Posts Tagged ‘Nicaragua’

indio.jpgIndio Viejo, the “old Indian” is a rather politically-incorrect name for a dish, but, then again, so is moros y cristianos, the name of the Cuban black-bean version of indio viejo’s accompaniment. For an outsider, indio viejo is full of contrasts and surprises: the beefiest cut of beef served with the bright acidity and sweetness of fruit, a dish that has a great deal in common with warm sweet polenta yet it is full of fresh bright green mint. The first time I made it, my husband asked me how much pineapple was involved; the combination of orange juice and mint had somehow created between them the scent of pineapple.

This version of indio viejo concentrates on these contrasts and surprises. I use no tomato because I think there’s already plenty of acid and sweetness here, although most recipes either include tomato or give instructions for a sweet salsa topping. I use no cumin because it is the mint that fascinates me here, but other cooks may disagree. All the recipes I found did agree that the beef must be treated with a long simmer in liquid, but some recipes went a step further and called for simmering in orange juice, infusing the meat with orange flavour and providing acid to help it tenderize. I have found that this works well, but the orange does dull somewhat in the broth, so an economical way to return a bright orange flavour to the dish is to finish with the juice of one good orange, freshly squeezed. This stew may be thickened with water-softened corn tortilla (a good way to use older ones) or with cornmeal, which I use because it is more likely to be in the cupboard. I also specify coarse rather than fine cornmeal, because my attempt with a finer grind was a pasty gluey mess, whereas the coarser grind thickened like a polenta, was easier to work with and to me had a more pleasing texture in the end. I add mint off heat in order to maintain its brightness. As an final additon the mint will not soften at all, so I do chop the leaves very finely.

Serve with an earthy gallo pinto and perhaps a mild salsa, a good sour cream, and a California chardonnay.

Nicaraguan Beef with Orange and Mint (Indio Viejo)

2 hours 30 minutes, including 2 hours simmering; serves four

1 lb flank or skirt steak
2 onions
4 garlic cloves
2 cups orange juice
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup coarse cornmeal
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 green pepper
1 juicy orange
a small bunch of fresh mint (a half-dozen sprigs or so)

1. Quarter one of the onions and toss it into a saucepan with two of the garlic cloves, and the flank steak. Add the orange juice and then add water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the steak is fork-tender, about two hours.
2. Strain the meat, onion and garlic, reserving the broth. Remove the meat from the onion and garlic and leave it to the side to cool a little.
3. Dice the other onion and chop the green pepper. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and sautee the onion over medium heat until soft. Add the pepper and continue to sautee a few minutes more. Mince the two remaining garlic cloves and add them as well.
4. Shred the steak (fingers are most efficient). Add it to the frying pan.
4. Mix the cornmeal with 1 cup of the reserved broth in a bowl, and stir to remove any lumps. Add it to the frying pan and stir as it thickens to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
5. As the cornmeal thickens (like polenta) add the rest of the broth in small amounts to establish a thin-to-medium porridge. It will take about fifteen minutes of constant stirring to cook the rawness out of the cornmeal. If the broth is gone before that point use water. Taste for salt.
6. Remove the mint leaves from the stem and chop them very finely. Squeeze the orange for its juice.
7. Off heat stir in the juice and the mint. Taste for salt agian.


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gallopinto.jpgGallo Pinto is the speckled rooster, the omnipresent beans-and-rice dish for Nicaraguans, a comfort of every day, sometimes at more meals than one. Nextdoor, the Costa Ricans have a speckled rooster of a different colour, made with black beans, but the red rooster belongs to Nicaragua. Unlike a pilaf, the rice in this dish is cooked on its own before meeting the other ingredients, much like a Chinese stir-fried rice, and this makes the texture of the final product easy to control. The flavour of this version of beans-and-rice is deep, round and nutty; nuttiness is a wonder of lightly seasoned beans.

Millions of Nicaraguans will eat gallo pinto today, no doubt expressing a host of variations on the core recipe. Personally, I think this dish is best kept simple, so where one certainly could add so many regional spices, I just use bay and garlic, lots and lots of garlic. The ratio-of-consensus in traditional recipes comes in at 6 cloves of garlic for every cup of dry beans. so to that I defer. I admit there is much personal preference in this: I find that if any bean dish is complicatedly seasoned, the round flavour of the bean disappears entirely. Besides, I can’t imagine that any dish made daily in a household, a dish made to accompanying everything else, should be terribly complicated. Because the beans need to spend mellowing-time with the garlic, and because canned beans are never as purely flavoured and often mushy to boot, it is worth cooking your own from dried. Where I would have preferred to use the small Mexican red bean, I had to use kidney beans because they are far easier to find in the UK. Kidney beans are larger, and so they make for a clunkier photo, but they are still mesoamerican beans, and still delicious.

For breakfast, serve with sour cream and a cup of good coffee. Later on in the day, gallo pinto complements a fruity Nicaraguan stew.

Nicaraguan Red Beans and Rice (Gallo Pinto)

90 minutes, including 75 minutes simmering; serves four

1 cup dried red beans (Mexican or kidney), soaked all day or all night
1 dried bay leaf
6 cloves garlic
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced

1. Drain the beans, place them in a saucepan, and cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a boil and skim the foam. Toss in the peeled garlic cloves and simmer them together, uncovered, until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 75 minutes (if your beans are older it will take a little longer).
2. About forty-five minutes into the bean-simmering, rinse the rice grains several times and cook as per usual.
3. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and saute the onion gently until soft and golden.
4. When the beans are tender, drain them, reserving the liquid. Remove the garlic and bay.
5. Add the beans to the sauteed onion and stir. Add the rice. By the spoonful, add just enough reserved liquid to colour and moisten the rice, but not so much to cause clumping and goopiness. Easy does it.
6. Salt to taste.

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