Yuca con mojo is the No. 1 recipe that takes Belqui Ortiz-Millili right back to Santiago, to her grandmother’s apartment. Her abuela was a great cook, and made a long list of Dominican traditional dishes for little Belqui, she remembers. But this boiled yuca smothered in vinegary red onion mojo was the knockout dish. The one that made her sit up and pay attention to this strange-looking vegetable from her homeland.
”She’d make maduros [fried ripe plantains] or green plantains, but yuca is the one that I loved,” sighs Belqui, one of Familia Kitchen’s favorite Dominican homecooks, who runs the popular food blog Belqui’s Twist.
The funny thing is: Belqui went from hate to love with yuca. Also called cassava, yuca is a starchy root used in the cuisine of many Latino locales, including the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Panama.
”I remember the first time she gave me yuca and me thinking: This is not good. This tastes really sour. Yuck,“ says Belqui. ”But then she gave it to me topped with mojo, and that was the first time I actually was like: This is really good. Because the oil and vinegar topping made it so nice and moist. It just had a whole different flavor than just-plain-boiled yuca, which if it sits gets dry and awful. But when it’s infused with the oil and those delicious red onions, it retains all the moisture and is very flavorful. There’s something about vinegar and red onion. When they come together, and then you add the oil and cilantro: It’s absolute perfection. It’s just so freakin good.”
Today, yuca con mojo is the definition of abuela cooking for Belqui, who lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids. This is one of the top recipes she trusts to to cook her way home and connect her sons to her Dominican childhood heritage. ”My grandmother has passed now, but we were very, very close. I like to think that I was her favorite granddaughter,” she smiles. ”I‘m not gonna say grandson, but granddaughter for sure. We had a very deep connection. When I make this yuca con mojo, I am thinking of her the entire time.”
Traditionally, yuca con mojo is a side served with such traditional DR dishes as Dominican stewed chicken and Dominican pernil. But Belqui loves yuca con mojo so much, she regularly makes it with two fried eggs, for an easy weeknight dinner everyone in her family welcomes.
”I like to dip the yuca pieces in the soft, runny egg yolks, and it is just so good, so moist. God, it sounds like sex,” she laughs. “Don‘t talk to me about maduros. Or platanos verdes. I don‘t care about all the others. Yuca is the best.”