Food We Love

A childhood spent in her grandmother’s kitchen gave Chicago chef Ursula Adduci a sense of security. Her earliest memory was looking up at Grandmother Lucia, wrapped in her apron, stirring pots of sauces or sautéing something wonderful. To Ursula, a kitchen grew to mean love. The good food that came from that kitchen meant joy, family, creativity, adventure and delicious taste.

It’s no surprise Grandmother Lucia’s steaming hot dishes, perfectly spiced Costa Rican recipes and balanced diet led Ursula to appreciate food so much she became a restaurateur and caterer.

Costa Rican cooking traditions

Sazon Chicago is Ursula’s catering company and it allows her to do what she loves: feed people. In Spanish, Sazon means seasoning, flavor, all the elements that make something delicious. Ursula’s favorite catering experiences involve families, seeing fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents get together.

It’s no surprise that Ursula and her husband, Ernesto, believe it’s important to teach children to appreciate eating, preparing and enjoying food from an early age. She suggests taking them to the market with you. Teach them how to smell the fruit, the herbs; let them experience how to pick the freshest vegetables and cuts of meat; let them imagine what goes together and how to create dishes.

Fresh cassava is the key ingredient in this recipe. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Fresh cassava is the key ingredient in this recipe. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

She also gave me tips on what she keeps in her kitchen, a Costa Rican kitchen: important spices including oregano and cilantro, basic vegetables including tomatoes, cabbage and lettuce. Plus the all important rice, beans and … cassava.

What’s cassava? It’s a starchy root vegetable grown throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. You can find it here in Chicago in the produce section, or it also comes pre-packaged and frozen.  Cassava is as flexible as potatoes, meaning it can be fried, baked, roasted, mashed, puréed, even put in soups or breads, with its own delicious flavor.

In today’s Food We Love video, Ursula makes a one-dish dinner with cassava, shrimp and assorted vegetables that is as beautiful to look at as it is yummy to eat. To learn how to make it yourself  and hear her warning about what part of the cassava you CAN’T eat, go to


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Download and print the recipe for Ursula Adduci’s Caribbean Shrimp & Cassava Puree here.

Ursula Adduci’s Caribbean Shrimp & Cassava Puree

Cassava Puree

2 lbs. frozen cassava or yuca
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Turmeric, pinch
½ stick butter
1 egg

In large pot boil cassava or yuca, salt, pepper and turmeric for 25 minutes. Drain and remove center core fibers.
Add butter and egg, then mash the ingredients (you can do this by hand or use a food processor). Ingredients should be a puree. Pour into oven-safe pan and bake at 400 degrees for 15-25 minutes.

The finished dish: Caribbean shrimp on top of cassava puree. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The finished dish: Caribbean shrimp on top of cassava puree. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Caribbean Shrimp

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
2 lbs. shrimp, clean deveined
3 tbsps. tomato paste
Curry, pinch
Cumin, pinch
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 tbsps. olive oil
1/3 cup white wine

Add olive oil to a large skillet heat, then add tomatoes. Sauteed 7 minutes.
Gradually add shrimp, tomato paste, curry, cumin, salt and pepper.
Deglaze (dilute to create a sauce) with wine. Cook 6-8 minutes. Serve over warm cassava puree.


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