Will the conch season in Belize have to be shortened? Might we need to control the amount of conch that we eat year per year? These are a couple of questions that Belize, including other Caribbean nations, might have to consider as Caribbean ministers will come together to discuss a conch petition for CARICOM during Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2012 in Antigua and Barbuda.
A United States petition submitted this March to list the Queen Conch (Strombus gigas) as a threatened or endangered species will be a priority item on the agenda of the upcoming 3rd Special Meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM).
Over fishing of the Queen Conch might be posing a problem to the survival of the species and such petition could limit our consumption of conch if the animal becomes labeled as threatened and endangered.
The Queen Conch is a delicacy in Belize and its meat is highly demanded in dishes which include ceviche, conch fritters, conch soup, conch chowder, conch burgers, conch steak, conch bits and BBQ conch. Even if it means eating a little less conch for the season, protecting the specie and extending the closed season for it to procreate, might be the best action to take in order for us to enjoy all things conch for years to come.
Usually, the only time a tropical island in Belize makes the news is when a hurricane hits (a rare event) but last week, when Discovery Channel’s new series, Alone In The Wild, featured TV celeb Jason Gardiner stranded alone on a Belize island for 5 days, it became a news story. Apparently, a highlight of his experience was finally catching and eating a fish after failing to do so for five days. Happily, you will experience no such deprivations on Adventure Island as our kitchen features a down-home, made-from-scratch cuisine that our guests rave about.
At our island kitchen in Belize we employ 3 local women to cook for our groups. Belizean cuisine has only a few good recipes (from my point of view)… almost everything is either deep-fried, over-cooked, or made with processed ingredients, like white flour. It has taken me years to teach these wonderful women to cook for American tastes. Our guests tend to prefer whole foods, low in fat, and simply prepared.
One excellent local recipe that we serve many times during the week are freshly-made flour tortillas. This stretchy dough is broken into bits and deeply worked by repeatedly folding it over itself in a one-handed push on the counter. As they are formed, rows of plump balls line up neatly as they continue to rise. Cooked on a hot, dry griddle and served almost immediately, they accompany breakfast burritos, quesadillas, and fish tacos with secret sauce! (For more about Belize food visit our website.)
Knowing what goes into these tortillas, I have always been surprised at how sophisticated Americans fall over themselves to get at these hot and supple bread loaves. Most of our guests would never eat this kind of processed white bread at home. I believe it’s because in our busy lives we simply don’t get to eat breads hot out of the oven very often (or hot off the griddle in this case); these tortillas remind us of a simpler time.
Inspired by this experience of daily fresh bread on the table, I decided to incorporate fresh tortillas into my diet at home, but without the white flour and Crisco. I wanted to use both corn and amaranth flours, and the recipe needed to be easy so I could make them even when I had little time. I discovered the way to accomplish this is to make the recipe for the dough mix fill most of a gallon jar, so I could simply scoop out the right amount for one meal, adding water only. I use a rolling pin on a floured board, as I’ve never mastered the Belizean technique of patting the dough into circles. Cooked on a hot skillet with no oil, these brown cakes puff up a bit, even with no leavening. Sometimes they turn out pliable, sometimes a bit crispy, but they are always excellent, and take so little time.
We still serve the Belizean-style tortillas on the island, they are EXTREMELY popular! Here are both recipes:
Belizean Flour Tortillas
For 6-8 persons
4 cups white flour
1/8 cup shortening (Crisco)
1-1/3 T baking powder
½ t. salt
¾ cup coconut milk or milk
Mix dry ingredients together, add shortening and liquid. Knead lightly until well-kneaded (about 5 min). Form into small balls (somewhat larger than a golf ball). Let sit for 10-15 min then flatten with finger tips onto a smooth counter and press into a circular flat shape, about 3 times the thickness of a kayak paddle. Cook on griddle for about 5 minutes on each side.
Lucy’s Wheat, Corn, and Amaranth Tortilla Mix
5 cups spelt flour (or other wheat flour)
1-1/3 cup amaranth flour
1-1/3 cup corn meal
2 T salt
Mix all ingredients together and store in a glass gallon jar until needed.
