Friday, April 24, 2009

Its Mango Season!!

Once I start seeing the signs of the jungle summer, I know that mangoes are on their way. And when mango season hits the jungle, there is no mistaking it!!

Mangoes suddenly appear everywhere. There are mangoes in stall after stall in the market ...

Mangoes are sold from the backs of trucks parked all over town.

Housewives buy up cartons of them and set them up for sale on tables in every available spot ...

There are mangoes of every size, shape and color, like the golden Mango de Brea, recognizable by the stickiness of its skin (you can tell from the picture). The de Brea has juice like ambrosia, but its meat is full of fibres that make it almost impossible to cut and eat. Instead, we squeeze them all over with our hands until they are really mushy inside, then wash them and cut off a tip and suck the juice out. Wow ... what a refreshing snack!

Then there is the fat juicy Mango Mamey ... one of the more popular local brands. These are the ones I just bought a huge bag of.

There seem to be zillions of these small Mango de Coche (Pig Mangos, since they practically grow wild everywhere and are very common) around ... they are amongst the first to arrive in the marketplace and the last to finish.

And there are other mangoes that I still don't even know the names of ...

Needless to say, I am now looking for mango recipes.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Solar Cooking: The Oven

In December of this past year, volunteer Dana Machovek of Alberta, Canada, donated a Sun Oven to Project Ix-canaan with the understanding that we would be able to use it to demonstrate solar cooking and run workshops in the village to build-your-own solar oven. Since we are now in the hot season, and we are finally getting some sunny days, I dug out the oven to get familiar with it.

The Sun Oven is fully portable ... it folds up into a light, small suitcase size which makes it easier to move in and out when in use.

The metal wings are really easy to flip open (and to close again after use) ... and the oven has a leg at the back to prop it up to get the best angle on the sun ... mostly for morning and evening. I don't really need it because the sun seems to be almost right overhead by the time it clears the trees in front of its location.

Inside, the unit is painted matte black and has a swinging shelf (easily removable for larger pots or bottles) to adjust the angle of the cooking pot if the leg is being used to angle toward the sun.

The temperature guage has been really handy for me while learning to use the Sun Oven. By experimenting, I am learning not only where is the best location in my yard to achieve higher temperatures, but how long it takes to achieve various temperatures at different times of the day. So far, on a hot jungle day (lets say easily 110'F.) in an unobstructed location, and paying attention to move the unit with the sun, I can keep a pretty steady 350'F from about 11 a.m. to about 2 p.m. I moved the oven to another location (closer to the kitchen), and we have been getting a lot of overcast skies the last couple of days from the smoke from the huge fires that are burning down the jungles, so my most recent experiments have been showing about 250'F throughout those hottest hours.

Here is the oven lined up with the morning sun ... about 9 a.m. ... as it comes through the trees that have all lost their leaves for the hot season. About every 1 to 1 1/2 hours I find it necessary to adjust the oven, rotating it to the right (south), for the movement of the sun.

I've been taking advantage of almost every sunny day for the last couple of weeks to do various experiments with different foods and recipes so that I know what will work, given all the local variables, to teach to the village women. Needless to say, I'll be running it all past the blogging community as I figure it out. Stay tuned ...

P.S I'm open to input from those with experience


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach

This is the first time I have participated in a "Craving Ellie in My Belly" event. I'm not sure how I heard about it, and I have never heard of Ellie Krieger or her cookbook before, but I really like the idea of creating one of her recipes each week along with several other food bloggers. If all of the recipes are as delicious as this first one was, we are going to be looking forward to it a lot each week! This weeks recipe was chosen by Marthe of Culinary Delights.

My very first entry is this yummy looking Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach dish. Of course, I had to make a couple of minor substitutions for things that aren't available here, but regardless, the end result was superb.

Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach

Recipe By: Ellie Krieger
Serving Size: 4


1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic ; chopped (I added a bit more)
2 (8-ounce) boneless ; skinless chicken breasts, halved (I partially thawed two of the chicken breasts from my freezer before cutting in half)
8 ounces baby spinach (I substituted a local wild herb called "verdolaga")
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth (I used broth from my last baked chicken)
1 cup low-sodium canned chopped tomatoes with juice (We can't buy canned tomatoes here, which is great because I like cooking with fresh ... I peeled and chopped two rosy red tomatoes)
2 cups whole wheat couscous ; cooked (I have never seen couscous in Peten, so substituted white rice cooked with chopped onion and sweet red pepper)


Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add the chicken and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through and juices run clear.

Remove the chicken and set aside. To the same pan, add the spinach and cook just until wilted, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove from the pan and set aside. Lower the heat to medium and add the balsamic vinegar and chicken broth to the pan and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits.

Add the tomatoes,

bring to a simmer and cook 3 to 5 minutes.

Place the couscous (or rice) on plates.

Top with the spinach, (or verdolaga)


and balsamic-tomato sauce.

and ... TA-DA ...

The Verdict:

It was SUPERB! I was worried that the flavor of the balsamic vinegar wouldn't be strong enough for my tastes, but I found the more subtle back-flavor with the tomato much more appealing, and didn't add any extra at the table. The only change I might make is to add a bit more verdolaga (or whatever green one is using). I will most definitely be putting this on my "do again" list!

Check out "Craving Ellie in My Belly" for the list of other participants who have created this dish today, or to enroll to participate yourself.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Banana Chips

I've bought banana chips many times when living in North America, but have never tried drying them out myself. Since I had such a huge volume of excellent bananas, I decided to give it a try.

I read somewhere that the banana pieces should be dipped in lemon juice to prevent browning, and I had luckily just picked up a giant lemon that had fallen out of the tree that hovers over my back door. I squeezed the juice from a couple of segments into a small bowl, and proceeded to dip, turn and dip each piece of banana.

Then, I turned on the dehydrator and started drying ....

After about 24 hours, it seemed like they were about half as dry as they should be, so I turned them over and continuted drying ...

and drying ...

and drying ....

Altogether, they were there for 4 days ... although I turned the dehydrator off for the last night, then in the morning thought they were still too moistly rubbery, so turned it back on again for several more hours.

Verdict: Once dried, the dozen bananas that I started out with nicely fit into a small container that I keep in the refrigerator. Even after all those hours of drying, they still seemed a little rubbery-moist to me, and I didn't want to take the chance that they would rot on these hot moist days.

The flavor is incredibly great ... a bit of a lemony tang to the compacted sweetness of a great banana! I'm still not sure how I will use them ... maybe to add to my cooked cereal ... I'll let you know.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chico Zapote

Summertime in the jungle is the time for fruit. They are all delicious and exotic, like the Chico Zapote fruit, which has always been one of my favorites.

The Chico Zapote is also known as the sapodilla.

According to Wikipedia ...

"The flavor of Chico Zapote is exceptionally sweet and very tasty, with what can be described as a malty flavor. The unripe fruit is hard to the touch and contains high amounts of saponin, which has astringent properties similar to tannin, drying out the mouth.

The Chico Zapote is a large ellipsoid berry, 4-8 cm in diameter, very much resembling a smooth-skinned potato and containing 2-5 seeds. Inside, its flesh ranges from a pale yellow to an earthy brown color with a grainy texture akin to that of a well-ripened pear. The seeds are black and resemble beans, with a hook at one end that can catch in the throat if swallowed."

The Chico Zapote tree produces a sap that is known as "chicle" and was the inspiration for Adams and the basis for the American chewing gum industry. You can feel the stickiness in the texture of the fruit as you eat it.


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