any less bitter and, in our opinion, getting rid of those parts negates most of the benefits of the plant – being able to achieve varying levels of crunchy texture.
The boiling method: We like this one for the huevos revueltos (scrambled egg) recipe that follows. Dissolve one tablespoon kosher salt in a couple of quarts boiling water. Boil flowers for three minutes. Strain. Rinse. Repeat as many as two times. Taste the flowers and check for very little or no bitterness.
The soaking method: We like this method for the steak and iguashte recipes. Fill nonreactive metal bowl (stainless) with water. Add a tablespoon of salt and dissolve. Add flowers. Add water to cover (should taste as salty as the ocean). Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours. Repeat and leave flowers overnight. Rinse and check that flowers have a very slight, if any, bitter aftertaste. If they have little to no bitterness, put in a plain water bath and refrigerate until you are ready to use. (***This method allows you to really adjust the level of cook on your flowers at a later time. The boiling method makes petals really slack with a slight crunch left in the reproductive organs).
One final note before the recipes
The test kitchen at Out of Abilene (namely Julie and Barton on Friday night) think, after a couple of weeks of playing with the plant, that its strong point is its adaptable texture. It’s flavor is extremely subtle and it will adopt the flavor profile of whatever it accompanies. The way that we have prepared it, and the level of cook we place on it (keeping all of its reproductive organs intact), really reminds us of an artichoke heart. We change the texture oh so slightly depending on the dish/application.
An Anytime Recipe: Flor de Izote con Huevos Revueltos (Yucca Flower with Scrambled Eggs)
Ingredients (Serves 2-4)
4 semi-packed cups of yucca flowers
2 medium roma tomatoes
6-8 green onions
One clove garlic
1T olive oil
Tortilla chips or Homemade tortillas (flour or corn)
1. Prepare flowers using the boiling method described above.
2. Seed and dice tomatoes (1/4-inch dice)
3. Chop green onions (1/8-inch width – using both the green and whites)
4. Mince garlic. (fine mince)
5. Beat two eggs in a small bowl.
5. Heat olive oil in saute pan at medium high heat and saute garlic, tomato and onion for about 10 minutes.
6. Add drained flowers, mix thoroughly, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.
7. Add well-beaten eggs. (This should look like very little egg for the amount of flowers in the pan. The point is to have very little egg. The star is the yucca (see recipe photo). This isn’t a frittata or a quiche where there is usually more egg than filling. There should be just enough egg to fill in the space between the flowers.
8. Season with salt and pepper
9. Plate with some salsa ranchera and eat with your tortillas/tortilla chips.
Iguashte de Flor de Izote (Yucca flowers in a rich, tomato and pumpkin seed sauce)
This dish is good as a side or as an individual course.
Ingredients (Serves 2-4)
4 semi-packed cups of yucca flowers
1/3 cup of pepitas plus two tablespoons
1.5 pounds of tomato
1 medium sweet onion
1 clove garlic
2 cups of chicken broth (or water)
1T olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Prepare the flowers using the soaking method. Rinse, drain, reserve.
2. Brown the pumpkin seeds. Reserve two tablespoons. In a spice or coffee grinder, grind 1/3 cup to a powder, but don’t go so far as to make a paste/nut butter.
3. Cut your tomatoes in half, your onion in fourths (rings) and peel your garlic. Place them in a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Change oven to broil and place them on the top shelf under the elements for 7-10 minutes or until they have some charred coloring.
4. Put your tomatoes, onion, garlic and chicken stock/water or into your blender and liquefy as fine as you can.
5. Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium high heat and add your sauce. Boil gently for five minutes. Add your ground pepitas and stir well. Continue to cook until it is a thick sauce.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Add flowers, stir, coat and cook to desired consistency. (We like the flowers to be slightly wilted, retain some body and have a nice crunch.)
8. Plate and top with remaining two tablespoons of pepitas.
(Thank you Euda Morales at entrecocinasyrecetas.blogspot.com)
New York Strip with Yucca Flower in a Cinnamon-Ancho Adobo Sauce
Ingredients (Serves 2)
1 New York Strip (1lb.)
4 cups of Yucca flowers (semi-packed)
1 large ancho chile (dried poblano)
half pound lb roma tomato (or other saucing tomato)
1 large clove garlic
half of a large sweet onion
half stick of cinnamon
five black peppercorns
2 teaspoons sugar
2T olive oil
1. Prepare flowers using the soaking method. Rinse. Drain. Reserve.
2. Salt and pepper steak and let it sit.
3. Cut tomatoes in half. Cut onion in fourths (rings). Peel garlic. Cook in preheated 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Switch to broil and place under broiler for 7-10 minutes or until you have good color.
4. Grind five black peppercorns and half stick cinnamon in spice/coffee grinder until powdery.
6. Liquefy vegetables in a blender. Add peppercorn cinnamon spice mix.
7. Grill steak to desired doneness. Set to rest for 10-15 minutes.
8. Heat oil over medium high heat in a saute pan. Add sauce. Incorporate with oil. Add sugar a little at a time to taste. Thin sauce as desired with some chicken stock/water. (We like something between sauce and gravy). Salt and pepper to taste.
9. Add flowers. Stir. Cook to desired consistency. (We like petals well wilted with some discernible body and a nice crunch from the center of the flower)
10. Cut steak across the grain.
11. Shape bed of flowers and plate with steak and a few raw yucca flowers as garnish.