Tag Archives: coronavirus

Baracoa and Coconut Fish

IMG_6971Three weeks ago we were leaving Cuba after this little adventure. It was our second visit, having explored the ‘top’ end last year I was quite smitten, and wanted to see more. Below is a tale of our trip to the other end which proved quite challenging as  catching a bus in Cuba is complicated but it’s like a distant memory in the shadow of what’s going on in the world today

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Although the Cubans are really struggling at this time – one tanker of oil is delivered every fifteen days from Russia for the entire population of more than eleven million – it was the country that accepted the ‘coronavirus cruise ship’ which had been refused entry by other Caribbean countries.  The passengers were given medical care where appropriate and then flown home. It’s an extraordinary country, crippled by sanctions but perhaps compassion comes easier when people are used to having less? Perhaps that’s what we all have to gain whilst the world on pause. I’m fascinated by this country which survives on so little yet has so much – education and medical care for everyone, enough to eat (even though it’s no culinary hotspot) and most importantly time for each other . 

So here’s where I was last month!

 Baracoa, in Guantanamo province, is the oldest and most remote town in Cuba. At the very easterly tip of the country it’s the most Irish of Cuban towns. Add on twenty degrees and you could be home. The weather changes constantly, clouds rolling in dumping rain, the wind from the sea and then sunshine- you never know what you’re going to get. This of course means that it is green. Very green, lush with vegetation and jungle.
We travelled there from Santiago de Cuba crawling along on a bus that winds up and down the densely wooded mountains on a concrete seamed road. It’s the kind of ride where the gears grind and you know that you are doomed if the brakes fail as the bus climbs higher and higher and the jungle turns to Pine trees.

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The bus arrives at a tiny bus station beside the bluest sea with the town stretching back a few blocks all higgeldy piggeldy, it’s still recovering from Hurricane Mathew which made a good attempt at levelling the town. The houses are single storey and colourful with the obligatory verandas where families sit and everyone shouts and laughs with the neighbours.

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In the centre of the town is the Plaza Independencia with a church on one end, the post office, telephone centre and bars all around the tree shaded centre where the benches are full of people trying to get an Internet connection and there is music and dancing at night.

IMG_7046The fridges in the bars are empty bar water and rum. The embargoes are really hitting this small town perhaps because it the last on the delivery route but the rum is good and there’s ice for the mojitos.
We stayed in a casa particulare, a Cuban bed and breakfast which is the best bet for breakfast and dinner. Our host Leonardo let me into his kitchen so that I could watch him prepare this dish for our dinner.

IMG_6947It’s a traditional recipe from Baracoa, a ‘Lechita’ which is fish cooked in a coconut sauce. He made the coconut milk from fresh coconuts and cooked the fish for one hour in the sauce which had me pretty horrified as that’s a long time to cook fish. It tasted fine but the texture became a bit like meat. Personally I’d cook the fish for far less time but that is optional. One of the ingredients is achiote, which is the ground up seeds from an indigenous plant that grows in Cuba and Mexico. It gives colour and a little earthy taste. 

Lechita de Pescado

1 can coconut milk + half can water

1tbs achiote paste
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A large handful fresh coriander, chopped, leaves and stems
1 green chilli , seeds removed if you don’t like hot
A little oil to fry
 600g  firm  white fish,like ling or monkfish
Salt and black pepper
Gently heat the coconut milk until it begins to boil then add the achiote, chopped onion and garlic, chopped coriander and chilli. Simmer for fifteen minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide the fish into four portions . Heat a frying pan and add enough oil to just cover the bottom then fry the fish on each side for a couple of minutes. Carefully lift the fish and submerge into the sauce then leave to cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes.
Serve with rice.

Avocado Ceviche Dreams

This seems a long time ago now although it was only last month. It’s a little recipe that I write for the local paper, the West Cork People. I didn’t take my laptop on this trip so never published what I had written, so here’s a little escape from the coronavirus………..It seems like another world now

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This month (February!) we are eating our way around south east Mexico. We flew into Cancun and travelled down the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo towards Guatemala. It’s very beautiful, the water is crystal blue and but it comes with full on tourism and touts so we decided to head away from the coast and explore the Yucatan and towns of the interior. The land is lush, green and gently undulates. No mountains here and strangely no rivers, instead there is a network of water that travels underground popping up in cenotes.

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Cenotes are deep fresh water pools, sometimes open and sometimes in caves with with stalactites and creepers hanging. They are very deep- up to 45 metres- and crystal clear, absolutely stunning. It’s possible to jump into them and swim, strangely enough even though they are so deep they are not cold and there are plenty of fish which nibble your toes. The city centres are old colonial style which sprawl out to poorer areas. We’ve explored Valladolid, Merida and Campeche.

