Thursday, March 14, 2019

Seaweed Smoothie. Yes You read that Correctly. Learn More about this Belizean Delicacy!


Lowell aka "Japs" Godfrey with freshly harvested seaweed. Photo by Sarah Hewitt

Seaweed smoothie anyone? If you aren’t familiar with the wonderful world of edible seaweeds, you might be imagining a green, vaguely fishy and definitely unappetizing concoction. Perhaps your only culinary encounter with seaweed has been nori wrapped around raw fish at a sushi bar, but here in Placencia, Belize one variety (Eucheuma isiforme), is a prized ingredient in smoothies and shakes, making them thick and creamy while adding important minerals. There is usually plenty of Eucheuma in Placencia thanks to a seaweed growing initiative run by the Placencia Producers Cooperative. The term seaweed refers to marine algae, commonly grouped into brown, red and green types, making up around 12,000 different species. Very few are inedible and some are quite tasty. Belize, along with a number of its Caribbean neighbors, has for generations used the red algae Eucheuma isiforme and Gracilaria sp, simply called “seaweed”, in the preparation of puddings and drinks. This knowledge of using seaweeds for their thickening qualities was probably brought over from the United Kingdom and Ireland, where use of another red algae, Irish Moss (Chondrus Crispus), dates back centuries. 

The thickening qualities of these seaweeds are caused by water soluble gums known as hydrocolloids, including alginates and carrageenan. Carrageenan helps form the cell walls of Eucheuma isiforme, making up 40 to 75% of its total weight. This is what makes Placencia’s famous seaweed punch and sea weed smoothies so silky smooth and thick. In industrial food processing hydrocolloids derived from seaweed are used as thickeners in many foods from yogurts to ice creams, as well as cosmetic products.

This photo of a seaweed shake at The Shak Beach Cafe in Placencia, Belize is courtesy of TripAdvisor

This photo of a seaweed shake at The Shak Beach Cafe in Placencia, Belize is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Ask any Belizean and we will tell you, seaweed is good for you. In fact, we say its “good fi di back” (good for the back), which means it will supposedly increase sexual performance, stamina and reproductive health. Certainly it won’t hurt- Eucheuma sp. are simply packed with nutrients. They are high in protein (almost 10% of dry weight, comparable with the protein content of soybeans) and 25% dietary fiber, 18% of which is soluble. They contain 46% ash, and are a wonderful source of sodium (1771.84 mg per 100 grams of dry weight seaweed), potassium (13,155 mg per 100 grams of dry weight seaweed), magnesium (271.33 mg per 100 g) and calcium (329.69 mg per 100 g), with significant quantities of iron (2.61 mg per 100 g), zinc (4.3 mg per 100 g), selenium (.59 mg per 100 g) and iodine (9.24 mg per 100 g). Just to give you a little comparison, low fat milk contains only 125 mg of calcium as compared to 329.69 mg in our favorite seaweed. The banana, long touted as a great source of potassium, only contains 358 mg of this handy mineral. The whopping 13,155 mg per 100 grams of potassium found in our favorite seaweed makes Eucheuma the best food to consume after a hard workout, preferably in a nice smoothie with lowfat milk, cacao nibs and bananas. Convinced? Good. Now go get yourself some seaweed!

It makes perfect sense to try a seaweed punch by the sea, and The Shak, located right next to Placencia’s main pier, is a great place to do it. This locally owned inviting beachside restaurant has the classic nutmeg and vanilla (similar to a thick and creamy egg nog), plus 29 other flavours, served in a laid back tropical atmosphere with hammocks to match. Brewed Awakenings, located on the main street at the north edge of downtown Placencia, offers coffee but is more famous for their many different flavours of decadent seaweed shakes, including oreo, peanut butter, coffee, all kinds of fruits and a healthy green (with spinach and tropical fruits). Try a classic seaweed punch at The Galley restaurant or Omar’s Creole Grub along with your dinner or go for The Galley’s premium version with a shot of rum or cognac! Whatever flavor you try, don’t miss out on seaweed while you are in Belize! If you want to read more about Placencia's seaweed farming, check out this article by Sarah Hewitt. You can follow the latest updates on Placencia's seaweed farming initiative at their facebook page. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Belizean Stew(ed) Chicken


In honor of my new book, Bite Yu Finga! Innovating Belizean Cuisine coming out this April 2019, (you will be able to find it here at the University of The West Indies Press in e-book and soft cover form), I am re-posting my most popular recipe for one of Belize's most iconic dishes, stewed chicken. If you have ever visited or lived in Belize you have sampled this dish, which, when properly made, is savory and loaded with flavour, with pieces of perfectly tender chicken falling off the bone into a rich and delicious gravy. A note to my Belizean readers-you may not make stew chicken exactly like I do, perhaps you have a secret ingredient or a special step that you use in your own kitchen, but when it comes to this dish, that just makes it taste better and alla we da one!

