While seeking a recipe for Africa, I never thought I would choose a dessert! This time however, I picked the recipe based on an ingredient that I bought last week: cassava root!
I had originally planned to make cassava bread (pan de casabe). I had bought some in an African supermarket a few weeks ago and I used it to accompany my dish from Ghana. But it was impossible to find a unique origin for that bread which is really more like a cracker. It even seems that cassava bread is more common in the Caribbean.
I thus had to find another recipe with cassava root, which hopefully is a very common ingredient in Africa. This is where I stumbled upon the recipe for this Nigerian dessert.
Bejus, kinds of coconut cookies are widely known in Nigeria, but they also seem to be common in the northeast of Brazil under the name bijus or tapioquinhas. Over there, these cookies include various fillings such as dulce de leche, jam, compote or butter.
Cassava also known as manioc, yuca, balinghoy, mogo, mandioca, kamoteng kahoy or manioc root was imported from Brazil to Africa in the sixteenth century. It is therefore likely that this recipe was originally created on the South American continent.
In Nigeria, these cookies are made with only 3 ingredients: cassava root, coconut and sugar. When you execute a recipe with only three ingredients, you’d better use the freshest ingredients possible. So I opted for fresh coconut! I am certain that the end result was of higher quality… but getting the meat out of the coconut is really not an easy and fast task! If you can take the meat apart from the shell, you are almost there. You only have to peel the inner husk, thin brown skin between the flesh and the shell. You apparently have a better chance of taking the meat out of the shell after the coconut is microwaved or frozen.
Cassava, although widespread in many countries in Africa, the Caribbean and South America, can be dangerous for consumption. Indeed, cassava root, especially the skin, contains toxic substances that can be converted into hydrogen cyanide. Yes, we are talking about cyanide here! I was careful not to share this “detail” with my wife. She probably would have categorically refused to eat my cookies and deprived children of their pleasure. Now I wonder if she will make me eat cassava secretly to get rid of me … Well, if you do not see me post on 196 flavors, you know what happened to me…
For the less reckless, there is a technique to get rid of any toxic traces. It is called retting and this process allows softening and detoxifying of the cassava root. Just immerse the roots in water for 2 to 3 days. Even though I’m not paranoid, I did immerse my cassava root in water. You never know!
The cookies were very good. I would even say that they were to die for… but for that, I probably should have kept the cyanide!
This is a dessert that will even appeal to gluten intolerant people as it contains no wheat flour. Even though they were great as is, I will try to add agave syrup, maple syrup, honey or vanilla the next time I prepare these cookies.
- ½ lb fresh grated coconut (about 1 coconut), or dried shredded coconut
- ½ lb cassava root
- ½ cup sugar
Peel the cassava root and grate it. It is also possible to grate the cassava in the food processor but the result might be a little coarser.
Place the grated cassava root in a cheesecloth and squeeze out the excess moisture and starch from the cassava.
Grate the coconut or shred it in the food processor. It is also possible to use dried shredded coconut.
For this recipe, it is preferable to use caster sugar (finer than regular sugar) but crystal sugar will also work.
Mix the three ingredients in a bowl.
Preheat oven to 300 F.
Meanwhile, pour a little of the mixture into muffin molds. You can also use rings and pack the preparation within the rings.
Place in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn the biscuits over and cook for another 10 minutes.
Take the cookies out of the oven and sprinkle them with icing sugar (optional)