Chef John Malik

a writer in a cook's body

Rain, Sunshine, and Snapper

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The week of our arrival to our temporary home here on Ambergris Caye, the island received about 12 inches of rain courtesy Hurricane Eta. This island is very flat and of course we’re but a few inches above sea level. That means the rain water leaves when the sun comes out, and very slowly at that. As of today, Monday the 16th, there’s still some standing water in what passes for streets. Only a handful of these streets are paved, most are a combination of dirt, stone, and potholes. Even though the typical vehicle is a roughly 700-pound golf cart, their heavy treaded tires can do some damage to a soggy dirt road. And today is really the first day the local government can get out and grade the roads. Doing so with water still there only makes the roads turn to soup so it’s done when the roads are dry.

Hooded Oriole of Belize

Tonight, Hurricane Iota will crash ashore below the Honduran/Nicaraguan border bringing 150 mph winds and perhaps 30 inches of rain to the same area hit by Hurricane Eta just two weeks ago. Here on Ambergris Caye, 500 kilometers north of Tegucigalpa, we’ll likely receive about eight inches of rain.

Amy and I will stay right here and deal with it. What else can we do? We’ve stocked up on the necessities, we have plenty of tortillas and coffee on hand, and early tomorrow morning we’ll head to the Tuesday Mennonite market at the docks and pick up fruit and vegetables for the week. It’s going to be raining. And we’ll get wet. Many locals will likely be more than inconvenienced, especially those that live south in the mainland. Their rivers will overflow, their fields will be flooded, their lives could be threatened, their small towns destroyed. Nicaragua and Honduras will bear the brunt of this storm, as they did two weeks ago from Eta.

These Central American countries have not achieved the level of sophistication in their transportation and health care systems they would like to. The reasons why are beyond my pay grade, as is the how and why they could receive two major hurricanes within such a short time span. Yet receive it they will. As I write this there is an unsteady energy in the atmosphere, the heavy clouds are already whisking past. Driven by a steady breeze with its accompanying drone, the clouds are fat and gray with moisture. The cloud tops are being whisked into streamers by the high winds aloft. Our temporary home is surrounded by trees and their limbs and stems are rubbing against one another creating squeaks, whistles, and groans. The green almonds are being shaken from their tree, falling on our home, landing with a loud crack. Most likely an iguana or two will land on our roof sometime tonight.

Iota is coming

The colorful, vocal birds that would normally be visiting the feeders are elsewhere. And the Grackles, instead of sounding feisty and curious, are issuing a harsh buzzing, likely an alarm call. The curtains of our community kitchen are being pushed and pulled, in and out. Our phones will be charged, the candles close at hand. Fortunately, our kitchen has a gas stove.

blue heron

Life is a series of calculated risks. Every time we leave the house, every time we get behind the wheel of a car, every time I climb on my bike, every time we make travel plans, we, perhaps unconsciously, accept a level of risk. Life has a 100% mortality rate, death is a certainty. We are all born, we will all die.  I believe it is our goal to fill up the middle of our lives with great stories, adventures, and purpose.

The rain is now falling and when it strikes our tin roof it makes such a lovely sound.

~John

coconuts are literally everywhere

Here’s a recipe we’ve been working on. It’s coconut milk poached snapper  with coconut rice and chayote squash. As there’s a LOT of coconuts, and snapper, and limes, and rice in Belize, this dish is a natural. We bought our freshly grated coconut at the market from a fruit vendor. When we asked her, she volunteered her son to grate a couple of fresh ones. She charged us 5.00BZ, exactly $2.50 US. And some people complain about the price of food here? And yes, we always tip well.

For the Fish

Two Pink Snapper Filets, about five ounces each

1 12 to 15 ounce can coconut milk

1 cup water

1 small yellow onion (half for the fish, half for the rice)

1 Scotch Bonnet pepper (split in half, seeds removed)

1 Lime, juiced

2 garlic cloves, cracked

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

4 or 5 stems fresh parsley

1 chayote squash (or your favorite squash)

chayote squash is a favorite of Central America

For the Rice

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 cup rice

1 cup water

1 cup coconut milk

Half of the yellow onion, diced

¼ cup shredded coconut

Juice of one lime

Salt & pepper to taste

Tomato Relish

Two ripe plum tomatoes, diced

1 squirt of lime juice

Salt & pepper to taste

Fish

In a tall stock pot add the coconut milk, water, onion, garlic, Scotch Bonnet pepper, lime juice, vanilla, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

squeezing lime into the coconut milk mixture

Start the rice.

In a stock pot, saute the diced onion in the coconut oil until translucent. Add the rice and stir until all grains are coated in oil. Add the water, coconut milk, and water then bring to a boil. Immediately turn heat to a simmer, place lid on pot, set timer for ten minutes.

chayote squash, cut and ready for the pot

Let’s go back to the pot of simmering coconut milk. Add the chayote squash, or large dice of your favorite squash. In one variation of this recipe we used eight or nine local okra and it was delicious. Now add the fish filets on top of the milk, place the parsley stems in, place the lid on this pot and adjust heat to a very low simmer. The filets should be just immersed in the simmering milk mixture.

the squash has been added
the fish filets go in next

Has your ten minute timer gone off yet? When it does, turn off the heat on the rice. Leave the lid on the rice, just turn off the heat. Set your timer for ten minutes.

Dice the tomatoes

Since avocadoes are just now out of season in Belize, and it is illegal to import avocadoes into Belize, we couldn’t find any for our photos. However, if you can find some where you are, dice up a fresh one with your tomatoes, add in a splash of lime and maybe a bit of olive oil with the salt and pepper. Has your second ten-minute timer gone off yet?

add the coconut to the rice. we saw best results adding the coconut after the rice was cooked

If so, stir the grated fresh coconut into the rice, don’t beat the rice up with a big spoon. Just use a fork and gently stir in the coconut. The fish should be done so place a big scoop of the rice on the plate, add the squash, place the fish on top (be gentle removing the fish), spoon some of the poaching liquid on top of the fish, and top with the tomato relish.

that’s a good shot of our little kitchen
dinner for two, Belizian style

~Amy

If you’re new to this website, you’re reading the year-long adventures of John & Amy Malik in Belize, Central America. We’re professional chefs, restaurant owners, food & travel writers, adventurers, experienced tent campers, and hikers. We prefer authentic street food over a steakhouse, craft beer over traditional lager, a glass of Spanish Garnacha over California Merlot. Should you feel so inclined, please share this essay with someone you’d take on a rustic adventure, and sign up for our next dispatch from Belize. Just click here.

Author: ChefJohn

Cook without tattoo, writer without a pen

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