World Cooking – Panama

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Panama
Progress: 89/193

It’s unusual for me to cook for the same continent twice unless there has been a massive gap in cooking (and I forgot that it was a duplication) or I am massively behind. In this instance, it’s because I had another recipe for another country that shares a protein and the Panamanian recipe was a lot more complicated to make.

Probably a good thing that, for the purposes of my own tracking, I decided to just go with ‘Americas’ as the positioning of Panama would make things a bit awkward. Like with Turkey and Russia, Panama is a country that spans two continents: North America and South America. Depending on where you look, this separation happens either within Panama (at different places) or where Panama meets Colombia. As someone who has loved maps since he was very young, it’s a really interesting country.

Same can be said of the cuisine, which is heavily influenced by its native history, it’s Spanish colonial past and it’s present state of having one of the heaviest trade routes in the world thanks to the Panama canal. There are a lot of interesting dishes that I could make… if I actually knew where I could get my hands on some yucca and culantro in the current state of pandemic. Sadly that ruled out making the national soup of sancocho, but there were more than enough options for me to pick from.

Main: Tamal de Olla

Tamales are one of those dishes that you see on lists of foods for all countries in Central America. I’ve had them only once before, and that was nearly six years ago. It was only with my first cooking of Venezuela (and my wonderful neighbour) that I knew what to look for when it came to the right sort of cornmeal to make Central American dishes – and even them I have been mostly been making my own bastardised version of arepas.

Traditional tamales are steamed inside a corn husk or a banana/plantain leaf which has always stopped me from trying to make my own. Then I found out that there is a Panamanian version whose name translates to ‘tamale of the oven’. Thanks to this recipe by The World Cook I have been able to make what is basically a tamale pie – which is pretty damned delicious.

In between a thin cornmeal bottom and a thicker cornmeal top, you have a filling containing bell peppers, onion, olives, capers and chicken that has been pre-soaked in red wine. There is also a delicious sauce which included a hastily improvised version of recaito, a flavour base that ended up being mostly coriander leaf. Of course we couldn’t eat the whole thing in one go, so that’s a quick lunch ready for tomorrow. Just wish I didn’t have to get the cornmeal in via a special order.

Like I said at the beginning, I got a big pack of chicken meaning I am able to make two food country foods in a row. The food I am making for the next country won’t make a lot of sense on the face of it, but it’s a fun recipe and I have a hankering for some homemade pizza.

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