Week 18: Belize

Belize navidad! In our last feast of the year in Brooklyn, we head to the small yet super-diverse country of Belize. From the creoles in the towns, to the inland Mayans, to the Afro-Caribbean Garifuna in the south, there are several culinary traditions to follow in a country of a third of a million people. So I did my best to incorporate some of all of them, and as I discovered, what ties them all together is coconut milk — four coconuts' worth, in this case.

Our guests were Kirsty, her boyfriend Grant, Elsa, Lisa, and new neighbors Jessica and Alex.

Panti ripa

Thanks to John and Monica for the heads-up on this drink which is apparently all over Belize. It's super-simple: equal parts of coconut rum and pineapple juice. It's sweet, it's smooth, it's refreshing. Not hard to see how it got its name. (Note: this is Monica's photo from Belize, we didn't find these bottles here!)

Hudut | Mashed plantains with poached fish | Recipe

For our first course we went in the Garifuna direction. The starch is boiled and mashed green plantains, which are on the dry side and plenty starchy, but with one ripe plantain mashed in for some sweetness and flavor. On top is tilapia poached in coconut milk. And this time, I made my own coconut milk! It's actually not too hard once you get the damn coconut open and the flesh peeled; after that you just grate it (thank you Cuisinart), put it in a bowl with water, squeeze a bunch, and pour off the liquid. Much tastier, and apparently less fatty, than the canned stuff. Overall a nice dish, the broth was tasty and definitely necessary with the mashed plantains.

Escabeche | Sour chicken and onion stew | Recipe

There were a bunch of things I could have done for the main course, but since we haven't had much in the way of chicken recently, that's what led me to this nice and simple stew. What I didn't realize is just how many onions it was, a whole three pounds. If I were to do it again, I'd cut down on the onions for sure. Anyway, what makes this one tasty is a a whole lot of vinegar, hence the name, which means "pickle" in Spanish.

Rice and beans | Recipe

I was initially skeptical when I saw different recipes for Beans & Rice and Rice & Beans, but there is a difference. The former are cooked separately, while the latter, which you see here, involves cooking the beans, then adding the rice and coconut milk to the pot. That way the rice gets the nice flavor too. Also, the salt pork doesn't hurt! Worked nicely to soak up the broth from the stew.

Potato pound | Recipe

Apparently this odd name is a Creolization of pone, the word for a basic cornbread from US Mid-Atlantic native tribes. Anyway, this hardly resembles a cornbread, but it is tasty: shredded sweet potatoes (the "sweet" part got left out of the final name too!) with yet more coconut milk, a lot of brown sugar, ginger, and nutmeg. I left out the raisins but it was no worse for wear. In fact, it was quite thick and sticky and pretty yummy.

Thanks to our guests who braved the chilly evening to make it over, and warm wishes for happy holidays to all. The next meal is Bhutan, which we'll enjoy of Laura's hometown of Tacoma. (We're leapfrogging over Benin; we'll get there in January with a friend who did Peace Corps there.)