I often tell people who I meet that one of the secrets to successful living in Panama and especially the campo, is adapting to cooking and eating what food is available. Eating like a North American gets is a little expensive once the cost of imported food is tallied up. Knowing what is worth paying import prices for and knowing what you can find that is equal in a non-imported brand comes with time and taste.
In the last week I’ve decided to branch out a bit and try to cook more dishes with a Panameño flair. Panameños aren’t known for liking overly spiced food or even food that has a lot of flavour but with a few little additions it is good. We’re not big potato eaters although we do have them occasionally. Brown rice, dried beans and dried lentils have become a large part of our diet. We always have a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits available and we have a fresh salad every day.
We’re very lucky we have fantastic fish here thanks to our wonderful friends that help us keep the freezer stocked or that give us a piece of their fresh catch of the day. The chicken and pork are very good but the beef, except for hamburger, leaves a lot to be desired.
This week I made a dish called Pollo de Guisado. I found a recipe on another blog but I decided that I would find a different recipe as it had some canned ingredients that I didn’t have in the house. When I looked around I noticed that almost every Latin American country has a version of this chicken stew. It can be made with or without vegetables in it and is pretty easy to throw together. The recipe I chose was from Food Network, it was simple and I had all the ingredients but the chicken in the house. The bonus is that it doesn’t take long to make and doesn’t have a lot of fancy ingredients. SU declared it a winner, and I guess that’s what counts. Next time I may just add a few chunks of veggies to it and make it into a real chicken stew.
The harvesting of maize is beginning in the campo. I think there is a couple of crops planted in a year and it seems to grow quickly. For only $1.00 I bought a bag of eight ears of corn. It’s not the same as the delicious Taber Corn that we get at home but, the price is a lot more reasonable. We were going to simply boil it or grill it on the barbecue but then my neighbor, who is Colombian and a wonderful cook, gave me a recipe for Panameño fritters that was so simple I had to try it. SU pulled all the leaves and silk away and I washed the corn and cut it from the cobs. I then put it in the blender with a bit of water, a bit of sugar and a pinch of salt. Once it was all pulsed together I added just a little corn flour to thicken the batter just a bit. We set a frying pan on the side burner of the barbecue with a smattering of oil and a few minutes later, voilà! Little, delicious corn pancakes. Panameño street food, little nuggets of deliciousness made at home. And so addictive!
My successes have inspired me to try a few more Latin American dishes and surprisingly, probably because of similar climates, there are a lot of dishes that I can find the ingredients for. I still miss the apples from mi mamas apple tree but stretching myself in a culinary capacity is kind of fun and we’re not lacking for tasty food in the campo.