I haven’t lived in Belize since I was 15 years old. That was SO long ago. When I think about it now, it sounds so crazy; How time has flown by! Most of the time I still feel like a 15 year old (not to mention I probably act like one too. Oops.). So many things have changed since then.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is my love for traditional Belizean food. You don’t know how grateful I am to be currently living so close to Belize. Whenever our stock runs out we can just pop back over and replenish. It’s the food that I grew up with and the food that I will eat until I am 90 years old, wherever I am in the world.
Sadly, though, most of the traditional foods aren’t vegetarian, let alone vegan, but I was not about to give up that easily. These days it is NOT difficult to be vegan or vegetarian. There are so many options that you don’t have to give up your favourite meals while living this lifestyle. I definitely haven’t and I would love for more people to realise that. This is why, over the years, my mom and I have dedicated ourselves to making vegetarian, and sometimes vegan, versions of these meals.
Today I’m going to share one of my favourite- and therefore staple – recipes. In Belize, the traditional meal is stewed chicken, rice and beans, fried plantains, potato salad and habanero pepper sauce. Yes, it is very flavourful and spicy. You can probably find most families eating it for lunch on any given day of the week, mine included.
However, instead of the stewed chicken, many times you will find baked chicken being prepared in Belizean households. This is what I am going to show you how to make today: vegan Belizean baked “chicken”.
Instead of chicken, what I always use is textured soy meat. Once cooked, it has a very similar consistency to meat, although it is in the form of little chunks rather than a chicken wing or leg shape. Also, what I love about soy protein is that it absorbs the flavour of whatever seasoning you use, so you can use it to recreate a wide variety of traditionally meat-based foods. For example, I use it to recreate curried chicken and even spaghetti Bolognese.
The next big ingredient that is required is red recado or recado rojo (in Spanish). I believe that in other places it is referred to as achiote paste, but if you ever go to Belize you will find that everyone there calls it recado. I’ve never made it before, since in Belize literally every store has it in stock, but I’ve recently really wanted to learn how to make it at home. I will make it my mission to find out and share it with you here.
The other ingredients are pretty basic and easy to come by, except for maybe the habanero pepper. I have read that it is a popular type of pepper in Central America and parts of Mexico. I need pepper in my food, every time, no questions asked. If you can’t get a hold of habanero, feel free to drop in any type you have on hand and if you don’t like pepper then you can totally skip that step.
I think those are the basic points I wanted to go over. Basically, whether you’re a vegan/vegetarian Belizean that has been missing your childhood meals (it can be torture not being able to eat what you’re accustomed to, I know) or you’ve never had Belizean cuisine before and want to try it out, here’s my recipe and I hope you enjoy it!
Yields: Approximately 1 or 1 ½ cups cooked meat
- ½ cup dry textured soy meat
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (vegan, for example, McCormick)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp Season All Seasoned Salt
- ½ tsp red recado (achiote paste)
- 2 tbsp chopped onion
- 2 tbsp bell pepper
- 1 habanero pepper
- ½ tomato (sliced)
- 2-3 tsp butter
- In a mug, heat the water for three minutes in a microwave. After this, pour the water in a ceramic plate or mixing bowl.
- Mix in the vegan Worcestershire sauce (i.e., Worcestershire sauce that doesn’t contain anchovies), salt, black pepper, season all seasoned salt and recado. Stir until everything is mostly dissolved. You will get some remains at the bottom of the container but don’t worry about that.
- Mix in the chopped onion and bell pepper.
- Pour the mixture on top of the textured soy meat and let it sit for 15 minutes in a warm place (I usually just let it sit in the microwave).
- During this time, pre heat your oven to 200ºC.
- Pour the mixture into any baking pan (I use an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan), drop in the habanero pepper (whole), garnish with the slices of tomato and top off with some dollops of vegan butter or Crisco All Vegetable Butter Flavour Shortening and cover with foil.
- Bake for 15 minutes and voila! You are ready to go. As I mentioned earlier, in Belize this is generally eaten with rice and beans or plain white rice, a side of fried plantain and a salad (we do either potato salad or good old fashioned coleslaw). However, if you’re feeling extra healthy, this also works with some steamed veggies and couscous or quinoa.
* Photography by Venecia Joanne May of VeneciaJoanne.com