Monday, October 19, 2009

Belize - Under the shade I flourish

One of the things I love about living in the Toronto area is it has a diverse society. Many of my friends are from all over the world, and world travelers. Christa, one of my best friends, is from South Africa and from her I have learned about her country, culture, language and food. In turn, I have taught her about the United States and my culture. Learning from each other has only enriched our friendship.

Belize, a country the size of New Hampshire, in Central America in the Caribbean Sea, also has a diverse society with many cultures living together and speaking many different languages. Kriol and Spanish are widely spoken, but English is the official language.

Because of this diversity, the Belizean cuisine has a mixture of Caribbean, Mexican, African, Spanish and Mayan culinary influences. They eat lots of fresh seafood such as fish, shrimp, lobster and conch. Rice and beans is often served as an accompaniment to a main dish. Belizeans also eat meat and poultry, as well as some unusual game. How would you like to eat gibnut or iguana? Before you answer that let me first tell you that gibnut is a large rodent. It is often called “The Queen’s Rat.” I read that Queen Elizabeth was served gibnut during a visit. Did they want her to come back? Supposedly, gibnut tastes like rabbit. And if you’re reading a menu in Belize, don’t think bamboo chicken is some Chinese chicken dish - it’s iguana. But it tastes like chicken.

For our Belizean dinner I made Belizean rice and beans and Banana fritters, and to go with the rice and beans I bought tamales. Tamales are widely eaten in Belize, but too labor intensive for me to make. I’m a little crazy, but not that crazy. My life has been one exhausting whirl since I started this project so labor intensive just won’t do. I had to go to a Caribbean grocery store to find black beans in a bag. In my regular grocery store they just had them in a can. I guess people aren’t into soaking beans for hours these days, which is what I had to do. I then cooked the beans in garlic, onion, coconut milk and thyme. The recipe also called for pig’s tail, but thankfully that was optional.

Surprisingly, my banana fritters turned out. I had to dunk the bananas in a very funky egg and flour mixture. But they looked pretty and tasted all right. So our Belizean dinner was like the country; it was a Mexican, Caribbean, Island meal. The flavors complimented and blended together. It made the meal interesting, like blending people from different countries.

One of Belize’s national treasures is the mahogany tree. Most of the country is heavily forested and during its colonial period the exploitation of these trees began. But the industry formed the basis of their economy.

The Mahogany tree is a beautiful giant that towers above the forests. The motto on Belize’s Coat of Arms says: “Sub Lembra Florero.” It means: under the shade (of the mahogany tree) I flourish.

With my wonderfully diverse friends in Toronto I flourish. They are my treasures.

Belizean Rice and Beans

1 cup beans (black)
1 tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk
6 -8 cups water
1/2 tsp pepper
2 garlic cloves
2 cups rice
1/2 tsp thyme
1 med. onion
1 small pig's tail (optional)

Soak beans for 4 - 6 hours. Boil beans until tender with garlic, onion, (and pig's tail). Season with black pepper, thyme and salt. Add coconut milk. Stir. Let boil.

Add rice to beans. Stir, then cover. Cook until water is absorbed or rice is tender. If necessary, add more water gradually until rice is tender.

Banana Fritters

3 - 4 firm green bananas
1/4 cup flour
2 TBSP lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs, separated
Oil for frying

Peel bananas and cut lengthwise in slices and cut each slice in half. Squeeze lemon juice over bananas. Drain.

Beat egg yolks until thick and light. Add flour and salt. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture. Heat oil. Put banana slices in batter. Add coated banana slices to oil. Turn once and cook until brown on both sides.

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