A good cookbook collection does not look like it came straight out of a food stylist's studio. Sure, it will include several near-perfect volumes, those monumental titles that still capture your attention. But some cookbooks, like Flavors of Belize, will sport a few flaws.
You might keep them because there haven't been many cookbooks on the subject. Or because within their pages, you can find recipe ideas for obscure stateside ingredients like breadfruit (get a recipe for fried breadfruit after the jump). You can overlook the minor annoyances, like the promotional tone of many of the restaurant/chef listings in the glossary and specific products. In the recipe for "Belikin beer bread" ("the beer of Belize") any light lager would likely work fine; those fish panades (similar to fried empañadas with a crispy corn shell) call for Quaker brand masa harina mix.
And why the complete absence of recipe head notes? Tell us about that hudutu baruru (green and ripe plantains cooked in water and pureed) -- with a name like that, we're dying to know the back story. A recipe for "split pea soup with dumplings" that calls for 2 pounds of brined and sliced pigtail could use a substitution suggestion should pickled pig tails not be in our usual farmers market roundup (ham hocks?). Still, you keep the book because it adds something to your collection -- or sure, because L.A.-area photography/food styling duo Matt Armendariz and Adam Pearson (!) were responsible for those fantastic fish taco snapshots.
Tanya McNab, who is behind Belize's first dedicated food magazine by the same name, also spearheaded the cookbook. The recipes are a collaborative effort by Belize home cooks and chefs. The author's goal, we are told, is to capture the influence of various cultural influences on Belize cooking (among them Mayan, Creole, British and Lebanese). That merging of cultures is what makes that stir fried shrimp salad recipe so interesting.
Sure, it's a bit odd to have fresh ingredient-driven chef recipes (pan-fried snapper with mango and dragon fruit sauces served on herb-infused coconut rice) alongside home cook creations that still call for canned cream of celery soup, as in a recipe for breadfruit casserole (4 cups breadfruit, 2 cans cream of mushroom soup, 1 ½ cups evaporated milk, water, Edam cheese). Then again, we cook in a chaotic online recipe world today where a Cheez Whiz tomato soup recipe is presented alongside an heirloom farmers market gazpacho.
Yes, we'll be skipping over some of the recipes. And hitting the Internet when we want to learn more about the origins of that curious breadfruit casserole or those sweet biscuit-like "powder buns" -- so named due to the baking powder? But when we get our hands on conch, we're going to try those Cajun-spiced fritters and that conch ceviche. And we'll definitely be trying some of the desserts - tablata, a coconut-ginger candy, cassava pudding, coconut pie. And perfect or not, we'll learn a little something about the Flavors of Belize in the process.
From: The Flavors of Belize
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
1 green breadfruit
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt, to taste
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1. Peel the breadfruit and cut in half, lengthwise. Remove the core and place half the breadfruit, flat side down, on a cutting board and cut into 1/4 -inch slices or thinner, if desired. Heat oil in a large frying pan. Place slices into hot oil and fry, turning occasionally until both sides are brown and crisp. Remove from oil, drain and sprinkle with salt.
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