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Cooking with Cassava

You may have seen or cooked cassava Manihot esculenta, Euphorbiaceae), a wonderful sturdy looking root found at the market or growing in gardens in and around Darwin and the Top End.

By Emma Lupin

Although it has its origins in South America, it is a staple for many people across the Tropics, including for quite a few local families. It grows from stem cut-tings and after a few months the root can be harvested. It is pretty easy to grow, doubles as a cyclone survival food and can be bought from various market stalls on the weekends.

I made delicious dishes with this root when working as a cook on sail boats in the Pacific Islands, drawing inspiration from island ladies that 
I would spend time with.

It is often boiled with coconut milk, added to curries, cooked in banana leaves in the fire or roasted. When I sailed into Darwin more than 10 years ago I got to know a wonderful lady who made some very inventive dishes with cassava and these have inspired me ever since.

We met years ago in back-yard get togethers, designed to share local produce ideas, and Grusha Leeman would always appear with an incredible dish with a twist on a local produce or foraged items. 

Leeman came to the Territory when she was 19 and has spent a lot of time living out in the bush and rural areas, enjoying the concept of living from home-grown and foraged foods. She tries to be as sustainable as possible using locally grown produce, often from her own garden. 

“We often had home-grown produce when I was a kid, but spending my adult life in Darwin has meant discovering new tropical foods. When I started growing a food garden in Darwin River in the 90s, a bushy friend gifted me with a few sticks of a great variety of cassava, stating that everyone should grow it,” she says.

“Baked or fried chips satisfy any hot chips cravings – there is an abundance of ways to cook it." 

"My favourite sweet cassava dishes are Territory Delight (similar to Turkish Delight) and Chocolate Pudding Cake. Besides yummy coconut cassava curries,  and mashed “potato” dishes like stuffed fried balls, cassava makes an awesome gnocchi.” 

Cassava Gnocchi
1-2 large cassava tubers
Triple zero flour

Skin, de-vein and chop the cassava tubers and boil until soft. Drain, cool, freeze and then defrost. Squeeze as much water from the chunks as possible. Add flour and a little salt until a dough is formed. Kneed and roll into sausages, slice into coins and squash with a fork. Drop into boiling water and remove to drain when the batch floats.
Best served with homemade pesto.

Territory Delight
1 1/2 cups grated (raw)  cassava tuber
1/2 to 1 cup fine sugar (white) 50ml rosewater
50ml water to rinse rosewater bottle
Fine organic desiccated  coconut or ground hazelnut
Rose petals (optional) 


Blend cassava, sugar, roswewater and water in a blender until smooth. Pour batter into a metal bowl and steam until firm (using double boiler method). Cool, slice into pieces and coat in coconut or chopped hazelnut. Add a little colour with rose petals, if available (can be bought at Greenies in Darwin).

Emma Lupin is a tropical plant specialist and local food enthusiast with passions for native habitat conservation and sustainable living. She is an environmental educator, community engager and encourages connection to the beautiful natural world, particularly our tropical home.

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