Today I enjoyed a classic Belizean breakfast...for lunch. At 2 in the afternoon even calling it brunch was pushing it a little. But I needed to hit the gym before chowing down on this spread. This meal comprises some of the classics of generic Belizean cooking. Fry jacks, a fried dough triangle similar to Indian puris, are made out of flour tortilla dough and deep fried until they puff up and turn a golden brown. They are usually served for breakfast with refried beans and hot sauce enhanced scrambled eggs, and sometimes with callaloo, which is what we in Belize call amaranth greens. While the callaloo is only an occasional accompaniment to this meal, I think it helps to round out an otherwise protein and carbohydrate heavy breakfast. Normally it would be scrambled with the eggs, but in deference to my significant other, who has a fear of green things, I served it separately.
You will find this breakfast in most restaurants across Belize. As a child growing up fry jacks with refried beans and eggs were a treat to be had on town day, at a local restaurant, or on the odd weekend when my father would make them, stuffing the fry jack dough with banana mashed with cinnamon and nutmeg before deep frying them in a smoking hot cast iron dutch oven over our wood stove (you won't find his non-traditional version on most Belizean tables).
Fry jacks are normally served with savory accompaniments, but they are also great spread with jam and topped with a slice of cheese. Imported foods play an important role in Belizean national cuisine, a fact which the fry jack, which is made with imported wheat flour, clearly illustrates. A truly indigenous breakfast would be based on a pile of freshly made corn tortillas and home grown beans, but despite the cost of flour, fry jacks are exceedingly popular across the country. Try out the recipe yourself and you will see why.
The callaloo was stir fried with some garlic while the eggs were scrambled with a habanero pepper jack cheese from our farmer's market that is sold under the apt name "dragon's breath". Of course, that didn't keep me from adding more Marie Sharp's hot sauce while I was eating. The refried beans were from a can ( I know this makes me a bad Belizean!) but I gussied them up by sauteing recado, oregano, cumin seed and onion before adding the beans.
Fry jacks are made out of flour tortilla dough that is deep fried instead of baked. Traditionally flour tortilla dough is made with lard, but in Belize many people have replaced it with cheap vegetable shortening imported from abroad. Most recently I have seen Belizean recipes for fry jacks calling for the use of vegetable oil. This recipe uses oil because I wanted to avoid the saturated fats found in most vegetable shortening. I couldn't tell a difference in the flavour or texture between vegetable shortening and vegetable oil based recipes. I also substituted 1/4 of the flour with whole wheat flour to add a little whole grain.
This recipe makes 32 fry jacks, but you can keep some of the dough balls in a ziplock bag in the fridge for several days, so you don't have to cook them all at once. Each triangle of dough is 46 calories, which does not include the oil that it will pick up when fried.
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cup white flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
about 3/4 cup of water or as needed
1. Belizean cooks will "knead some flour" as flour tortilla making is called, on a big round board specially designed for tortilla making. You can use a clean counter top. If you want to make it even easier (though less traditional) you can also use a mixing bowl. Measure out your flour, salt and baking powder into a pile on your counter top. Make a well in the center and pour in the vegetable oil. Using your hands, work the oil into the flour until you have little pebbles of oil saturated dough evenly distributed throughout the flour.
2. Make a new well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water a little at a time, using your other hand to stir the flour into the water in the center of your pile. Keep adding the water and mixing it in a little at a time until you have formed the entire pile of flour into a rough ball of slightly sticky dough. If you are using a bowl, do the same thing. Depending on the moisture content of your flour you may need more or less water to obtain a slightly sticky consistency.
3. Once you have your dough, liberally sprinkle your counter with flour and begin to knead. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Then roll it out into a snake shape and cut it into 8 equal sized pieces. Take each piece and roll it into a ball between your two palms (or on the counter top). Cover the dough and leave the balls to rest on a lightly floured surface for at least 30 minutes.
4. Once the dough has rested, take a deep sauce pan and fill it with at least 2 inches of high temperature cooking oil. I used grape seed oil, but canola or sunflower would work as well. Set over high heat. To test if the oil is hot enough drop a tiny scrap of dough into the pot. If it bobs merrily to the surface upon contact, the oil is ready. If your oil starts smoking, its probably a bit too hot, so turn down the burner a little. And don't forget to retrieve your test scrap or else it will start smoking too as it turns into a little piece of wizened carbon.
Now grab one of the dough balls and pat it out into a circle, about 6 inches across. Take a knife or pizza cutter and cut the circle into four pieces. Once your oil is hot, drop one piece into the saucepan. It should cook very quickly, so don't leave it alone. After 10-20 seconds, check to see if the side in the oil has browned. If so, flip the fry jack over with a fork and let the other side cook, then lift it out with a slotted spoon. As a child making fry jacks on the farm, I used old dry banana leaves to soak up the excess oil, but you can let them drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
If you are serving these with refried beans and eggs (and you really should), I strongly suggest you make the refried beans before cooking the fry jacks. The eggs can then be quickly scrambled afterwards, while the fry jacks stay warm in the oven. Cold fry jacks are certainly edible (try one with some jam), but nothing beats a freshly made one with some refried beans, so please don't try cooking them ahead of time.