Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A National Holiday and Breadfruit Gumbo with Land Crabs

Today is a national holiday in Belize, so it seems an appropriate time to update my blog after an inexcusably long lapse in posting. Hardly had I celebrated the one year anniversary of this website when the beginning of the semester descended upon me. I have just begun to get used to my new work and study schedule, and I am still feeling quite overwhelmed with homework. But, today is the 210th anniversary of the Battle of St. George's Caye, and national pride demands that I post something here to acknowledge it. September in Belize is a time of celebration. In fact, although the official state holidays don't begin until the 10th, the entire month is devoted to parties and parades, to singing and dancing, and to general expressions of patriotic fervour.

The Battle of St. George's Caye commemorates Belizeans' decisive victory in a small sea battle that led Belize to become an official colony of Great Britain instead of an ignored backwater of New Spain. This rather dubious holiday is closely followed by our Independence Day on the 21st of September. So first we celebrate being handed from one empire to another, and then we celebrate kicking them out altogether. There are concerts, carnival parades in Belize City, cultural performances, competitions, dances and ceremonies, and of course the obligatory waving of thousands of little flags. Its a heady month, I tell you!

As I promised in August, I have lots of photos and stories from Belize and since I can't turn on the radio and sing along to patriotic songs, or dance behind a carnival float, I thought I would post about a recipe that I made up while at home. No, this is not a "traditional" or "authentic" Belizean recipe (whatever that means), but it does use foods that are commonly eaten across the country, and it results in a tasty stew that would be appreciated by any Belizean. So Happy St. George's Caye Day, and enjoy!

This breadfruit gumbo with land crab claws was a creation that came out of the very local ingredients of the farm in August. Breadfruit were plentiful, weighing down the brittle branches of the tree near our kitchen, and land crabs were venturing further from their holes than usual in their pursuit of food and mates. Unlike blue sea crabs, they turn off-white, not red, when cooked, hence the pale hue of the claws gracing my plate at the top of this post.

Breadfruit Gumbo

This can be made with crab, tofu, fish or shrimp. I imagine that it would probably be tasty with chicken or pork as well. I made the stew with tofu in it and served the crab claws on the side, as one of our party can't eat crab, but personally I stirred my crab meat into the gumbo, and I think it tastes best that way. So feel free to nix the tofu and replace it with crab meat if you so desire (and if you have some on hand). Just be aware that crab and shrimp are both high in cholesterol, so if you are trying to avoid that substance, fish, chicken or tofu might be a better bet.

I say "or to taste" a lot in this recipe, so make sure you keep tasting your stew as you go along and adjust the seasonings if necessary. If in doubt, start with the smallest amount of spices and herbs and add more as needed.

If you live in the USA you will probably have a pretty hard time tracking down a breadfruit. I know that personally this is a dish that I will only make in Belize, where these ingredients are local and plentiful. Hopefully you will still enjoy reading about it!

Water

3/4 medium or 1 small green breadfruit, steamed, boiled or roasted until cooked through, then peeled and diced. Should yield about 4-5 cups of breadfruit.

2-3 cups cooked moringa oleifera , chaya or coco yam (aka dasheen or taro) leaves, or uncooked malabar spinach or callaloo. (Feel free to substitute your favorite cooking greens. I used par-boiled moringa leaves)

2 cups chopped fresh or diced canned tomatoes

About 1 cup chopped young okra or to taste

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large allspice leaf (may substitute 2 bay leaves)

4-6 green allspice seeds, lightly crushed (may substitute dried allspice seeds)

5-10 black peppercorns, crushed (I used closer to 10)

Roughly 1 tablespoon of red recado

2-3 tsp Marie Sharp's hot sauce, or 1-2 habanero peppers, minced, with seeds and white core removed. (Start out with less and add more only if needed, or else you might make it too fiery for your taste)

1 tsp tamarind concentrate or 1-2 tbsp tamarind pulp or 1 tbsp tamarind based hot sauce

1/4-1/3 cup white vinegar (to taste again)

1 tsp vegetable oil

About 1 tsp dried oregano or to taste

1 tsp salt, or to taste

1 cube vegetable or chicken bouillon

Protein options: 2 cups crab meat, 1/2 lb cubed tofu, 1/2 lb shrimp, fish, chicken or pork.

1 large lime, in quarters

Brown rice to serve

Procedure:

1. Cook the crabs, breadfruit and greens (if using greens that need pre-cooking) in advance, this makes assembly of the dish easy.

2. Get a large pot, add the oil and saute the onion along with the allspice leaf, allspice seeds, peppercorns, habanero peppers, recado, tamarind, oregano and bouillon.

3. When soft add the salt, garlic and tomatoes, the greens and the breadfruit and enough water to cover everything.

4. Simmer for about 20 minutes over medium-low heat, then add the chopped okra and vinegar. If using tofu, diced raw chicken or pork, add it now as well. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep anything from sticking, then remove from the heat. If you are using raw fish, remove the bones, cut it into bite sized pieces and add it to the stew 5-10 minutes after the okra and vinegar. Cook just until the fish is done, then remove from heat. If using cooked crab meat, stir it in right before serving. Taste and adjust the seasonings before everything is cooked through.

5. Serve over brown rice with lime wedges to squeeze over the stew.

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