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!

KaKaKaKa

(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.

KaKaKaKa

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.

KaKaKaKa

(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!

24 Responses to “Not Just Rice and Beans”

  1. Lani says:

    Thank you for sharing with us the tastes of Belize! Oh might I ask how in the world you ate the Dukuno Cake with haberno hot sauce? It is just fabulous that you know when you are in Belize that all their ingredients are fresh from the sea or the garden.
    I can taste the fresh fish and the great tastes of basil and arugula, my favorite! I would love to have the recipe for the grilled tilapia…..

  2. uberVU - social comments says:

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  3. Jamie says:

    Wow! What an amazing experience! That food looks fabulous and I know how much fun it must have been watching a passionate chef work!

  4. Emma says:

    I always seem to read your food posts when I’m hungriest; I guess that’s both good and bad!

    What are those red fruits/pods on that tree? Being in a forest science career, it’s neat (and humbling) to see all these tropical plants and trees that I know nothing about.

    Can’t wait for the sweets!

  5. Mowie @ Mowielicious says:

    Wow, that all looks fabulous hon! Can’t wait for more. Hope you’re feeling better!

  6. Melanie@TravelsWithTwo says:

    Girl, I still get tickled when I think of you getting the behind-the-scenes peek at Chef Kuylens’ kitchen…your enthusiasm made the man’s entire week! You are, quite simply, my food photography hero.

  7. Heitha says:

    Emma – those red things are just some kind of seedpods on some of the palm trees in Belize. You can’t eat them. Kids like to take them off and hurl them at eachother. They look pretty – when not coming full speed towards your face :). Great article – I have been to Kaana and the food IS fantastic!

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  9. jen laceda says:

    Hmmm…I’m craving for some Belizean food now. And I just had dinner!

  10. Steve says:

    it’s so cool how often you seem to work your way into the kitchens of places you visit. How often do they tell you – “no pictures?” Just curious. Great shots and great post, but let’s be honest, i agree with Emma and i’m anxiously awaiting the sweets. Bring it on.

  11. Kerrin says:

    Lani, you are right – absolutely no habanero hot sauce for me, yikes ! ;) I made a special request with the chef for “non spicy pleeeeease.”

    Jamie, oh yes, I love watching chefs in action, and especially when it’s that up close ! Amazing.

    Emma, save that appetite for the next post too then ! :) A career in forest science sounds fascinating. You’ll have to go do some studies in Belize ! Heitha above has given an answer to your question about those red pods on the trees. I remember asking about them when I was there – and I have a vague memory about them using the oil or something, but not for eating, not sure. I’ll check in with the folks at Ka’ana…

    Heitha, thanks for letting us know about those trees. How funny – yes they definitely are pretty, when not a weapon against you, ha ha ! Glad to hear you also enjoyed Ka’ana.

    Melanie, I’m blushing.

    Steve, I love being in the kitchen with chefs – getting a taste of their personalities (and ingredients sometimes too !), seeing the behind the scenes, the orchestra of food prep, all that leads up to these beautiful presented dishes. I always ask first, and only if I think it’s appropriate. I can’t recall a time when I was told not to take pictures. But then again, I can recall times when I simply didn’t take pictures – it’s all about feeling it out, if it seems natural or invasive.

    Sweets up next, stay tuned everyone ! :)

  12. Not Just Rice and Beans | MyKugelhopf | belize today says:

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  13. Barbra says:

    You love chatting up chefs! It’s great — and rare — to see a resort using local products. Also? I want to go there NOW.

  14. Julia @Mélanger says:

    Great story. How wonderful that they have such a range of organic produce that they grow themselves. Now that’s a fabulous idea. I wish more places were like that, making it more about the origin of the food and taking care in cultivating it, to ultimately produce outstanding dishes. Also, really playing up local produce, too. The range of dishes you’ve included here are definitely not what I was expecting from Belize. As you say, not just rice and beans! Love your behind-the-scenes photographs.

  15. Hilda says:

    Ahhh, cedar planks, they are pretty awesome, especially when you can get the single use ones (because actually they don’t make reusable ones for sale to the general public, as far as I know anyway) for BBQs. But wait, Mennonite pork? I’m going to have to assume it was made by them and that the pig was not consulted as to his religious beliefs before he was slaughtered (or at least if he was, that he then was slaughtered in a manner befitting his beliefs). I love when they catch or grow everything you eat in exotic places, it makes me feel like until I finally have time to get my crossbow and go food-stalking, I’m really having a different experience to my every day routine. ;)

  16. Gourmet Traveller says:

    Belize – How exotic! You are definitely escaping the winter. Left you an award on my blog. ;)

  17. Kerrin says:

    Barbra, that I do ! So many chefs are just so down-to-earth and passionate about what they do, that they welcome the curiosity of a foodie or photographer like myself, and love to share – show, taste, tell stories… it’s great !

    Hilda, haha! I’ll have to go back and have a chat with those piggies to find out ! ;) Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from the menu at La Ceiba, fyi for all readers:

    “Belize Fact: the Mennonites migrated to Belize in the 1950’s in search of farmland. They now inhabit close to 200,000 acres and provide Belize with the majority of its agricultural products. They make up 3.5% of the population.”

    Gourmet Traveller, I’m actually here in freezing Zürich; my trip to Belize was in November. Oh well ! ;) Thanks so much for the award on your blog, much appreciated !

  18. Sugar Apple says:

    The palm with the red fruit is an areca palm. As far as I know, the fruit isn’t edible (we don’t eat them down here in the Virgin Islands anyway). But as someone above mentioned, our kids like to collect them, throw them at each other, and float them in the pool. The betel nuts that are popular in India are from a tree in the same family I believe.

    And the food looks fantastic!

  19. my spatula says:

    how fantastic and lucky of you to get a behind the scenes with a great chef! i love being in a restaurant kitchen…seeing where all the magic takes place. wonderful photos!!

  20. Tim says:

    Hilda, If you submerge you plank for at least 1 hour in a tub of water your plank might last for more than one grilling, it works for my family. Kerrin I am enjoying what you have shared about Belize, it makes want to have my own adventures there.

  21. Allison says:

    According to the folks at Ka’ana, the tree Emma was referring to is the Cohune tree and the nuts are called Cohune nuts. The nuts are very oil-rich, but it is possibly one of the hardest nuts ever. They have recently begun selling the oil in San Ignacio, and while Sean hasn’t used it yet at La Ceiba, he plans on incorporating it into his cooking in the future.

  22. Elise says:

    I get a warm feeling inside when I see al the food, en de chef preparing it, great pictures Kerrin!, I now can a little bit imagine what it is to be in Belize, you’r lucky girl! Thanx for sharingwith love bElize…oh no..Elise LOL

  23. Kerrin says:

    Thanks for the great comments and nice words on the photos ! Appreciate everyone sharing their knowledge and info on those mysteriously exotic trees – and the colorful berries children like to toss at each other ! ;)

    Belise — I mean Elise, thanks ! :)

  24. bethany says:

    I want every dish there! And look at those freshly fried tortilla chips: i cannot stand those commercial kinds- either have the real ones or don’t have any at all… they really just don’t taste the same!

    O.k ranting done with. scrummy post! thank you!

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