I traveled 2,200 miles in order to bring you this dish.
Let me be more specific – I actually flew 2,200 miles, traveled 4 ½ hours by bus, and then hiked 2 hours in the jungle in order to bring you this dish.
Did you know that I used to be a chef in Costa Rica? It’s true. In fact, it was just about this time last year that I pulled up onto the shores of Punta Mona, an 85 acre permaculture farm and education center just a hop, skip, and a jump north of Panama on the Caribbean coast. For three months, I lived and worked at the intersection of beachfront paradise and jungle madness, where no room had four walls and shoes [and showers] were always optional.
I spent a lot of time playing around on the farm; hunting for perfectly right Biriba and wielding a machete. I also spent a lot of time getting life lessons and playing dominos on the porch with Padi, a very wise and dear old man with the best ocean view in probably the entire world.
But mostly… I cooked.
Talk about an Iron Chef challenge. Not only was everything we served on the farm made from scratch [from tortillas and breads to hot sauce, vinegar, and coconut milk], but it was done with only two gas burners, an open fire, and no refrigeration. And sometimes no water. And with exotic ingredients whose names I couldn’t remember from one minute to next; some of which could be poisonous [here’s looking at you Chaya], some of which were very spicy [that time all the hot and regular peppers were placed together and the only way to know was a taste test], and of which were so delicious that you couldn’t help but rejoice at the mere sight of them [a perfectly right zapote. I’m drooling just thinking about it]. And yet we also made pizza, lemon cake with peanut butter icing, and our own chocolate. Go figure.
Three times a day, every day, we feasted on ‘jungle gourmet’ meals made from the freshest ingredients, a healthy dose of ingenuity, and a lot of love.
It’s been a long time since I’ve made anything from my farm days, and I was super excited when my friend Lauren over at strictly nutritious asked me to write a guest post for her about my time in the jungle. [Premiering this Friday… stay tuned!] I went over to her apartment earlier this week and whipped up a big batch of Rondon, a classic Punta Mona / Caribbean stew. And well… let’s just say I nailed it.
I happen to live in an area with a strong Caribbean influence, so finding my favorite Caribbean ingredients was super easy [and the whole thing cost me less than 10 dollars]. While obviously the canned stuff doesn’t touch fresh made, the coconut milk is a great base for the stew that is full of flavor and balances out the hot pepper and curry powder. The yucca breaks down when it’s boiled and adds a really nice thickness to the stew that absorbs all of the flavor and gives the vegetables a nice coating of sauce rather than a soupy, slurpy kind of soup.
I literally felt like I was back in Costa Rica when I made this dish… I even took off my shoes and socks while I was cooking. [Too much?] I could practically hear the Domino bell ringing.
So the next time you feel like you need a vacation, try making a batch of Rondon. Serve it with some plantain chips and you’ll be in the pura vida mindset before you know it.
Rondon – Caribbean Coconut Stew
Makes 5 generous portions
1 medium yucca, peeled, washed, and cubed
1 medium yellow yam, peeled, washed, and chunked
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 small / medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T fresh minced ginger
1 small hot pepper, seeded and minced
1 can of coconut milk
1 T. curry powder [or more]
In a large pot, sauté the onions in oil [coconut oil if you have it] until tender. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute.
Add the coconut milk and all your vegetables to the pot. Add about ½ – 1 cup or so of water, or enough that your vegetables are mostly covered but not totally. [You can also add more coconut milk if you have a lot of vegetables].
Reduce the heat to medium-low, and wet the vegetables simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the minced hot pepper, curry powder, and salt and pepper. Continue to simmer the vegetables until everything is tender.
While the vegetables are simmering, prepare your plantain chips
Rather than frying, I started mine in a pan and then moved them to the oven in an attempt to make them a little healthier. Delicious.
2 green plantains
2 T. EVOO [or coconut oil]
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil.
Peel and slice the plantains into ¼ inch thick disks.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium – medium / high heat. Add the plantains in a single layer [I did two batches] and cook until the outside is slightly browned [about 1-2 minutes per side]. Transfer to a foil lined baking sheet, spray with a little cooking spray and add salt. Mix all the chips together.
Bake for 10-ish minutes. Try not to eat all of them before dinner is ready.