Not Just Rice and Beans
You just had a little photographic taste of my trip to Belize and are now raring to go with a list of must-do activities too. But as many of you expressed in the comments, there’s something else you’re keen on reading about here. What was I eating while in Belize? It wasn’t all rice and beans, that’s for sure. So let’s head right into the kitchen!
(Above: Chef Kuylen preparing Mayan Cochinita pibil tacos: slow-roasted pork served over warm corn tortillas with a tropical pineapple pico de gallo)
A big highlight and memorable moment for me was hanging out in the kitchen of Ka’ana Boutique Resort with the personable, talented and passionate Chef Sean Kuylen (pronounced kwee-ln), born and raised in Belize. With the bubbly enthusiasm of a little boy, he was bouncing around the compact space wanting to show me the ingredients he was using, tell me about his ideas for future dishes and have me taste a bit of this and that. With a foundation in classic French cuisine, he trained for 2 years in kitchens in San Francisco and Florida, and now finds his inspiration from everywhere he turns. Watching him prepare the smoked red snapper, he exclaimed with a wide grin, “I stole this from Disney World! They had cedar-planked salmon. I saw the cedar trees here and said, hey they’re not poisonous, let’s do it!” And so he did; he finishes off the fish with a flambé that would make a fireman flinch.
As Ka’ana owner Ian Lizzaraga explained, Ka’ana is where you’ll find “the Belizean experience on a 5 star level.” Their values of sustainability and cultural authenticity are apparent on the grounds, in the rooms and in the restaurant La Ceiba, named after the native tree to Guatemala, sacred to the Mayans. The team is taking the traditions they grew up with and giving them a current interpretation. As seen in their spin on a piña colada for example- a sugar corn colada, reminiscent of their childhood snack of corn ice cream with cinnamon. They’re taking advantage of local products including brown sugar, cacao and coffee; and they’re using organic produce from their beautiful garden just outside the restaurant. The basil and arugula you’ll see on your plate will have been collected from the garden right before service. And as above, your fish may be smoked on cedar wood, from the tree just outside your room.
(Above, clockwise from top: Seafood ceviche tapas of diced tomato, onion and cilantro marinated in lime juice and served in crisp corn tortilla cups. Sweet potato purée. Corn dukunu. Herbed grilled tilapia with black bean and corn salsa, drizzled with cilantro oil)
Of course I was most interested in Chef Kuylen’s desserts, but I have to say, months later, I am still thinking about his corn dukunu. It was a component in a larger dish – sautéed Mennonite pork sausage with chipotle and guava tomato chutney served over Mayan dukunu, the latter a roasted corn and coconut milk tamale. I also tasted it in its pure form as a purée and knew I would want to recreate it at home in my own kitchen. The purée, in the bottom casserole above right, was a masterful play on sweet and salty, with a healthy kick of spicy too – zoom in on the chef’s gallon jug of habanero hot sauce! That caught my eye and I thus proceeded carefully during meals! Enjoy the recipe below, that the chef generously shared with us here (and not only because I begged for it!). But most of all, stay tuned for the next post… Chef Kuylen shares some sweet recipes too!
Chef Kuylen’s Corn Dukunu
1 cup canned sweet corn
6 oz yellow cornmeal
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
1 cup coconut milk
4 oz smoked bacon, diced
Combine all ingredients except the bacon in a food processor and mix forming the dukunu batter. In a saucepan render the diced bacon and add the prepared batter stirring constantly preventing it from sticking. Cook for 15 minutes until the batter gets thick and golden yellow in color. Adjust the seasoning and enjoy with fish, chicken or sausage.
Alternative: this batter can also be steamed forming a firm Dukunu Cake.
Render the bacon and add it to the raw corn batter. Spoon the batter in foil or corn husks and seal the ends. Set in a pot of shallow water, cover and steam for 45 minutes forming a traditional Dukunu Tamalito. Once cooked, carefully open and enjoy!