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We  seek out the markets which are overflowing with avocados, mangos, chillies and just about every conceivable fruit and vegetable that grows in the south. The sounds, smells and colours are amazing and an interesting place to buy breakfast/brunch. Quesadillas, negritos, empanadas, tacos, gorditas, enchiladas, polcans, panouches, chilaquiles, huaraches… The list is boggling but we are beginning to navigate our way around the menu.

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The one thing that they all have in common is corn. Each is made from ground corn be it a fresh tortilla, a fried tortilla or made from masa(corn dough) that is wrapped around a filling then grilled or deep fried. Topped or filled with shredded pork, turkey , pork, fish, prawns or refined beans, cheese , pink pickled onions, avocado, radishes, shredded cabbage and served with a variety of salsas this food is bright and diverse. Not a spud in sight! The salsa are nearly as varied as the tortilla dishes. The pico de gallo – diced tomato, chilli, onion, coriander and lime juice is fresh and zingy but the habanero salsa – which is the most popular can blow your head off

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For the rest of the day there are taquerias on the street that churn out tacos and various cantinas that serve bigger meals. In the interior the food is pretty meaty and on the coast the menu is seafood.
We’ve been poking our noses into kitchens, picking people’s brains for recipes and were lucky enough to spend on evening cooking with a Mayan lady that we were introduced to. She made us real Mexican/Mayan home cooking. One recipe was this ceviche – without fish – as she explained, ceviche is a process not a fish dish. It was fresh and delicious, perfect scooped up with totopos (tortilla chips). It could also be piled on top of a burger, fish or grilled meats or just enjoyed as a salad. And better still the ingredients are available in Ireland. It’s important that the avocados are ripe which could take some forward thinking. If they are a bit hard , put them I the fruit bowl with a ‘do not eat me’ sign for a few days and they will ripen.

Avocado Ceviche

1 cucumber
1 small-medium onion
3 ripe avocado
A handful fresh chopped coriander
A pinch of crushed oregano
A pinch of black pepper
1 tbs olive oil
Juice 3-4 limes – depends how juicy they are
A good pinch of salt.

Cut the cucumber in half then scoop out the seeds then cut it into strips lengthwise and dice.
Peel and chop the onion finely
Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone then slice in strips (without going through the skin) then into a dice cutting the other way. Scoop the avocado from the skin with a spoon.
Add all of the above ingredients together then mix gently. Taste and add more salt or lime juice if needed.

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Home alone with Lemons

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I’ve been holed up with a box of lemons – literally. I inherited an entire box when we closed the shop this week because of the coronavirus and have been merrily making my way through it ever since.

I have a big kilner jar of pickled lemons , or should I say pickling lemons as they’re not ready to eat yet. I found the recipe in the Guardian, a lemon pickle to eat with samosas which required 25 birds eye chillies which I just happened to have in my chilli bucket.

IMG_7363We recently harvested the last of our chillies in our tunnel to make room for this years seeds and now we have quite some chillies to make our way through. The pickle sounds exciting  – lemons, chilli, nigella seeds, mustard seeds, oil , vinegar and what sounded like an alarming amount of salt – !00g salt and only 2tbs sugar.

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It has me curious. Anyways it’s going to take two weeks before I can try it so l have to be patient.

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The rest of the lemons, bar a couple held back for the gin and tonics, were finely sliced and left over night in water. I put them into a big pot today, added sugar and cooked them for more than an hour .They made the house smell a lot better than sanitiser!

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Here’s the recipe, scale it back to make less. I think one quarter would make a sensible family amount unless you are marmalade freaks. It  does taste seriously good. Lemony, sweet and sharp at the same time – just as marmalade should taste.

 

Lemon Marmalade

 

25 lemons

3.5 litres water

4kg sugar

about 20 clean jam jars

 

Wash the lemons well and slice very thinly with a sharp knife.

Put the lemon slices in a large bowl and cover with the water and leave overnight.

The next day, put everything into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer until the lemons are very tender, about one hour.

Put a small plate into the fridge or freezer to chill

Add the sugar to the pot and bring to the boil. Keep the marmalade at a rolling boil for about twenty to thirty minutes. Do not turn to a low simmer as the marmalade needs to reach 104c to set. You need to keep the heat as high as you can without boiling over so stay close by. Fish out any stray pips that float to the surface. To check whether the marmalade is ready to set put a spoonful of onto the chilled plate and leave for a few minutes then gently push your finger sideways on the surface. If the marmalade is ready to set small wrinkles will appear. If this doesn’t happen put another clean plate to chill and boil the marmalade for another five to ten minutes then try again. If it’s ready take the marmalade off the heat and let it rest for ten minutes. This will stop the peel from sinking to the bottom of the jars. Wash the jam jars well and put them in a hot oven for five minutes. This will sterilise the jars and also prevent them from cracking when they are filled with the hot marmalade. Wipe any spilt marmalade from the sides and top of the jars with a clean cloth and cover with clean lids whilst still hot.

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