Costa Rica

It’s been several weeks since my last post.  We’re still going strong working through our list (our next country will put us past the 25% point!!!), but I am, unfortunately, ten countries behind on this blog…

Several weeks ago we cooked Costa Rican food!  One of the most well known national dishes is actually a big breakfast, so we had breakfast for dinner one night.  We made gallo pinto (yet another rice and beans dish…), which is typically served with platanos maduros (fried plantains), eggs (fried or scrambled), and sour cream.

Gallo Pinto (recipe)

This was pretty straightforward–fry onion, pepper, garlic, and cilantro (although I think I may have waited and added cilantro at the end?) in oil.  Then mix in cooked beans, sauce, and spices (we had to buy a new sauce for this: Salsa Lizano… thank you, Amazon Prime).  Then the cooked rice was mixed in.  Done.

gallo_pinto

Platanos Maduros (recipe)

This was another nice, simple recipe.  The only struggle is that our grocery store did not have very ripe plantains in stock at the time we made this.  We ended up using a combination of medium ripe plantains and very ripe small bananas (I don’t remember their name, but the sticker said they came from Costa Rica, so I called that close enough…).

Pre-frying:

platanos_maduros_uncooked

 

Mid-frying:

platanos_maduros_cooking

Post-frying, served with dinner:

Costa_Rican_meal

Overall, this meal was very good.  Even for an egg hater like me, the scrambled eggs went pretty well with the rest of the food.  Everything on the plate complimented the rest very nicely.  Tyler made the pinto gallo for breakfast several times afterwards in the next couple weeks, and the leftovers went quickly.  So we’ll call that a win.

Cameroon

We have gotten pretty busy over the last few weeks, so although we have cooked three more countries, I haven’t blogged any of them yet.  For Cameroon, I came across many of the usual ingredients for Africa… palm oil, plantains, fish, peanuts, etc.  The most well known dish seems to be something called Ndole, which is a stew that is cooked with bitter greens.  I knew I would have to substitute a different green (probably collard greens, spinach, or kale), and it didn’t look all that appealing to me.  So I found an alternate recipe for fried fish in peanut sauce and a side dish called sese plantains.

Fried Fish in Peanut Sauce (recipe)

Like many African recipes, this started with heating some palm oil in a frying pan.  I then added the fish and cooked until it was done.  I interpreted “serving sized pieces” of fish to be bite sized, and in retrospect I decided that probably wasn’t the intent.  Oh well.  It had the usual distinct smell and color of palm oil coated food.

cameroon_fish_cooking

I set it aside when it was done.  It was kind of crumbly.

cameroon_fish_cooked

Next is where we made some modifications.  We ground up the coriander, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and pepper as directed, but we omitted the dried shrimp.  This is for three reasons.  1. The bag of dried shrimp we purchased turned out to be past its expiration date already (I suspect it is not a commonly purchased item and had been on the shelf for a while…), 2. We were warned that dried shrimp are VERY salty and worried about a repeat of our overly salty Cambodian fish curry, and 3. I got weirded out by the two little back eyes on each shrimp and wimped out.

We also didn’t save any fish heads to cook with the water and make a broth.  Instead we threw in some vegetable bouillon.  Sounds pretty equivalent, right?  Right.

So we marched through the rest of the steps… simmered the water, bouillon, and spices.   Browned the onions and garlic in peanut oil (usually I just sauté them until they’re soft, but I actually let them get brown and crispy for this).  Added a couple whole peppers.

cameroon_fish_cooking_3

 

Next the peanut butter and broth were mixed together/simmered, then poured over the fish.

cameroon_fish_cooking_4

It was extremely liquidy.  We were pretty concerned about this and let it reduce for a while, but it was already 8:45 PM, so eventually we just called it good.

Sese Plantains (recipe)

This was another simple recipe.  Started with chopped plantains, onions, tomatoes, and pepper.

sese_plantains_ingredients

Boil the plantains in water for 10 minutes.  I thought the 10 1/2 cups of water in the recipe seemed a little unreasonable, so I used a lot less.  It was probably 4 or 5 cups.  Then the tomatoes, onion, and pepper were added and cooked for another 10 minutes.

sese_plantains_cooking

 

Next was the vegetable bouillon and palm oil, followed by more simmering.

cameroon_fish_cooking_2

The finished meal.  We forgot the cashews that were supposed to be a topping on the sese plantains.  Oops.

