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


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


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


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)
Coconut Oil


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! 


Sunday, April 19, 2015

A New Era

When I started this blog in 2008 I was sitting at a receptionist desk in Washington DC, completing a Masters degree in Anthropology. Today I am sitting in my comfy chair in my apartment in Belize, with a fan blowing on me trying to keep me cool in the dry season heat. It's been a wild ride for the last 7 years and some of my adventures led me to cease updating this blog in any regular way. In fall of 2009 I moved to Indiana to start a doctorate in Anthropology with a concentration in Food Studies. It was not until September of 2014 that I submitted my final, revised, dissertation and was completely done with my doctorate. It was also in the summer of last year that I started my new business, Taste Belize Tours, and began really delving into culinary tourism, expanding on and adding to the chocolate tours that I have been doing since January of 2013. You haven't experienced our country until you Taste Belize!

While I have learned my lesson and won't make any promises about updating this blog, I hope that with more free time on my hands that I will find myself here again. After all, the last 7 years of my life have been to some degree shaped and instigated by this blog. It was because of it that I was recruited for my doctorate (my adviser found me through this blog), and that was the catalyst for me moving back to my home country and making a living from my love of food. Above is a picture of my kitchen counter in Belize, from a day when I made a delicious coconut curry fish head soup using this tasty hogfish. I hope to share more pictures and recipes soon!