Celebrate Mayan style
Contrary to popular belief, the Mayan calendar doesn’t predict the world will end Friday.
Take it from Tanya McNab, a Belizean cookbook author.
Belize has one of the largest concentrations of Mayans living in one country. Friday will be a day to party hardy there. It’s not only the last day of a Great Cycle in their rather lengthy calendar, but also the beginning of a new one.
“It’s a new beginning, rather than the end,” McNab says in a telephone interview from her home in Belize. “People in Belize are doing celebrations in all different ways.”
The Central American country traces its Mayan roots to 2000 B.C. and had a Mayan population of 1 million in the 7th Century, she says. Now, the population is about 300,000. Over the centuries, the Belizean people have been influenced by 13 different cultures, McNab says.
The country’s cuisine shares some characteristics of Mexican dishes, but there are major differences caused, in part, by language.
Unlike other Central American countries, English is the primary language in Belize, attracting English speakers from around the world. There are many people from China, as well as from Lebanon, East India and, of course, Great Britain, living in Belize.
“It’s really a collection of all these cultures that has given us our unique food,” McNab says.
McNab, 28, attended college at Florida International University, where she majored in fine arts and graphic design. Returning home, she started publishing Flavors of Belize, a magazine distributed in hotels, restaurants and other tourist hubs. She included recipes for Belizean food and found tourists were hungering for more.
That sparked her interest in authoring a cookbook. When the frenzy about the Mayan calendar started this year, she decided it would be a great time to publish it.
So “Flavors of Belize: The Cookbook,” is for sale now. It describes the country’s “ancient history, diverse culture and exotic cuisine,” McNab says.
The book includes more than 120 recipes she compiled from her mother and grandmother, as well as chefs from throughout the country, focusing on soups, salads, seafood, vegetarian dishes and desserts.
McNab says seafood lovers will really enjoy the recipes her book presents, like grouper served in a banana leaf.
For dessert, Maya Chocolate Cake should satisfy the sweetest tooth.
“Flavors of Belize: The Cookbook” is available for sale at $39.95 at www.flavorsofbelize.com.
- The flavors of Belize
1½ pounds corn masa or 2 cups Quaker Masa Harina de Maiz mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red recado paste (recipe follows)
¼ cup water
1½ cups fish filet, cooked, flaked
Vegetable oil for frying
2 pounds fish filet
6 epazote leaves, minced
2 to 3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, minced
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Place fish, epazote and cilantro in pot with enough water to cover, boil until fish is cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove fish from pot and cool. Flake fish, combine with salt, black pepper, onion and garlic.
Mix masa, baking powder and salt. Dissolve recado in water and add to masa until soft and masa holds. If using Masa harina, follow instructions on package. Form into 1½-inch balls. Place ball of masa in between 2 sheets of parchment paper in center of tortilla press and flatten. Place about 1 teaspoon of fish in middle and fold over to form a patty; press edges to seal.
Do not overfill. Heat oil in large frying pan and fry panades until they float; turn and cook until slightly crisp. Serve with hot pepper onion sauce (recipe follows). Makes 4 to 6 servings.
May also fill with refried beans. When using refried beans, eliminate red recado paste from the recipe.
RED RECADO PASTE
5 tablespoons annatto seeds
6 to 7 allspice seeds
¼ teaspoon whole cloves
¼ cup sour orange
¼ cup vinegar
Grind annatto seeds, allspice seeds and whole cloves to a powder. Combine annatto powder with sour orange and ¼ cup of vinegar and process to a paste. May add more sour orange and vinegar if necessary to achieve a thick paste. Store in refrigerator.
HOT PEPPER ONION SAUCE
2 cups onions, minced
2 habanero peppers, deseeded, sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
6 allspice seeds
1½ cups vinegar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients and marinate for 2 hours or overnight. Will keep for several weeks in refrigerator.
5 pound pork shoulder or pork leg, bone in
1 head garlic
1½ tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1½ teaspoons allspice
1½ tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red recado, diluted to form paste
½ cup sour orange juice
2 medium onions, quartered
2 medium green bell peppers, quartered
¼ cup cilantro, minced
Smoked banana leaves
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pierce pork with knife and insert garlic cloves all around. Mix all dry ingredients; combine with recado, diluted in orange juice and coat pork. Marinate overnight.
Place pork in large roasting pan lined with banana leaves. Add onion, sweet pepper and place cilantro on top. Pour remaining marinade liquid and add more water to pan to about 1 inch high. Cover with banana leaves and seal tightly with foil. Bake for 5 hours or until meat is very tender and starts to release from the bone. Shred pork and serve on warm corn tortillas topped with pickled red onions or habanero salsa.
Can also be cooked in a slow cooker, on low, for 12 hours, or on high for 6 hours. Makes 8 servings.