Yuca, or manioc, is the root of a half-shrub of the spurge family. In order to harvest it, the whole plant is cut down and the root separated. Next, the stem is cut into many little pieces with the machete and put back into the ground. Every piece becomes a new plant, and four months later it is ready to be harvested again. A simple crop, with few requirements of the soil and free of pests. Well, almost... At night ñeques, a rodent the size of a bunny, come and sample the plentiful choice of different regional varieties.
Yuca is consumed as a side dish, in soup or sweet as a dessert. The only downside is the short shelf life of the vegetable – quality suffers soon after the harvest, and after a few days the root is no longer edible. Thus the search for simple and sparing ways of preservation is one of the most important concerns of the project lo tuyo.
Tio Jorge, a 65 year old restaurant owner and medicinal gardener from Las Lajas, gave us the clue: dry the yuca. Cut it into small pieces and put it into our solar dehydrator - this was quickly done. The pieces were then ground and the flour dried again, all the while surrounded by hundreds of buzzing bees. The same can be done with plantains.
Chantal and Gabri own a restaurant called Naturalmente Pizza in Las Lajas. One day we surprised them with our fresh yuca and plantain flour. In the kitchen ingredients were mixed, wheat and cream cheese added, and pizzas, bread and crackers with a whole grain character – which is often missed painfully by central Europeans living in Panama - were created! Guacamole and chili-herb dips completed a delicious dinner. But the big hit was the green pizza with yuca-plantain-wheat crust and chaya as a spinach substitute. Chaya, also called tree spinach, was already cultivated by the Mayans. The nourishing leaves are left in water for a day and then cooked. Like yuca, chaya is part of the spurge family.
“We still have some work to do on the exact mixture, the dough is brittle”
“But a pizza lo tuyo is definitely going to be added to our menu!”