Belizean popular cuisine centers around the Belizean Kriol classic one pot dish of rice and beans, preferably with some kind of protein accompanying it. Since the beans are often flavoured with a nice fat pig tail, you can probably already guess that the protein is unlikely to be soy-based. Belizean vegetarians are a rare breed. Fish and other seafood, beef, chicken, pork and even game animals such as deer (antelope in local parlance), wild pig (peccary or warrie) and gibnut (a large and tasty member of the rodent family affectionately nicknamed the royal rat for once having been served to the Queen of England) may appear on the side of a plate heaped high with our traditional staples. Ideally fried plantains and some type of salad (more a garnish than anything) perch on the margins of this loaded platter, and the whole thing is commonly doused by the hungry consumer with liberal quantities of home-made or store bought hot pepper sauce.

You will find some variation of this meal at most Belizean restaurants and in many (particularly Kriol and Garifuna) homes around lunch time, traditionally the biggest meal of the day. While the diverse nation that is Belize boasts a wide array of delicious foodstuffs, this meal is what most Belizeans think of when they talk about "Belizean food" and it is what they crave when they are far from home.

Although animal flesh is relegated to the side of the plate, that does not diminish its importance. While one can certainly eat rice and beans (or stew beans and rice, which is not the same thing) by themselves, most Belizeans strive to ensure that some type of animal accompanies them. Fish and seafood may be stewed, fried, baked, grilled. Land meats are usually stewed to allay toughness, providing a rich gravy to wet the accompanying rice and beans. Stewed Chicken (stew chicken in Belizean Kriol), is a particularly popular choice in restaurants. I got my recipe from a woman in Cayo District who made the best stew chicken I had ever tasted. In the coastal village of Placencia I learned another trick to add to the flavour of the dish.

The recipe I offer below is an amalgamation of techniques from across the country, and I encourage you to make your own changes as you see fit. No two people make stew chicken exactly the same way. In keeping with this tradition, I present the recipe below as it was given to me: with no exact measurements.


Stew Chicken

The meat:
A whole chicken, cut into pieces, or conversely 4-5 chicken legs and thighs or breasts with rib meat, skin on.
(Do not under any circumstances try to make this with boneless skinless chicken breast. In fact, I strongly recommend using either a combination of white and dark meat, or dark meat alone, for the best flavour)

The vegetables:
onion
sweet pepper (green)

The seasonings:
garlic
red recado (more about recado here)
Soy sauce
Worchesterschire sauce
cumin
thyme
oregano
salt
fresh ground black pepper
bayleaf or allspice leaf (optional)
cider or white vinegar
coconut oil (1-2 tablespoons)
1-2 tsp of sugar

Procedure:

1. Take the cut up chicken, place in a bowl and rub thoroughly with a mixture of about 2 tablespoons of vinegar and a piece of recado about the size of half an egg.

2. Add several tablespoons each of soysauce and worchesterschire sauce and cumin, and dried thyme, oregano, and black pepper. Don't add salt yet.

3. Chop an onion or two and one large or two medium sweet peppers and chop up 3-5 cloves of garlic.

4. Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan to medium high heat. Toss in the sugar. Add the chicken, skin side down, and brown, then turn and brown on the other side. Reserve the marinade from the chicken.

5. Add the onion, garlic and sweet peppers, turn heat down and saute until onion is transparent, then add the liquid from the chicken bowl, along with a glass or two of water, enough to almost cover the chicken.

6. Let simmer for 40 minutes to an hour, taste for flavour and adjust seasonings as needed. You may need to add more soy sauce, worchesterschire sauce or herbs to your taste. Add salt if needed.

7. Serve with rice and beans or stew beans and rice, fried plantains and a little side salad (potato salad or coleslaw is classic) for a taste of one of Belize's most popular lunches.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Di Black Pot. Belizean Kriol Firehearth Cooking.

Today I was on tour with my little tour company, Taste Belize Tours, on an adventure to do some Kriol fire hearth cooking. In Belize we know one fact to be true. Food cooked over a wood or coconut husk fueled fire hearth always tastes better than the same meal heated on a gas range. Ask anyone. Consensus has already been established. The Belizean Kriol style fire hearth is built like a table, a wooden box filled with sand or clay, standing at waist height for easy cooking.


We had the great fortune to spend the morning stirring up some home style food with artist and cook Jill Burgess, and Emmeth Young, Kriol drum master and renowned musician. The menu included a lavender hued root vegetable that we call yampi, also known in some parts of south east Asia as "purple taro", leaf wrapped snook fish steaks, rice seasoned with locally grown tumeric, (called yellow ginger in Belize), and some freshly brewed lemon grass tea to keep us cozy on this rainy day.


