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:
sweet pepper (green)

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


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.