What do traditional Pittsburgh dishes look like when we Latinize them? One Thursday afternoon I went on a little adventure to explore the Latino side of Pittsburgh - making a Latino Pittsburgh Salad was the goal. I headed to the Las Palmas location in Oakland to go grocery shopping.
Oakland is the 3rd largest business district in the state of Pennsylvania – it’s known for it’s educational and medical institutions and for all the students who call it home nine months out of the year. What many people do not realize is that Oakland is also a residential neighborhood with families and seniors who live there year round. Many have been living in Oakland for generations (neighbors will readily share stories about Forbes Field and walking little Danny Marino to school).
Another beautiful truth of Oakland is the Latino population. On Atwood St., about half a block down from Louisa St., you will find one of the Las Palmas locations (it’s the smaller outpost for the original store located in Beechview). In New York we would refer to Las Palmas as a “bodega”. It’s not only a great place to get fresh tacos (vegetarian options available!) but it is my favorite place in Pittsburgh to purchase Latino food items and speak Spanish.
At Las Palmas I picked up Yucca, an avocado, some lime, lots of cilantro, and queso fresco. Yucca (also known as cassava) is native to Latin America, it’s got a waxy think skin, that once you peel away, reveals something that is similar to a potato in texture but sweeter in taste. My plan is to make Yucca fries and put them top of my Pittsburgh salad (since it’s not a Pittsburgh salad without some fries on top). Avocado and limes are staples to most any Latin style salad; the queso fresco will replace the shredded cheddar cheese.
Arriving home with all my goodies I knew I wanted to use the tomatoes and red onion from my Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) box. My usual side salad for Puerto Rican dinners I make at home is just some avocado, tomato, cilantro and a simple lime dressing, so it made sense to use the tomatoes as my salad based for my Latino Pittsburgh salad.
Ingredients: (1-2 servings)
- One Yucca
- One Tomato
- Red Onion
- Bunch of Cilantro
- Queso Fresco
- 3-4 Limes
- Olive Oil
- Cayenne or red pepper (optional)
Preparing the Yucca
When choosing Yucca to buy, the best ones are long, and thick relatively uniform in shape, have shiny waxy skin and are firm.
Before you start prepping any food, put a large pot of water to boil. You can also add some pieces of garlic or bay leaves to the water for extra flavor. Do not add salt to the water. Turn your oven on and set to 450 degrees.
Peeling off the skin of Yucca can seem a bit intimidating, but it’s really very easy. Some recipes say you can use a vegetable peeler, I would recommend using a large kitchen knife (similar to the one in my pictures). Cut off both ends of the Yucca and then, as you would peel a potato, take the knife down the side of the Yucca to cut away the skin. It should peel off in long thin strips.
Once the Yucca has been peeled, cut it up into French fry shaped pieces. Once the water has come to boil, put the Yucca pieces in the water for 15 minutes.
After the Yucca has boiled, take out of the water, rinse pieces with cold water and allow excess water to drain.
Put the Yucca pieces in a large bowl, pour some olive oil on top (you can also add some cayenne pepper, salt, lime zest or any other flavors to your liking), and coat Yucca pieces well. Transfer Yucca to a baking sheet (make sure they are not crowded), bake Yucca for 20-30 minutes (longer for thicker cut pieces) turning them half way through.
You will know the Yucca fries are done when they turn a light golden brown color. Do not let the edges brown. Remove from over, sprinkle with salt and let cool.
Slice tomatoes and cut them in half; slice red onions into small half moon shapes, slice avocados into half inch slices (I used half an avocado for my salad but you could use the whole thing if you wanted). Arrange tomatoes on a plate; place the avocados on top of the tomatoes and the red onion slices on top of the avocado.
Now, place Yucca fries on top of it all (that’s so Pittsburgh!)
In a separate container, pour two tablespoons of olive oil, squeeze limes, and add salt to your liking. You can pour the dressing onto the salad before or after you put the Yucca fries on– since Yucca is a little firmer than a potato, pouring the dressing on top of them won’t necessarily make them soggy right away. It’s your preference.
To finish the salad off, crumble the queso fresco on top of the Yucca fries, chop up as much cilantro as your little heart desires (for me it’s always at least half the bunch) and sprinkle it over your beautifully arranged salad.
You now have made your very own Latino Pittsburgh salad! Buen provecho! Enjoy!