I recently had a conversation with someone about food sources the early settlers in South Texas (sources already familiar to the natives in the
area) would have found available. The mesquite tree, specifically mesquite pods, were the topic of our conversation. Soon after that discussion, however, I realized that the settlers would have also had access to the native yucca plants as a source of food. The yucca plant is not the same plant as the yuca (manihot esculenta, or cassava, with a single letter c). Yuca, especially the plant’s root (from which we get tapioca starch and cassava flour) is an important staple crop in many regions in Africa, Asia, and South America. The yucca plant (with a double letter c) grows in the Southwestern and coastal regions of the United States, from Mexico down through Guatemala, and as far North as Southern Alberta. At one time the yucca, like the yuca, was commonly used as a food source by ancient people native to the regions in which they grow. The flowers of the yucca, when foraged at the appropriate time, are edible. The flower stalks of the yucca are also edible, if foraged as soon as the stalks appear on the plant. Some species of yucca, such as the Torrey yucca and Yucca baccata, have fruit that is edible. At any rate, the idea that early immigrants to Texas followed the example of the natives already here and foraged yucca plants for food is certainly plausible!
As more people turn to the past to rediscover locally available natural food sources in an effort to truly eat more locally, the yucca plant is seeing a resurgence in popularity as a food source: especially its flowers.The yucca species dominant in Texas is the Yucca filamentos, with beautiful, edible flowers. Yucca plants bloom only once a year, but the months in which they bloom depend upon the region in which they grow. In South Texas the yuccas bloom in August and September. The flowers must be picked at the right time, just before they open into full bloom, in order to taste their best. After that point the flowers taste too bitter. Yucca flowers may be preserved for a few days after they have been picked if the petals are washed and dried (I dry my flower petals off by gently patting them with a dish towel), then placed in a freezer storage bag in the refrigerator. The stamens and pistils should be removed from the flowers and discarded; they taste bitter.
Yucca flowers have a flavor some people compare to artichokes or asparagus (or a combination of each), but I describe their flavor as generally vegetable-y (is that a word?). I also think they have a slight bite to them that remains after they are cooked. The flowers may be eaten raw, and some people do add them to salads, but raw yucca flowers can cause discomfort in one’s throat and digestive system. I don’t recommend eating them raw, but people interested in adding yucca flowers to salads, or otherwise eating them raw, should follow these guidelines.
One popular use for yucca flowers is to add them to scrambled eggs or to omelets. Some people fry the blossoms, which sounds pretty delicious (especially fried this way with mesquite flour – but you’d have to substitute gluten-free flour for the all purpose flour to make this recipe totally gluten-free). In Mexico the blossoms are used in savory dishes. I recently made a savory soup with some yucca flowers my daughter foraged for me from the yucca plant in her yard. The flavor profile of the yucca flowers complement other flavors common in the regional foods in Texas and Mexico. I decided to create a regionally-influenced vegetarian soup so that my daugher-in-law can eat it (and so that I can eat it on the two days a week I forego meat). I absolutely love posole, so I made a vegetarian posole – and yes I realize that to make posole without adding pork seems a culinary and gastronomical sin, but bear with me because this soup is delicious despite its lack of meat protein and flavor! I roasted sweet white corn and hominy, then added them to a soup base made with pureed tomatillos, onion, yucca blossoms, and peppers. The yucca flowers add just the right amount of slight bite and bitterness to balance the sweetness of the white corn. Seasoned with mesquite flour and garnished with chopped cilantro, crumbled queso fresco, and chopped avocado, this rich, flavorful vegetarian yucca flower posole is plenty hearty without meat.
Gluten-Free Vegetarian Yucca Flower Posole
This yucca flower posole, flavored with mesquite flour, highlights some of the best natural, local, regional flavors of Texas.
- 16 oz frozen sweet white corn thawed
- 25 oz can hominy drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons ancho chili powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 12 tomatillos husks removed, well rinsed, and chopped
- 1.5 cups yucca flower petals stamens removed, well rinsed, and chopped
- 1 medium sweet onion peeled and chopped
- 1 poblano pepper chopped
- 1 jalapeño pepper chopped
- 1 32 oz box vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup mesquite flour
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 2 avocados chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro well washed and chopped
- 2 cups queso fresca or cobija cheese crumbled
In a bowl, mix the thawed sweet corn and the rinsed hominy with the olive oil, ancho chili powder, and sugar. Spread the mixture on a foil covered pan. Place the pan under a broiler and broil, stirring often, until the corn begins to darken and the hominy begins to pop. Remove from the oven and set aside.
While the corn and hominy are roasting, sauté the chopped tomatillos, peppers, onion, and yucca petals in a small amount of olive oil, until translucent and tender.
Add a small amount of the vegetable broth to the sautéed vegetables. Using an immersion blender, purée the vegetable mixture until smooth. Add the rest of the vegetable broth, the water, and mesquite flour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Blend well.
Add the roasted corn - hominy mixture to the soup. Blend well and heat through. Serve hot. Garnish bowls of soup with the chopped avocado and cilantro, and crumbled cheese.