So, I figured since I’m going to Nicaragua to work in nutrition related programs I should learn a little bit about the traditional food that’s served there. A good friend helped me out by giving me Nicaraguan Cooking: My Grandmother’s Recipes by Trudy Espinoza-Abrams. After perusing the recipes, I found two that seemed relatively simple to make and didn’t require hard to find things like iguana or turtle meat. The first is indio viejo (the old Indian), which is a soupy beef dish chock full of vegetables and flavors. The second is atolillo, a spiced vanilla custard that reminded me of Christmas.
Here’s what I learned during my cooking adventure:
- Culantro is not the same thing as cilantro. Culantro (eryngium foetidum) is related to cilantro (coriandrum sativum) and is often described as a stronger version of cilantro. It is native to South America but is cultivated all over the world.
- Achiote is a spice commonly used in South and Central American cooking. It is made from ground annatto seeds and gives food a vibrant yellow color. It’s also used commercially to color things such as butter, cosmetics, and some cheeses. I couldn’t find straight achiote paste at Kroger, so I used a spice blend of achiote and culantro.
- Corn is a staple of the Nicaraguan diet and is in every kind of meal, from main dishes, to drinks and desserts.
- While alligator meat can be used in place of turtle, there is no substitute for iguana.
- Lastly, Nicaraguan food is delicious.
As they say, barriga llena, corazòn contento.