Our plates, needless to say, were beautiful.

A little drum lesson while our food was bubbling away, and a visit to Ixcacao Chocolate for dessert afterwards made the day perfect.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Chu'uk Wa. Part 1 of My Personal Belize Food Bucket List

We call Belize The Jewel for good reason. Our country is small, almost exactly the size of the American state of Massachusetts, yet overflowing with cultural and environmental diversity. From rainforests to reefs, yes, of course, but also pine savannas that make one feel on safari, rare isolated cloud forest peaks hidden in the Cockscomb Mountain Range and the inviting cool green of mangrove forests and estuaries. Across the country we find Kriol (Creole), Mestizo, three Maya groups, Garifuna, but also over 11,000 Mennonites in both electricity and non-electricity using communities, a large Chinese immigrant population and villages whose members trace their ancestry back to India, as well as many individuals whose ancestry is an unlabeled mixture of peoples from across the world. The Caribbean coast of Central America has been a melting pot of diversity since the chaos of colonialism began over 500 years ago and in Belize this only adds to the sparkle of our little Jewel.

For a long time British colonial policy discouraged land ownership and farming, yet it continued on a small scale and despite the dominance of British ideals and British food, especially amongst those closest to the colonial system, a diverse array of food traditions survived in this little corner of the British empire. Today some have gained international attention while others are still hidden from the eye of most visitors.

Starting with this post, I'd like to mention just a few of the many lesser known foods and food related activities that I think every Belizean and visitor should know about and experience. Look for Part 2 of my bucket list soon!

Chu'uk Wa: Also called sweet corn tortilla, a name which utterly fails to capture its delicate sweet crispy nature. Chu'uk means sweet or sugary in Kekchi Maya. Wa, corn or food, refers to the main ingredient: corn cooked with lime as if to make regular corn masa for tortillas. This cooked corn is ground together with our local rich brown sugar, giving each wafer a sweetness that only enhances its aromatic corn flavour. A seed pod from the plant chu'uk-pim (otherwise known as "sweet-plant", see in the photo below) is used to stamp a filagree of beauteous labor across the face of a round, hand shaped corn wafer so thin that it is semi transparent. These wafers are hand formed on a leaf from the jungle called waha leaf, which allows the cook to place the wafer face down, leaf up, on the hot comal (cast iron griddle) on which corn tortillas are also cooked. After a second the wafer hardens enough that the cook can carefully peel off the leaf and quickly decorate the uncooked side using the seed pod. This painstaking hand labor requires great skill, and only a few Maya women in any given village know how to make good Chu'uk Wa. Tracking it down can be difficult. My best source for it so far is the King Energy gas station in Big Falls Village, Toledo District, and even there its not guaranteed. These delicate wafers are a great accompaniment to some Maya style hot chocolate, or even alongside a cup of tea or coffee. If they lose their crispiness in our humid climate a couple seconds on a hot cast iron surface will toast them right up again.




Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summertime with The Kids

I have four kids with me this month and find myself eating a lot less healthy than I prefer, but a lot more healthy then they normally do. Anything with bread and cheese or fruit (thank goodness at least they like fruit) makes them happy, while vegetables are generally viewed with suspicion and must be well disguised to past the taste test. The one exception is cucumbers, which are happily accepted sliced raw and chewed down to their green skins which are then discarded.

I've never cooked for children before (except long ago when I was a child, at which point I was determined to learn to bake only so my brother and I could have sweets). They didn't like my chili, but when I turned it into nachos with tortilla chips and cheese suddenly they decided it was delicious. They didn't care for the spaghetti sauce, until it was dolloped on bread, covered with cheese (again) and turned into mini-pizzas at which point they stuffed themselves.

Its a brave new world here at the Rice and Beans blog. What healthy things do your kids or kids in your care like?


Sunday, June 7, 2015

I Love Mangoes! And a Recipe.

Yes, its a mango. In Belize we call this a "slippas mango" for its supposed resemblance to a slipper. This one was about the size of a papaya and dripping with delicious sweet juice. I love mangoes. And mango season has begun here in Belize. Mango trees are all over Placencia Peninsula, dropping ripe fruit left and right. Tiny pungent garlic mangoes grenading the sand below a massive tree, blue mangoes beckoning from someone's back yard, round apple mangoes, slippas mangoes and the old standby hybrid "number 11". Last Saturday was even Mango Fest in nearby Hopkins Village. Of course I was there, Taste Belize Tours had to make an appearance after all!

The best kind of mango is the one you don't pay for. There is a long standing tradition of naughty children "stoning" the neighbors tree for illicit mangoes in Belize. As an adult such an avenue seemed questionable, but a few days ago a significant other and I found another way. We walked down the beach and stumbled across a few big trees laden with fruit on an abandoned property. The caretaker not only said we could get mangoes, but even lent us his mango picking stick. We returned home loaded down with fragrant loot.


