Tortilla Thailandesa Featuring Taro and Cassava

I probably shouldn’t admit how much I love Tortilla Española — a “good nutritionist” wouldn’t advocate a dish made up of simply potato, oil, egg and salt. But my philosophy has always been “everything in moderation,” so when I get my hands on a slice of fresh tortilla made by my a master like my mom or my tía, I enjoy every last bite of it.

Tortilla Española, or tortilla de patata as it’s called in Spain, is as commonplace in the Spanish home as potato salad–  everyone knows how to make it, everyone has their own technique, and everyone thinks their tweaks to the four ingredients are the best. And similar to potato salad, everyone thinks their mom’s is the best (although I think my mom and aunt are tied for first).

So please forgive me, mom and tía, for the sin I am about to commit… Tortilla Sacrilege.

Cassava and Taro

It all started during my last trip to Berkeley Bowl when I spotted the hard, waxy cassava root in the very farthest corner of the produce section. It almost looked inedible, like a hairy branch. Next to it was taro, another giant root veggie with enough armor on it that I always run the opposite direction to pick out something that looks less labor-intensive.  However, for the sake of this blog, I stopped and faced these two monsters head on. I stared at them. They stared right back.  I pondered them. I searched the internet for them.  I kept seeing the word “starchy”…

I knew that cassava is the same thing as yuca, but I did not know that it’s also where we get tapioca (from treated, dried cassava).  My Tongan patients often talk about cassava and taro as their main source of starch, but I what did not know is that these two tubers are one of the most important sources of carbohydrate in all the tropical regions of Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.  When I learned that Thailand is the largest global exporter of cassava, it got my wheels turning and my mouth watering for the Thai flavors I love so much: coconut milk, thai chili, tamarind, cilantro…

Then it hit me. A thai-inspired tortilla would be the perfect way to use these starchy vegetables in a totally new way. I ran around the store gathering up my ingredients and headed home with my bounty.

Peeling Taro

Chopped taro and cassavaI have made Tortilla Española many times in my life, so modifying the process to incorporate my Thai ingredients was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out how to peel, chop and prep the taro and cassava. Both veggies have toxic properties if not prepared properly or eaten raw, so I wanted to be sure to do it right (although according to UCLA Botanical Garden, the sweet cassava variety you find around here doesn’t have those toxic properties. But I’ll play it safe). A good peeling and boiling is all they need to neutralize the toxins, so I decided to peel and chop them and throw the pieces into boiling water to simmer until done (rather than sauté the raw potato in oil like one would do for a Tortilla Espanola).

Scallions and ChiliMeanwhile I sautéed a bunch of chopped scallions and some Thai chilis in coconut oil to release the flavors.  I whisked the eggs with coconut milk and added the sautéed scallions to have everything ready.  I drained the cassava and taro and dumped it in the bowl with the egg mixture, folding it all together until combined.

Loosening panWith my super non-stick tortilla pan ready over medium heat with some sizzling coconut oil, I dumped in the contents of the bowl in one fell swoop.  I immediately took my heat-safe spatula and worked my way along the edge of the tortilla to release it from the edge of the pan.  Then I gave the pan a couple of hard jerks/jiggles to make sure the bottom of the tortilla was not sticking.

After about six or seven minutes the sides were nice and set, with the middle still looking a bit runny.  This is the time to flip it.

I didn’t learn how to flip a tortilla until high school, as it was something that always intimidated me. I would watch my mom balance the plate on the heavy, sizzling hot skillet and use all her might to flip it over quickly without letting the uncooked egg and scalding oil run out onto her forearm.  Once I got up the courage to try it, I discovered that, similar to most things in the kitchen, it’s all about confidence.

I thought it would be easier to show you how to do it than to explain it through written directions, so my husband Mike was nice enough to film me during The Flipping.  Have a look.

This really tastes nothing like Tortilla Espanola, but is so delicious in it’s own right.  The potent olive oil taste of Tortilla Espanola was replaced by the delicate flavor of coconut and the slightly sweeter taste of cassava and taro.  The thai chili and scallion give it a nice kick.  The tamarind sauce was the perfect tangy accompaniment. Man oh man, sacrilege tastes good!

Tortilla Thailandesa with Tamarind Sauce

Tortilla Thailandesa with Tamarind Sauce

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: moderate
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  • 1 small cassava
  • 1 small taro
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 2 thai green chilis, minced
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the ends off the cassava and taro root and slice off the outer peel. Slice them in half lengthwise and chop into thin half-discs. Salt the boiling water and add the cassava first. After 5 minutes, add the taro and boil for an additional 7-10 minutes or until both are tender.  Drain and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and Thai green chilis and sauté three minutes until softened and the flavors are released.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg, coconut milk, and salt until combined. Add the sauteed scallions and chili, and the cooked cassava and taro pieces. Fold until combined.

Heat the remaining coconut oil in a clean, medium-sized non-stick skillet over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, pour in the contents of the bowl and let sit for one minute. Unstick the sides of the tortilla from the skillet using a heat-proof spatula, and give the pan a few shakes/jerks to loosen the bottom of tortilla from the pan.

After 5-8 minutes the sides should be set and the middle should still look a bit runny. Shake the pan once again to loosen the tortilla. Brace a large plate on top of the skillet and flip the whole thing over on itself so that the tortilla is now on the plate.  Replace the skillet onto the heat and slide the tortilla back into the skillet.  Cook for 1-3 minutes longer until the tortilla is set.

Flip the tortilla back onto a plate using the same method, and then flip that plate onto a serving plate so that the first side that was cooked is face-up.  Serve hot or at room temperature with the tamarind sauce and cilantro and lime as garnish.

Tangy Tamarind Sauce

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 3 scallions, chopped fine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup tamarind paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Heat the coconut oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the scallion and garlic and sauté 5 minutes until the garlic begins to turn light golden. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes, breaking up and dissolving the tamarind paste. If the sauce looks too thin, continue to simmer until more water evaporates.  When finished, pour the sauce into a blender and blend until the sauce is smooth.

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