FRESH TAKE ON OLD FAVOURITE Mineral rich and deliciously nutty, cassava is a tasty substitute for spuds in this hot fish soup.
Bring the love back to lockdown mealtimes with something a little different
Full of Covid culinary weariness I found myself in the Afro Asian Caribbean Shop in Linenhall Street, Castlebar. I go there to buy some Thai hot-and-sour Tom Yum paste for the Brunette, who makes a delicious Tom Yum soup with it.
I was in dire need of finding something new to bring home to cook and introduce some joy or excitement at home. I browsed, and picked up some frozen cassava chunks, a frozen hake fish from Norway and some fresh veggies.
I loved looking around with awe at all the various exotic ingredients, but as is often the case, did not really know what to do with them. So I asked the shopkeeper for some ideas, which they provided. I just nodded like a donkey and then went home and made something completely different.
Oh well, it did get me thinking in different directions. The recommendation is to always try new things, don’t be afraid to ask, then roll up the sleeves and work away!
Cassava originates from South America. It is a long, tuberous, brown, tough-skinned root vegetable that looks a bit like a swollen parsnip. Inside, the hard flesh is white.
Cassava can be boiled, mashed, fermented or ground, and used for bread, pastries, spiced patties, chips, stews, cakes and more. Perhaps the best way here to start with some frozen or root Cassava and substitute it for potato in your dish. Like potato it is starchy, inedible when raw, and blends in flavours when cooked.
Cassava is actually poisonous in its raw form and must be cooked first, but don’t let this put you off! Its gorgeous flavour ranges from sweet to bitter, with a distinct and unique nutty flavour that I remember from eating it in Nigeria. This was the main culinary appeal for me.
Hot fish soup with cassava
Previously, I have shared a Croatian version of fish soup that has served our family well over the years. Today’s version has more heat, different fish, no tomatoes and cassava instead of potatoes, so quite a bit different in the end!
The chilies give the heat to the dish, and the celery and cassava flavoured broth is a delicious accompaniment to a firm-fleshed fish.
Most importantly, the soft, nutty cassava chunks brought a lot of joy to our palettes at a time of dreary news.
What you need
- 1 medium length of firm white fish, skin on
- 450g cassava chunks boiled
- 1 medium white onion
- 2 garlic cloves peeled
- 2 fresh red chili
- 3 celery sticks, washed and roughly chopped
- 1 litre mild (1/3 strength) veg or fish stock
- 1 handful spinach leaves, washed and ripped
- Glug of olive oil
What you do
Start with your cassava first, as it is going to take the longest time to boil. (This time I simply used that bag of frozen cassava from the Afro Asian Caribbean Shop, leaving it to defrost in the fridge overnight.) You can peel and trim the original version if you like, and cut it into chunks. Boil for 20-30 mins, in salted water, until soft enough to slide a knife through easily.
Most soup bases begin with slow-frying onion with veg, and this is no exception! Peel and chop your onion finely, add to a pan with some oil and slow cook over a medium for four to five minutes, adding your chopped garlic and red chilli halfway through. This onion mix will be a great taste base for your soup.
Now add the boiled and strained cassava chunks, pour in the mild stock, and add the celery. Wash, gut (if required) and cut the fish (I used hake) into two-inch wide cutlets. Lie in the pan and use a wooden spoon to circulate the liquid all around the fish. Over medium heat, bring to a boil and simmer for 12 minutes with the lid partially on, being careful not to burn the bottom. With four minutes to go, add the spinach leaves.
Serve in a wide bowl plate with fish in the centre.
The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.