Free mangoes yay! Now what to do with them? There are so many amazing things you can do with ripe mangoes, the first being to cut that juicy flesh off the seed and devour it standing over the sink so you don't drip everywhere. But after that...well, thanks to another culinary experiment we had freshly smoked king mackerel in the fridge and I decided to make a smoked fish hash. Topping it off was a yogurt sauce and this delicious fresh mango salsa. Tasty by itself with chips, and wonderful at balancing the salty savoury flavours of the smoked fish.


Mango Cucumber Salsa with Habanero

Ingredients:

1 large mango, peeled, de-seeded and chopped finely
1 medium cucumber, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 small or half medium onion (a purple onion makes for a nice color contrast), finely chopped
About 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro (may be omitted if you don't care for it)
1 tomato, finely chopped
1/2 habanero, seeds removed, minced (use a sharp knife and hold it with a fork, or wear gloves, habanero is nothing to play with!)
Salt to taste
Lime juice

Procedure:

Mince and chop all ingredients. Stir together and add salt and lime juice to taste. Let rest for at least ten minutes for the flavours to meld. Serve alone with tortilla chips. This is also great on top of guacamole, refried beans, or topping a nice piece of fish or chicken. What is your favorite mango recipe? More of mine to come!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How to Make Belizean Style Rice and Beans

In a prior post I talked about making rice the Belizean way. You wash the rice until all the starch dust has been removed and then cook it down in coconut milk until it is nice and fluffy. The great majority of Belizeans use white rice but you can make some delicious nutty-coconutty brown rice as well.

Plain rice of this type is often served with Stewed Beans. I have for your pleasure and convenience recently posted a standard Belizean stewed beans recipe.

But there is a third staple dish out there, famous and commonly eaten across Belize and in many other countries around Central America and the Caribbean, and that is Rice and Beans. As any decent guidebook to Belize will tell you, Rice and Beans and Beans and Rice are NOT the same thing. Beans and Rice refers to plain white rice, preferably cooked with coconut milk, and stew beans, which are beans, normally red kidney beans, but commonly also black beans, cooked in a lot of water, usually with cumin, pepper and fresh herbs, salted pigtail and lots of garlic and onion until it forms a rich gravy. The rice is dished out and the beans and their delicious gravy is typically spooned over the top.

Rice and Beans on the other hand is a dry mixture of rice and beans cooked TOGETHER in the same pot.  I have heard a number of different ways of doing this, but the way that I know how to cook rice and beans is the following:

Belizean Rice and Beans

Ingredients:

Cooked beans. (Red kidney beans are most common, but I have seen rice and beans made in Belize with everything from RK beans to black beans to black eyed peas. This is a perfect use for your leftover stewed beans from the day before)
Coconut Milk (see post on making coconut rice for information on coconut milk)
Rice (This is usually white but this can be made with well washed brown rice as well)
Salt
Coconut Oil

Procedure:

The procedure for making rice and beans is very similar to that for making plain rice. Take as much rice as you think you will need (one cup of dry rice is usually enough for two people, but I would suggest making more, rice and beans are delicious and reheat well). Put it in a pot, run water over it and wash the rice, pouring out the water until the water runs clear instead of becoming cloudy with starch. Then put enough coconut milk (or water or broth if you don't want coconut rice) in the pot so that it reaches to the first joint on your index finger when the tip of your finger is touching the rice (this is much simpler than it sounds. Stick your finger in the pot until you touch the rice, and look down. Is the liquid up to the first joint of your index finger? Yes? Ok, you're good). I like a tablespoon of coconut oil added to the pot as well for extra coconut flavour. ''

NOW, here's the different part. Add your cooked beans to the pot as well. If you are using one cup of rice and only making enough for two people, you probably only need about half a cup or so of cooked beans. But again, I urge you to make more. So for 2 cups of dry rice, I would add about one cup of cooked beans. Just dump them in and gently stir them in before you even start the burner. Add salt to taste, remembering that the stew beans will have some salt in them already.

Put the pot over high heat with the lid off and let it come to a boil. When it has boiled until there is only a little liquid left over the top of the grains (which usually only takes a few minutes), turn the heat down to very low, put the lid on, and let simmer for about 20 minutes (30 for brown rice) until the grains have absorbed all the liquid and are not tough or crunchy when you taste one. Turn off the burner and let the rice and beans sit in the pot with the lid on for another couple minutes before you serve it.

Do you want to read even more about rice and beans? My mentor and academic adviser Dr. Richard Wilk contributed to this book, which is all about rice and beans in fourteen different countries!