...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!


Lana said...

Looks delicious! I sure hope I get to taste one of these creations some day!

Tender Branson said...

I saw some cacao today at the health food store and my first thought was mole (since I've only seen it in that and dessert recipes). I've not had great experiences ordering mole at restaurants so I've been scared to give it a go. But your post has convinced me otherwise. I love that everything had a local origin in this meal.