our tasting tour of Belize continues, as we gravitate towards lunch items…
As a visitor to the island, and perhaps new to the country, you must be initiated into the Rice and Beans culture with at least one plate of the good stuff. Rice cooked with stewed beans in a coconut milk mixture, served with stewed chicken and its delicious gravy and potato salad and topped with a couple slices of fried ripe plantain, it’s easy to see how this meal is a favorite. It’s not light by any means, but it sure is delicious!
But for those seeking something a little different, we have items that draw from our Yucatec roots. You know our country was once populated by Mayas right? One of their staple foods was corn, and so of course corn-based meals are predominant around our little jewel. One of the best ways to eat this is in tortilla form – but of course, being the kind of inventive and daring people we are, we had to go and deep fry the corn dough. It’s not just any kind of dough – it’s the kind that has been given an almost reddish hue from a good dousing of recado (an annatto-based spice that gives meats both color and flavor, and without which ‘proper’ stewed chicken cannot be created).
The fried corn dough disc is the base on which a superb Mestizo dish is created: salbutes! Topped with chicken, cabbage or lettuce, tomato and jalapeño, a few of these chased down with an ice-cold Belikin can lead to a wonderful snooze on the beach after.
Prefer the tortillas without all the frying? Try some tacos. Orange Walk District in the north is famous for them, and they are not the kind of tacos you’re thinking. Nope, these are shredded stewed chicken meat in a delicious gravy that is slathered on thin corn tortillas, topped with superfine chopped cabbage (pepper optional), rolled up and sold at three for a dollar. Neri’s tacos stand is one of the most popular on the island, and this author’s favorite – especially since they take my order via phone (yes, I’m special). A $2 order can be filling, especially if washed down with a glass of cold watermelon juice or any of their varieties available that day. The tacos are a breakfast special, but in the evenings, you can get your fill of salbutes from them as well.
2 lbs masa (corn dough)
1 1-inch cube red recado
1 lb stewed boneless chicken breast
1 head lettuce, chopped
1 lb tomato
1 lb yellow onions
1 medium green pepper
1 bunch cilantro
Salt & Cooking oil
Knead masa with 2 tbsp salt and 1 recado cube diluted in a small amount of water. Once masa is properly kneaded, divide into balls of about two inches in diameter. Use a tortilla press to flatten into rounds, then fry in about two inches of hot oil. Fry until golden (do not let it get too crispy & tough), then drain on paper towels.
Pickled onions: dice ¾ pound yellow onions and place in container. Add water to slightly cover the onions, then add lime juice, salt and (if you’re daring) sliced habanero peppers to taste.
Slice ¾ pound of the tomatoes.
Sauce: Put remaining ¼ pound to remaining ¼ pound of onion and cilantro, green pepper, one habanero, salt and black pepper to taste, and the juice of six limes into a blender. Blend until saucy.
Place shredded chicken on fried masa tortilla top with some chopped lettuce, a slice of tomato, pickled onions and the sauce. Serve immediately, with lots of napkins as these are super juicy (and delicious)!