THE FOODS OF BELIZE
by Robin Benzle
You may not realize it, but the title of this article is actually funny, because if someone were to write a cookbook about Belizean cuisine, it would run all of four pages and go something like this: Stew Chicken with Rice and Beans; Stew Pork with Rice and Beans; Fisherman’s Catch with Rice and Beans; and of course, Rice and Beans with Rice and Beans.
This Central American country (formally British Honduras) sits south of Mexico with Guatemala as a neighbor - and is more known for its jungles, Maya ruins and having the second largest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere. Which goes well with Rice and Beans.
My husband and I spent the first half of our trip in Maya country in a rustic jungle cabana overlooking the Macal River. Tropical birds doubled as alarm clocks, and I always thought birdwatchers were nerds until I opened our door that first morning and saw brilliant red macaws, stunning blue tanagers, comical Fruit Loops toucans and yellow-headed motmots flying around like they were in a Disneyland display. We canoed several hours down the Macal River and watched National Geographic scenes roll by; pecan-skinned boys diving off cliffs and hunting iguanas for dinner; topless women washing clothes in the river and beating them on rocks (nature’s spin cycle); and curious men peering at us from their thatched huts. For meals, we went to the little town of San Ignacio, where nearly every restaurant offers Stew Chicken; simmered so long locals say you can even eat the bones. And in Belize, if you order a glass of water, it comes with a side of rice and beans, simmered in coconut milk and delicious after a day in the jungle.
The second half of the trip was spent on an island off the coast called Ambergris Caye, with a spectacular reef for snorkeling. We joined up with two fishermen, Eduardo and Eduardo. They took us snorkeling for the day, all the while spearing clawless lobster for our lunch. We anchored on a deserted sandy beach about 25 miles out with nothing but us and a forest of palm trees. Eduardo and Eduardo built a fire and put a grate on top and cooked our lobster tails in foil, drenched in lime juice and the oft-used green bell pepper and onions. But their secret was mayonnaise. Eduardo, (or was it Eduardo?) sheepishly produced a jar of mayo and said, “This is the key to good lobster.” After eating several lobster tails with my hands, I proclaimed this deserted beach my new favorite restaurant.
From the mouths of Belizeans, here is their food.
BELIZEAN STEW CHICKEN
8 pieces chicken (breasts, thighs, drumsticks)
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 large onions, diced
2 large green bell peppers, diced
1 cup beer
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
In large skillet, brown chicken pieces in peanut oil over medium heat 15 - 20 minutes until golden, turning. Add onion and bell pepper and cook 5 minutes. Pour in beer, add tomatoes and spices and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook 30 minutes. Remove cover and simmer 45 minutes more.
EVERY DAY RICE AND BEANS
1 cup canned coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup water
2 cups long grain white rice
1 can (16 oz.) dark kidney beans, rinsed and
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Bottled hot pepper sauce
Bring coconut milk, stock and water to a boil in a large saucepan with a lid. Stir in rice, cover and cook over low heat, covered 20 minutes, or until rice is tender and has absorbed liquids. Mix in beans and spices and heat through. Serve with hot sauce on the side.
EDUARDO AND EDUARDO’S LOBSTER TAILS
6 large lobster tails - fresh or frozen, thawed
Juice of 3 limes
1 large green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
With a sharp knife or scissors, split lobster tails down the middle (on the inside part) and break shell until meat is exposed. Arrange on heavy foil and form sides. Sprinkle lime juice all over along with pepper and onion. Spread mayonnaise over tops and cover with more foil. Seal edges and cook on grill 20 minutes. May also be placed in roasting pan and baked in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Eat with hands.
Robin Benzle hosts the food and travel website, www.robinbenzle.com