Cameroon_meal

As my tone may have suggested, this meal was pretty lackluster.  Neither great, nor terrible.  I don’t regret excluding the dried shrimp and fish head, although I think the saltiness of the dried shrimp would have helped the fish in peanut sauce.  It seemed like it needed a little extra something.  I thought the sese plantains was okay, but Tyler really didn’t care for it.  Overall, it was an okay meal and we ate some of the leftovers, but after a week or two in the fridge we finally threw away the rest.  I guess we needed some solid mediocrity to balance out the awesomeness that was our Canadian meal the next week. 🙂

Burundi

With Burundi we found ourselves back in Africa.  This is number two in our current stretch of six out of nine consecutive countries being in Africa.  Considering our mediocre track record with African food, we didn’t think this boded well for the next few weeks…

Researching Burundi did a good job of putting my life in perspective.  In additional to political instability, it is one of the poorest and most malnourished countries on our planet.  It wasn’t too surprising, then, that there also isn’t a wealth of information about Burundi and their cuisine on the internet, or that the recipes I found were pretty simple.  I did read about several homemade alcoholic beverages, such as banana beer, which one of my fellow international cooking bloggers did attempt to make here.  I wasn’t that adventurous.  The common theme I found in research is that Burundians eat red kidney beans with at least one meal every day.  So for one of my recipes I selected a basic vegetarian dish of beans and bananas (plantains).  I also decided to make another attempt at the starchy glop I’ve encountered throughout Africa and the Caribbean, known in Burundi as ugali.

Burundian Beans and Bananas (recipe)

We started by soaking the dry red kidney beans.  The recipes says to do this for at least three hours, but I think we started soaking them the night before.  With our history of unsuccessful African food, I wasn’t taking any chances with not having fully cooked beans.  Plus we were making it after work the next day, so starting it the night before was definitely the safest option.

We also got to use more of our red palm oil!  We have been keeping it in the refrigerator, since we weren’t sure if refrigeration is required of it.  Lesson learned: it solidifies in the refrigerator and is VERY difficult to get out of the bottle in this state.  Once we got about two tablespoons out, we fried the chopped onion in the palm oil.

Burundi_beans_and_bananas_1

Then the beans, sliced plantains, diced chili pepper, and salt were added.

Burundi_beans_and_bananas_2

 

We didn’t add the full 1 L of water that was recommended… it was probably about 1/2 to 2/3 of that volume.

Burundi_beans_and_bananas_3

After simmering and reducing, it was done!
Burundi_beans_and_bananas

 

Ugali (recipe)

Tyler was in charge of this recipe, and he said he followed advice in the comments of the recipe I linked to more than the recipe itself.  He used the proportions in the recipe (except the salt… we forgot to scale the salt back even though we scaled the rest of the recipe in half…oops.).  He gradually added cornmeal to the water, adding more only after he had stirred for several minutes and it was fully dissolved and mixed in the water.  Miraculously, when it was done it actually had the proper consistency!!!  He formed it into a large ball, and it was thick enough that it could be sliced or scooped into individual servings.  Success!!!

Burundi_ugali

 

Burundi

 

Meal review:

This meal was surprisingly delicious!!  The beans and plantains were fantastic.  The plantains took on the consistency of cooked potatoes, but they added much more flavor that you would get with potatoes.  The ugali was actually pretty good when prepared properly and served with a decent main course.  It was close enough to the proper consistency that I was able to eat it in what is apparently the traditional method of  pulling some out with your fingers and shaping it as a scoop, which is then used to scoop up the rest of the food (in this case the beans and plantains).  It was a messy affair, but we enjoyed eating it this way.

I’m definitely making a mental note of this as a quick meal we could easily throw together in the future (you could substitute canned beans to save time).  Most importantly, I was SO RELIEVED to have a good meal come out of Africa, and it gave me some hope for our upcoming four African countries!!!

 

Belize

I couldn’t get through planning our meal for Belize without humming “Belize Navidad” (to the tune of Feliz Navidad)…  I think Tyler might be tired of hearing that song.

Once again, I had a lot options to choose from, since the cuisine of Belize is influenced by Caribbean, African, Spanish, Mexican, and Mayan cooking.  I was very intrigued by the recado rojo spice/paste that is used in a delicious-looking chicken dish.  I learned that it is traditionally served with rice and beans (not to be confused with beans and rice, which is not the same thing), and other common sides include johnnycakes or fried plantains.  We went with the plantains, since I have always been curious to try this fruit that looks like a banana but apparently is not the same thing.

Recado Rojo (recipe)

I first made the recado rojo recipe, although I altered the recipe to suit our purposes.  I scaled it to 1/3 of the original recipe, and rather than forming it into small disks and drying it, then later rehydrating it with orange juice or vinegar, I just mixed in some orange juice and vinegar to get a paste-like texture and used it right away.  As always, I loved seeing and smelling the different spices come together.  The most unique spice to this blend is annatto (also known as achiote).  This was a new spice to us, and it is what gave the blend such a deep red-orange color.  The dry spices were ground to a powder, then the salt and garlic were ground together, then it was all mixed together with some vinegar and orange juice.

recado_rojo_spices   recado_rojo_powder   recado_rojo_garlic_salt   recado_rojo

Belizean stew chicken (recipe)

The chicken was something of an adventure.  Due to some poor communication and misunderstandings, Tyler carved and skinned the whole chicken we purchased to pieces of boneless/skinless meat, which I have read is not the traditional way to make this. I remember reading several comments about how important it is to cook the chicken until the skin is dark to get the right flavor.  Sooo… Tyler went back to the grocery store, bought a second whole chicken, I made another batch of the Recado Rojo sauce, and we doubled the recipe.  The second time, the chicken was cut into serving sized pieces as recommended (AKA separated into legs, breast, wings, etc.).  The recado rojo and salt, pepper, chili powder, and garlic powder were rubbed into the chicken and left to marinate for 20 minutes.