For one person, to make 2 tortillas:
Scoop out ¼ cup of the mix. Add about 1 T + 1 t. water. Stir until well mixed, kneading dough until stretchy. Add more of the mix if you accidentally added too much water. Divide into 2 balls and let sit on counter for up to 15 minutes. Flour your counter and roll out into a thin circle, about 6” across. Get a skillet very hot, then put the tortilla in with no oil or butter. Bake there until it begins to look lighter in color on the bottom, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Flip the tortilla and cook more until it puffs up and brown spots appear. Turn back onto the other side to finish baking through, another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Serve as soon as you can.
In Belize you will hear the locals talk about a mysterious vegetable called “cho-cho”. This is what they call chayote squash, a vegetable common in Mexico. On the island we serve Cho-Cho and Zucchini Enchiladas. This recipe is PERFECT, if I may say so myself. It serves 6 – 8, and is very easy to make.
Cho-Cho and Zucchini Enchiladas
1 bell pepper
1 package frozen corn
¼ cup cilantro, minced
¾ lb. cheddar or jack cheese
½ cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 lb corn tortillas
2 8-oz cans salsa casera
½ cup tomato paste
2 small (10 oz.) cans canned tomatoes
½ t. white sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dice cho-cho, zucchini, pepper and onion to make ¼ inch cubes. Heat 1-2 T of the oil in a skillet, add the onion and cho-cho, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the pepper and zucchini and cook for 1 more minute, then add corn and cook 1 more minute. Remove from heat and season with a little salt. Let cool a little, then add cilantro and grated cheese. Set this aside.
Cover a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels. Heat the rest of the oil in a small frying pan. When hot enough to sizzle a drop of water, fry the tortillas for only 4 seconds on each side. Don’t let them crisp. Lay them on the toweling. When done, blot them again to absorb any excess oil (add oil to pan if necessary). Set these aside also.
For the sauce for the top mix together the salsa, tomato paste (thinned slightly with water before adding), the canned tomatoes, crushed, and the sugar.
Fill each tortilla with the vegetable and cheese mixture, roll it up, and tightly pack the rolled tortillas in the bottom of an oiled pan, one layer only. Pour the tomato/salsa sauce over the whole thing. Sprinkle a small amount of cheese on top.
Our Belize island menu takes advantage of fresh seafood caught locally. The shrimp in Belize is fantastic! Here is the recipe most commonly served in Belize, this recipe serves 6.
2 lb peeled & de-veined shrimp
2 T olive oil
2 bell peppers
3 garlic cloves
1 T oregano
1 T basil
1 8 oz can salsa casera
juice from 2 limes
1 T Belizean Recado: spice paste sold in balls, a.k.a. red achiote paste
½ cup water
1 t salt
Chop onions and peppers finely. Lightly fry shrimp in a large skillet in olive oil, then add onions, peppers, minced garlic along with basil and oregano. Saute’ until shrimp is almost done and veggies are a little soft. After a few minutes add salsa and lime juice and continue to cook. Next add Recado, diluted into the water. After everything has been going about 10 minutes add the salt and tomatoes sliced in to thin wedges. Continue cooking about 5 more minutes. Serve over coconut rice.
We serve Key Lime Pie on the island every Friday night as part of our “Belize Night” menu. This is actually my mother’s recipe, who is from the southern US. I always order Key Lime Pie when I see it on a menu, and I have yet to find a recipe that beats this one.
For one crust:
½ box (1-1/2 packet of graham crackers) graham crackers
¼ cup sugar
½ cup (2 sticks) butter
Melt the butter. Crush the graham crackers in a bowl using something like a full rum bottle (readily available in Belize!). Mix with melted butter and sugar. Coat the inside of a pie pan with butter, then press the graham cracker mix against the bottom and sides of the pan.
For filling for one pie:
3 egg whites
½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin
Beat egg whites about 5 minutes until very light. Stir in lime juice, gelatin and condensed milk. Pour into crusts and chill or even freeze. Should be made a minimum of a few hours before.