July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.
Belize is a tiny little country just 180 miles long situated in Central America. Mexico lies to the North, Guatemala to the South and West and the Caribbean Sea to the East. The colony formerly known as British Honduras is now a hot tourist destination and a must-see place on the gap-year ecotourism trail according to my niece Lucy. It does sound rather idyllic – coral atolls, Mayan ruins, tropical rain forest… Maybe it’s not just for the low tax régime that Belize’s most famous resident Michael Ashcroft chooses to make his home here.
Because of the thriving tourism industry, descriptions of Belizean hospitality and specifically its breakfasts are not hard to come by on the web. I found this entry http://www.travellious.com/breakfast_in_belize pretty helpful in setting out what constitutes breakfast in Belize: refried beans, scrambled eggs, salsa, fry-jacks, and above all Marie Sharp’s hot sauce.
Here’s my version cooked up at home last Sunday morning. There’s one further addition to the Travellious list which is some greens quickly stir-fried with garlic. They’d use amaranth greens in Belize, sometimes referred to as callaloo, but I had to be content with some less exotic baby spinach:
The Marie Sharp’s hot sauce was impressively easy to obtain – a couple of mouse clicks and it arrived by post the next day. It’s a fiery red Tabasco type sauce but made authentically in Belize, and yes there really is a person called Marie Sharp who runs the company, it’s not just a marketing man’s fantasy à la Betty Crocker.
OK so menu and sauce sorted, this breakfast was beginning to take shape. Scrambled eggs, stir-fried greens and fresh salsa would be easy enough to whip-up, but what about the refried beans and those intriguingly named fry jacks?
My starting point for authentic refried beans was a recipe from the website of the rather lovely looking Chaa Creek ecolodge. Their recipe was a little sketchy so I’ve added my own tips for preparing refried beans. Despite the name, the beans are fried just once. I think I read somewhere that it’s more mellifluous in Spanish to refer to frijoles refritos rather than the uncomfortably alliterative frijoles fritos.
The soaked black beans look a dramatic inky deep purple colour as they go into the pot with the flavouring ingredients:
This softens when you come to fry and mash the beans to more of a sludgy grey. They may not look that pretty, but they do taste good:
Now for the fryjacks. I found an authentic recipe from fascinating blog Rice and Beans A Belizean in the USA which I’ve adapted and given below. My fry jacks tasted good – a bit like a savoury doughnut but didn’t puff up quite as much as expected.
First step was to make the dough and divide it into little balls:
Next, the dough balls are flattened and cut into quarters:
Finally, when you’re ready to eat, the quarters are dropped into hot deep fat to fry:
In keeping with the tropical vibe, I set up the deep fat fryer in the garage with the intention of eating our breakfast on the terrace outside. Great for containing cooking smells and conjuring up the beach shack atmosphere but unfortunately a Mancunian tropical downpour sent us scurrying back inside to eat.
Recipe for refried beans
Adapted from a recipe on the award winning Belizean eco-lodge Chaa Creek’s website.
To cook the beans
1 lb dried black or red beans
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled but lightly crushed
1 sprig thyme
salt to taste
To fry the beans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a little powdered cumin (optional)
handful chopped coriander (optional)
Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Next morning, drain the beans in a colander, rinse them and tip them into a deep lidded pot. Add enough fresh cold water to cover the beans adding an additional 1cm of water on top.
Add the flavouring ingredients except the salt and bring the beans to the boil leaving the lid off the pan as otherwise it will boil over. Skim off the scum, turn down to a very gentle simmer and cover the pan. Check the beans after 30 minutes – add salt as soon as the beans are nearly cooked through. Simmer until the beans are nice and soft but not too mushy. This might take anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour or longer depending on your batch of beans and how long they’ve soaked for. Don’t taste the beans until they gave boiled for at least 20 minutes as they are mildly toxic until cooked through. Remove the flavouring ingredients using a slotted spoon and leave the beans in their cooking liquid until you’re ready to fry. You can fry the beans straightaway or, once cooled, store them covered in their liquid in the fridge for a couple of days.
When you’re ready to fry, choose a heavy based deep wide sauté or frying pan and heat the vegetable oil until medium hot. Add the chopped onions and cook until soft and just turning golden. Throw in the garlic and cook for a minute or so more until just beginning to brown but not burn. Add a couple of ladlefuls of beans and their cooking liquid to the frying pan, turn down the heat to low and cook the beans and associated liquid mashing them into the base of a pan with your wooden spoon or a potato masher. Once each ladleful of beans is mashed and heated, add the next. Add more bean cooking liquid as required to form a thick paste. It won’t look too pretty – a thick, grey sludgy paste, but it will taste good. Taste and season with salt and pepper and, if using, ground cumin. Scatter over the optional chopped coriander and serve.
Recipe for Belizean fry jacks
Adapted from an authentic fry jacks recipe from the blog “Rice and Beans A Belizean in the USA”
1/2 cup wholewheat flour
1 and 1/2 cups white flour
1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
about 3/4 cup of water
Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the vegetable oil and, using your hands, work the oil into the flour until you have little pebbles of oil saturated dough evenly distributed throughout the flour.
Make a well in the mixture and pour in the water a little at a time, using your other hand to stir the flour into the water in the centre of your pile. Keep adding the water and mixing it in a little at a time until you have formed the entire pile of flour into a rough ball of slightly sticky dough. You may need a little less water than specified in the list of ingredients.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Then roll it out into a snake shape and cut it into 8 equal sized pieces. Take each piece and roll it into a ball. Cover and leave the balls to rest on a lightly floured surface for at least 30 minutes.
Next, prepare to deep fry the fry jacks. I used an electric deep fat fryer and my chosen cooking oil was rapeseed (canola). Heat the oil until really hot. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop in a small scrap of dough. If it sizzles but doesn’t smoke, the oil is the right temperature.
Take one of the dough balls and roll or pat it out into a circle, about 6 inches across. Take a knife or pizza cutter and cut the circle into four pieces. Once your oil is hot, drop several fry jacks into the pan. I managed to cook four at once without overcrowding. The fry jacks first sink then quickly rise to the surface of the oil. After 20-30 seconds, check to see if the sides in the oil have browned. If so, flip the fry jacks over with a pair of tongs fork and let the other side cook. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Eat immediately.