The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy to make that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.
I was probably 12 years old when I had the disappointing realization—for everyone else, not for me—that not all moms make crispy and fluffy mogo fries on Sunday afternoons. Mogo is the Swahili word for yuca (pronounced YOO-KAH), which is also known as cassava and manioc. Not to be confused with yucca, a pretty flowering desert plant that you most definitely should not eat, yuca is an unattractive tubular root vegetable that you most definitely should eat.
Native to the tropical Americas, where it’s been harvested for thousands of years, yuca was brought to Tanzania by Portuguese traders a very long time ago—I’m talking circa the 1500s. But it’s not just popular in Africa (which as of 2002 was growing about half the world’s supply)—it’s also an essential ingredient in numerous cuisines across the globe, from South and Central America and the Caribbean to West Africa, Thailand, India, and China.
Its versatility makes it a go-to ingredient in so many East African households, including my own. Of all the ways we cook yuca (it should always be cooked and never eaten raw)—slow-cooked with beef and coconut milk for a creamy and hearty stew, sliced paper-thin and fried, then tossed in chili powder and salt to make mogo chips, or shredded and flash-fried to make a crispy and crunchy garnish for soups—my favorite yuca preparation is mogo fries: The yuca is cut into strips, boiled, seasoned, then fried to create an extra-crispy exterior to encase the velvety interior.
Before you can actually make the mogo fries, you’ve got to get your hands on some yuca. Find this super-starchy root vegetable, not unlike a potato, in the produce sections of most international grocery stores and at some farmers markets. If you can’t find it fresh, try looking in the freezer section where it’s sold peeled and cut into segments.
In terms of flavor yuca is pretty neutral, so it takes on whatever flavors you choose to season it with. But the standout here is the texture—it’s so starchy that for the most part it holds its shape even when cooked to death, which is why this method for mogo fries works out so well. The boiling ensures a fully cooked mashed potato-esque texture on the inside and, when fried, the natural starch from the mogo, along with the dusting of flour, creates an impressive outer crisp to contrast.