International Cooking: Food from Belize

Belize is a small country on the east coast of Central America, with the Caribbean to the east. I think I was expecting the food would mostly be based on traditional Latin American flavors, completely disregarding all those islands to the east!

What Do People Eat in Belize?

Belizean cuisine is like a mix of Latin American and Caribbean foods. Bread and tortillas are popular components of most meals, as are cheese, refried beans, and eggs. Popular Caribbean staples such as potato salad, rice and beans, and Johnny cakes are also present, alongside Latin American favorites like tamales.

There still remains a heavy influence from the ancient civilizations that once dominated the area, such as the Maya. This is evident in the use of such foods as maize, cassava, and recado, a seasoning paste made from annatto (also known as achiote) seeds.

When it comes to meat, chicken and fish are the most popular choices. Pork is probably more widely consumed than beef, and pig tails are a common ingredient for ‘boil up’ which is a dish that can also include, corn, fish, eggs and plantains, among other things.

What I Made

Stew Chicken, Rice and Beans, and Potato Salad

Stewed Chicken and Rice and Beans

This is a common meal served for Sunday dinner (or ‘dinna’ in Belize). Chicken is cooked in a sauce based on red recado, a paste made primarily of ancho chile and annatto seeds. It’s usually served with rice and beans, which is rice cooked in coconut milk and mixed with red beans of some kind, in this case kidney beans. Other side dishes include potato salad, Johnny cakes, and fried plantains. I’ve already made Johnny cakes, and I skipped the plantains because I was going to try them for another meal. I didn’t really need that much food anyway.

Variations of this meal are common all throughout the Caribbean, but I’m pretty sure the red recado isn’t as popular elsewhere as it’s a result of Central American influence.

This wasn’t a bad meal, but I’m not sure I like the taste of the annatto seeds, and I wasn’t really a fan of the coconut flavor in the rice. The potato salad was pretty good though! It includes peas and carrots. The dressing is meant to be a combination of mayonnaise, sour cream, and Heinz dressing. I know what Heinz dressing tastes like, and can’t get it easily here, so I just used extra mayonnaise and added a little sugar.

Stew chicken recipe: Global Table Adventure (I also used the red recado recipe linked in the ingredient list)

Rice and beans recipe: Caribbean Lifestyle

Potato salad recipe: African Bites (Not sure this is really a Belizean recipe, rather just a standard Caribbean potato salad, but I’m including the recipe in case anyone is interested)

Hudut (Fish and Coconut Soup with Mashed Plantain)

Hudut

This soup is made with fish that is fried briefly before finishing cooking in a coconut milk soup, with okra, onion, garlic, red capsicum, habaneros, and basil. It is apparently always served with mashed plantain. I’ve avoided plantains up until now, because I don’t like bananas and I always assumed plantains would taste like bananas. A Google search told me this was not the case, so I decided to try it.

Traditionally, the mashed plantain uses a mixture of green and ripe plantains, but the recipe I used only called for green. I didn’t want to make a lot of this in case I hated it, so I got a single plantain that was just a little green. What this recipe did not mention was how difficult it would be to mash the plantain after cooking. The recipe said to ‘mash until soft’ which should have given me a clue, because I would have thought the plantain would be soft after cooking. But it wasn’t. It took a lot of mashing to get it looking ‘mashed’, and I ended up adding some water to help it along.

I used the recipe from Coco Plum Island since it seemed authentic. I used cod fillets instead of whole fish, and coconut milk instead of coconut cream because I thought it would be far too rich otherwise. The soup was alright, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the mashed plantain. It didn’t really have much flavor; it kind of tasted a bit like a really mealy potato. I am willing to try plantains again, but I will probably fry them and see if I like them better that way.

Garnaches (Crispy Tortillas with Topping)

Garnaches

Garnaches are simple street food in Belize, consisting of a corn tortilla, fried until crispy, and topped with refried beans, cheese, and onion. There are some variations on this topping. I used the recipe from Jamieson Diaries for its authenticity.

These garnaches were topped with a pickled onion, carrot, and red capsicum mixture, as well as the refried beans and cheese. I used canned refried beans, but didn’t season them as indicated in the recipe since they were already seasoned and tasted pretty good. I’ll make my own refried beans one day, but not this week. I used gouda cheese, despite asiago being called for in the recipe, since gouda or edam are commonly used on garnaches and I like gouda a lot. This is an important thing to consider when I know I’ll have something left over from a recipe!

This was a combination that I thought worked really well. I hadn’t expected to like these as much as I did. They were so simple, yet super delicious.

Chimole (‘The Black Dinner’)

Chimole

Chimole is also known as ‘The Black Dinner’ because it’s a stew or soup with a black sauce. The color comes from black recado, which is made by grilling ancho chiles until they turn black and blending them with annatto seeds and a variety of other ingredients which seem to differ greatly from recipe to recipe. Some recipes have you blacken some onions, garlic, and even tortillas too, but mine only called for the chiles. Maybe I didn’t blacken them enough or maybe I needed to use one of those more complex recipes. My black recado was almost black when I made it, but it lightened up quite a bit once I combined it with the other ingredients to make the chimole. The version of chimole I made had chicken in it, but it can also be made with pork.

I used the chimole recipe from Charbil Mar Villas which combines chicken, black recado, tomato, onion, potato, garlic, and chicken stock. Some fresh cilantro is added at the end, and the chimole is served with boiled eggs and corn tortillas. Despite not being the proper color, my chimole tasted pretty good, though not amazing. After tasting, I added some lime juice which I think it needed; I don’t know if it’s authentic but it did taste better that way.

Fry Jacks (Fried Bread)

Fry Jacks

Fry jacks are made with a quick baking powder bread dough which is rolled out and fried. The dough puffs up a bit in the hot oil, and the end result is crispy and delicious. Serving suggestions vary, but it’s common to serve with refried beans, bacon, cheese, and eggs, or honey and butter. I went for refried beans since I had some left from my garnaches, and I made scrambled eggs with spinach. The latter is reminiscent of another dish that came up when I was looking at Belizean food, a scrambled egg dish which incorporates chaya, also known as Mayan spinach. This made for a great breakfast. I tried some of the leftover fry jacks the next day with honey, and they were also good that way. But I do have to say, these don’t reheat that well and are really best eaten the day they are made.

I used the recipe from African Bites, which was super easy to follow. I only shallow fried my fry jacks and I think they would have puffed up more if I deep fried them. I’m trying to limit how much oil I’m going through with some of these recipes.

Final Thoughts

This was a pretty good week. The garnaches were easily my favorite and I can see myself coming up with all kinds of variations.

Next week, I will cooking food from Benin.

Join the Conversation

  1. Chimole does not have potatoes,,,,,or cilantro…or lime juice.

    1. Maybe you could link me to a recipe you feel is more authentic. Potatoes and cilantro were common ingredients in the recipes I looked at. The recipe I chose was from the website of a Belizean resort so I was feeling pretty confident in its authenticity, but it is often hard to find authentic recipes. I did acknowledge that the lime juice probably wasn’t authentic. I felt my chimole needed some aciditity and I thought the lime would go well (which it did).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close
The Flavor Vortex © Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.
Close