...sharing food...

i am currently sharing food pictures from Belize and travels in Latin America.... i hope you enjoy!
i have started this blog with a number of ideas in mind. i love to cook, bake, and otherwise play with food, so i thought sharing what i do might be fun. i am also going to use this as a means of recording the various dishes that i do come up with. i try to use all organic and as much local food as possible, and i am vegetarian, although a fish dish or two may pop up on here at some point along the way. i'll try to describe what i do to make the food, but if you want a recipe, email me at cocinadooglasATgmailDOTcom. i will also offer up some restaurant reviews from time to time, and share food that i eat on my travels. otherwise, enjoy, and make some food!!!

oh yeah... i like beer too!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cooking with Cacao in Belize

Roasted cacao beans on our metlatl

My time in Belize has been filled with a variety of activity during my first two months in Punta Gorda. I've been busy making contacts for my research on the local medical system, and I've done interviews and observations with traditional Maya and Garifuna healers. I've taken some side trips with a few friends that have been here over the summer, which has provided some nice diversion from my research. Some of my most enjoyable moments so far, however, have revolved around food!

My friend Claire, an archaeologist putting together her dissertation research in one of the villages here in southern Belize, has been staying with me in Punta Gorda in between her trips to the village. We know each other from the University of South Florida, where we both got our MA degrees. We cooked and enjoyed food in Tampa, and we've done more of the same here in Punta Gorda.

Claire, beginning the process of grinding the cacao on the metlatl

One day last week, Claire brought home a small bag of roasted cacao beans with the idea that we would experiment with them in the kitchen. Neither of us had used cacao beans before, but we are both chocolate lovers and we had the makings for some of our very own chocolate - if only we could figure out exactly what to do with it!

Dooglas taking his turn grinding on the metlatl

Having done a good bit of traveling, and having a love of Mexican food, we were both familiar with mole, a typical sauce that has its origins in the food culture of Oaxaca, Mexico. We decided to make a meal of (almost) entirely local and traditional foods, with the centerpiece, a chocolate mole of our very own creation.

Winnowing the shells from the nibs

We began by grinding the cacao beans on a traditional basalt metlatl that we happen to have at the house. With the grinding stone, the beans break apart, and the thin shell flakes off, making it fairly easy to separate the "nibs" from the shell. We collected the shells to compost them in my garden, and put the nibs in a large pot.

Winnowed Cacao Nibs

Once we had the nibs ground and separated (this is called winnowing), we brought them into the kitchen. Unsure of what to do next, and without someone to ask, we put our heads and experience together, and came up with a plan. We began with some chopped garlic and onion with a decent amount of oil in our pan. We whisked together some flour, water, milk and spices (turmeric, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and local ground habanero), and added the mixture to the garlic and onions. Then we began adding our cacao nibs!

PG-style cacao nib mole

We let that mixture simmer on low heat for a good hour, and the cacao nibs began to soften and almost melt into our sauce. In the meantime, we boiled some fresh-picked local corn, local pumpkin and callaloo (a local spinach-like green). A sliced avocado, a bit of grated cheese and some hard corn tortillas made around the corner rounded out our meal - a yummy, locally-sourced, traditionally based vegetarian feast!

Cacao mole dinner a la dooglas

The cacao mole was essentially a rich chocolate sauce with a nice spice kick that was excellent with the pumpkin. It was even good with the avocado and corn, but a little bitter for the already bitter callaloo.

Three plates of cacao mole-base food

In the end, we ate our faces off, and still had leftovers. With full bellies, we were pretty satisfied with our first experiment cooking with cacao, and the connection to our local environs and traditions made this meal extra special. If you're a chocolate lover, trying a dish like this is a must!

Don't forget that you can always email me for more specific recipes - cacao nibs are usually available at your local health food store. And even if it's not quite the same as buying fresh cacao beans at an outdoor street market in Belize, it will still be a great experience for all of the chocolate lovers out there!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Belizean Food on the Road

Getting close to two months in Belize, nearly all of it in the southern town of Punta Gorda, and my food adventures continue to surprise me! I have managed to get out of PG (as it is called locally) a handful of times, including a day trip to the Belizean capital, Belmopan, and a long weekend in the beach town of Placencia. Following are some random shots of what is keeping my gastro-explorations so interesting while on the road...

Mango and Pepper
While traveling on the bus in Belize, food vendors get on at every stop to sell their snacks. This one is common in mango season - green mango (unripe) with cayenne pepper -and makes for a spicy healthy snack to hold you over until you reach your destination.

After giving a presentation on food research to a field school based in the village of Maya Center, I took a side trip to Placencia for a few days with my friend Sequoia. Our first night there, we were out drinking, when we were joined by a local - and gregarious - woman at the bar. After a few too many drinks we left her singing karaoke, only to run into her the next day at her small street stand where she sold grilled chicken and fish. Happy to see us, Miss Brenda invited Sequoia and I to her place for a home-cooked lobster dinner later that night.

Miss Brenda's House!
Inside, you can see Miss Brenda preparing our plates,
while Sequoia waits excitedly at our table in the front yard.

Lobster and Fish by Miss Brenda.
A plate done up right - fresh caught lobster and fish
with rice and beans, bread pudding, pasta salad.

We had some other tasty food in Placencia as well, which I will perhaps share at a later date. Instead, I'll share a small piece of the food scene in Belmopan. On this day I spent over 10 hours on the bus to get to and from Belmopan. I went to pick up my research permit, but I think I should have stayed a night to more fully explore what appeared to be an interesting variety of street food, if not to break up so many hours on the bus.

Food Shacks in Belmopan
Some of the many food stalls that occupy the area near the bus station.
Perfect for hungry travelers, and frequented by the many professionals
working in the capital.

Shekar Indian Fast Food
I went for the authentic Indian food for something I can't get in PG.
The owner and chef is from India, and was excited to share his food with me. You can see the menu, which changes daily.

Yellow Dhal by Shekar
The vegetarian special: A tasty plate with dhal, curried rice and Belizean Roti!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cashew Roasting with Gomier in Belize

With such an abundance of food-producing plants here in the Toledo district, there is always a new food experience to be had. Gomier is an old friend from previous visits, and the proprietor and chef at his small restaurant by the sea (here's a nice piece about him from the Esperanza Project). He prepares vegetarian and fish-based dishes, and is often credited with providing some of the best meals available in Punta Gorda.

With my friend Jillian from Remedia (soon to be Enduring Culture), I was lucky to get together with Gomier for a lesson in preparing cashews. It's a fairly simple process, but unique and fun in its own way. Best of all is at the end you have cashews to munch on!

These are the raw cashews in their shell. Raw cashews contain a toxin related to poison ivy which can be removed by fire...

With the help from a fire below, the cashews slowly catch on fire and blacken. Beware of the smoke ~ as I learned over the next few weeks, the toxin is burned off and present in the smoke. An unpleasant rash, very similar to poison ivy, results ~ for me the rashes lasted for about two weeks.

This is Gomier handling the burning cashews. Here, he is removing them from the fire, as they are now burning on their own.

With his tough bare hands, Gomier pats out the burning cashews. You need to be careful not to burn the nuts all the way through, or the nuts that you seek will be burned as well!

The resulting pile of burned cashews, and the beginning of the de-shelling process. Your hands turn black, and sometimes the nuts crumble apart, but with careful attention, the yummy sweetness of cashews begin to fill your bowl.

Time to snack! Our take of edible cashews was small, although I'm not sure if the take would ever be big enough. Thanks Gomier for this fun food adventure!