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Well, I’m still at home, doing my part to flatten the curve of this darn virus. So my cooking around the world adventures continue, this time with an emphasis on food from the Caribbean and Mexico. If you haven't already, be sure to check out Cooking Around The World Part One.
I must admit, learning to make all these foods has been fun. I can’t tell you how many times I travel, try a delicious food, and then say “I’m going to make this when we get home.” 99 percent of the time that doesn’t happen. But in under two months I’ve attempted most of the foods that have long been on my list. Some have turned out so well I know I’ll be making them regularly. Others haven’t been quite as successful, but as the saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Several years ago we went to Costa Rica during our kids spring break. What a beautiful country! We hiked through a tropical rainforest, ziplined into a waterfall, and spent days relaxing on the beach watching the waves roll in. We stayed in a beachside resort near Jaco, and practically had the place to ourselves. It was a great trip.
I had no idea what to expect from the food in Costa Rica, but was pleasantly surprised. I found the cuisine to be simple and tasty. One of our favorite dishes was ‘casado,’ a plate of seasoned fish or chicken, accompanied by white rice, black beans and fried plantains. Sometimes there were sliced avocados or cucumbers, or a small salad. While researching this article, I learned there are dozens of regional variations of this dish, but the basics remain; protein, white rice and black beans.
After returning home from Costa Rica, casado became a regular part of our family’s dinner rotation. Sometimes we use fish, and sometimes chicken. As the kids got older, and family dinners were less frequent, I forgot about this dish until I was planning this article. So the other day I purchased all the necessary ingredients and made it once again.
No recipe is needed for casado. Choose your protein, season it with salt and pepper (or any other of your favorite spices), and grill or pan fry it. Then make the white rice, black beans and choose the sides. There was always a bottle of hot sauce on the table in Costa Rica, so my family always adds that to the dish as well.
I’ve been to Jamaica twice, once with Jason before we had children, and many years later when our kids were teens. I fell in love with the music and the jerk chicken. To this day hearing a steel drum brings me back to our time there. And for years I’ve tried to replicate jerk chicken. If you’ve never had this sauce, it’s a slightly spicy mix of onions, peppers, garlic, lime juice, and seasonings. It can be added to any meat or fish, but chicken is the most common.
Many times I tried to purchase a premade jar of jerk sauce to marinade chicken, but was always disappointed. So with time on my hands I decided to make the marinade myself. Fortunately, with the help of a blender, it was pretty easy to make. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found the perfect recipe. The flavor wasn’t bad, just not nearly as good as I remember it being in Jamaica. Needless to say, I’m not linking to a recipe here--or sharing a photo--but I will keep searching for the perfect jerk marinade! (If you have a great jerk recipe feel free to share the link in the comments below.)
I really love Mexican food, and fortunately, I live in Southern California, where it’s easy to find this cuisine. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel to Mexico many times and learned to appreciate the complexity and variation of this country’s food. In January I spent the day in Tijuana where we were treated to a delicious lunch at Telefonica Gastro Park, and I was once again reminded how delicious Mexican food can be.
Flan is not only a Mexican dish, but can be found in several Latin American countries. It’s a desert I have long adored. I enjoy the smoothness of the custard topped with the sweet, brown caramel sauce. Making this at home was easy since it involves few ingredients and not much skill. All you need is a blender and a cake pan. You can purchase a specific pan for making this desert, but unless you’re going to make this often, it’s not necessary.
There are a wide range of recipes to choose from, but I selected this one. The recipe gives the option to include cream cheese, which I did. And if, like me, you have a hard time finding vanilla extract (because everybody and their brother is baking these days) don’t worry, it tastes delicious without it. I just love it when recipes are so flexible!
I’ve already shared how much I love Mexican food. So it’s no wonder that I’ve made two Mexican dishes recently. And since I’ve discovered some great websites devoted to the cuisine of this country, I might just keep making more.
I’ve been threatening to make ceviche for years. And every time I do, someone tells me how easy it is to make. It turns out they were right. While the chopping for this dish is time consuming, it’s pretty much impossible to screw up ceviche.
Like flan, ceviche isn’t exclusive to Mexico. It can be found in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. But I specifically sought out a Mexican version when preparing to make it. This recipe is pretty straight forward. I purchased previously frozen cod instead of red snapper because that was all that was available the day I went shopping. The cod wasn’t as flavorful as I would have liked, so next time I’d make more of an effort to find fresh fish. Ceviche can also be made with shrimp, which I may try next time. There are several optional ingredients of which I selected avocado (because I pretty much add avocado to everything). I served this with tortilla chips and called it dinner.
Cooking Around The World Continues
As I'm writing this we've all been home for about seven weeks. At first I was very resistant to quarantine. All my travel plans had been cancelled and I have no idea when I'll be able to travel again. But eventually I decided to make the best of this situation and one of the ways I've done that is by cooking. I've only shared my international efforts here, but there have been many other cooking adventures including bread and soup. I hope you've found ways to adapt in these strange times. And if you've tried any new recipes, please share it in the comments below.