The oil and sugar were heated up in a pan until caramelized (we defined this as when they started to turn tan/light brown), then chicken was added in batches until browned.  It was more blackened, but considering our track record with frying things, I’m not too surprised.

Belizean_stew_chicken_fried

 

After removing the chicken, the peppers and onion were cooked in the same pan.

Belizean_stew_chicken_veggies

Then it was dumped back in a pot with water, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and cooked for about an hour, until the chicken was done.

Belizean_stew_chicken

 

We made the unwise decision of leaving it in this pan, which was marginally large enough.  The lid didn’t sit fully on the pan since the chicken was so tall, and it was continually oozing juices out onto the hot burner.  Even as we kept removing liquid, it kept bubbling back up.  Some of these juices are still burned onto our stove top, unfortunately.  Lesson learned.

Belizean Rice and Beans (recipe)

This recipe was pretty similar to the Peas and Rice we made for the Bahamas, and I was optimistic that it would be more flavorful.  We set out the dry kidney beans in a bowl of water overnight, and then we started boiling them an hour or so before we started the rest of dinner.  We finally had an opportunity to use the kidney beans we grew in our garden a while back!

The biggest downfall to this recipe, in my opinion, is the sheer quantity of food it creates.  You’d think we would have learned our lesson on this by now… nope.  The metric/weight units of measurement threw us off.  As it turns out, the 900 grams of rice this recipe calls for is a LOT.  It used the full bag.  Of course, we didn’t realize this until we were already committed with the cooked beans.

So the beans were boiling with garlic for a couple hours.  The salt pork/cubed bacon was supposed to be in there during this time too, but we forgot about it until later when I took them off the heat because they were getting too mushy.  So we added the salt pork and gave them another 30 minutes or so, during which they got even more mushy.

Next we drained the water, added the seasonings, coconut milk, and rice.   I seriously questioned how 250 mL (1 can) of coconut milk was enough liquid for the ridiculous amount of rice that was going in the pot, but I trusted in the recipe.  Big mistake.  It cooked for a looong time, we kept adding water, but it was never enough.  Once it was mostly soft and it was 9 PM, we said good riddance and called it done.

Belizean_rice_and_beans_cooking   Belizean_rice_and_beans

Fried Plantains (recipe)

Despite what the above two recipes may suggest, the plantains are where the real disaster began.  I was on the first step of slicing the plantains into French fry shaped slices when the evening fell apart.  The first couple plantains were very soft and easy to slice, even with a butter knife.  The next plantain was a little less ripe, a little more firm, and a little less easy to slice with a butter knife.  Let’s just say my thumb and I learned the danger of butter knives that night.

So while I sat at the counter cradling my wounded thumb, Tyler finished making the plantains.  Other than the slicing part, they were pretty simple to make… they just had to be cooked in melted butter until they started turning brown, and then we sprinkled salt on them after removing them from the pan.

Belizean_frying_plantains   Belizean_fried_Plantains

 

Belizean_meal

Meal review:

So much frustration!  This meal was completely tainted by frustration over the chicken mix-up and boiling over, frustration over the rice not cooking, frustration over my sliced thumb, and frustration over not eating until 9:00 PM.  I really wanted to like the food, but I was overwhelmed with the frustration and still a little bit in shock at how much damage a butter knife can inflict!

I loved the flavor of the Recado Rojo in the stew chicken, and I actually preferred the boneless, skinless pieces of chicken!  This was probably influenced by the challenging of eating saucy, bone-in chicken pieces without one of your thumbs…  Anyway, I think I would have really enjoyed this dish under better circumstances, and we might have to try it again sometime.  The beans and rice had potential, but they ended up getting pretty burnt from not having enough liquid.  Tyler still thought it was amazing, but I had a hard time getting past the burnt flavor.  The less burnt bites did have a good coconut flavor.  This is another one that is probably worthy of a redo.  The plantains were also pretty good… I tried a piece of raw plantain moments before the butter knife incident, and it really did taste significantly different from a banana.  I think the trick with frying plantains is to make sure they are VERY ripe (not just for safety reasons–the less ripe plantains were still pretty tough after being fried).

Our next country is Benin, and since I am behind on my blog posts, I will give you a sneak peak and say we used SEVEN habaneros for the Benin, and my throat was left burning from the heat both after dinner and after leftovers at lunch the next day!