Archive for the ‘Maya’ Category

While it’s easy to just drop into the local superstore to buy just about anything, I’m a big fan of trying to make the things I use at least once by hand just to see how to make things.  As I promised in the Caldo post, here’s the recipe for fresh corn tortillas.  I never thought I’d make one by hand, let alone even grind the corn I harvested from the field on a stone to make the masa.  Yet, it happened last week!  There’s a lot more behind this recipe than will ever be necessary in most parts of Canada, but I will tell you the story anyways because it is a fascinating look into the role of food in many peoples lives.  Thanks to Rosa for sharing this recipe with me.

Day and night cycles around 6am-6pm in Belize, which is difficult to get used to as a Canadian, although I do love the early sunrise.  This means people go to sleep much earlier (at least in places where electricity is uncommon), and wake up at a time many Canadians would think is crazy.  For example, one morning I happened to be awake at 3am, and noticed that within 30 minutes I could hear people grinding corn.  That’s when their day starts.

Soaking corn in lye releases niacin (vitamin B3)

Corn should be soaked in a lye solution before it is ground.  There’s actually a nutritional reason for this: it releases the niacin from the corn, otherwise those who eat corn as their staple get niacin deficiency (pellagra) because it cannot be accessed by the body without being soaked in lye.  I was happy to see this practice lives outside the textbook I used in second-year introduction to nutritional sciences.  It’s an ancient Mayan practise.

Grinding corn

Once it is soaked, it is ground on a rectangular stone with a dip in the middle and a slab of stone that is held in the hands.

After this, a soft dough is formed by adding a little water, and each individual tortilla is formed by hand and cooked over the fire on a large iron grate.

This takes a lot of effort, especially when feeding large families.
Tortillas are used with every meal.

I can't imagine making these every day for every meal. My fingers were cramped after about 10-15!


Approximately 20 tortillas

-2 lb corn kernels (young or dry) and some lye solution (or plain water if you don’t depend on corn every day)
– a few tbsp cool water
-a grinder or grindstone


Place corn kernels in a pot with water just covering them.  Bring to a boil, and let boil 10 minutes if it is young corn or 20 minutes if it is dry corn.  Let stand (and prepare Caldo if you like).  Grind the corn in a flour mill until it forms a smooth paste.  Add a little water if it is too firm.

Then, cut a plate-sized circle into a plastic sheet, and use this as your guide.  Form a small ball (maybe 2″ in diameter) in your palm.  The rounder, the better.  Place this at the centre of the plastic sheet and use your fingers to pat it down (not to roughly) while turning the sheet of plastic to get an even circle.  Eventually, you need to squish the edges in from under the plastic sheet to remove the cracks.  Cook face-down (the side your fingers touch goes on grate first) over medium heat (you can use a cast iron frying pan without any oil) for a few minutes, until dark spots form.  Flip it over and cook for a few minutes on other side.

These corn tortillas are delicious – I was surprised to discover they contain nothing but corn and water.  I’ll post a few more recipes similar to this over time – there are also flour tortillas, and, of course, fried Jacks, which are definitely a treat.

Well, I hope you enjoy reading about my culinary adventures.


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This is the first post in a series from a trip from which I just returned.  For the past 10 days I have been travelling throughout Belize, exploring indigenous perspectives on food security and health (which explains my gourm(eh)? absence in the past few weeks as I challenged myself not to check the internet while away).  I’m not quite ready to write about my impressions as they’re still stewing away in my mind – and I’m sure it will become apparent how it changed many things for me in the next little while.

I learned to make this soup (which is eaten with tortillas, which will be posted soon) with Rosa, a mother in the Mayan village of Laguna in the Toledo district of Belize.  This is the traditional soup of the Mayan people, which they eat somewhat regularly, often for special occasions but not always only special occasions.  Thank you Rosa for sharing this with me.

Mayan Caldo - Traditional Chicken Soup made in Laguna, Belize.  Thank you Rosa for sharing your recipe with me.

Mayan Caldo – Traditional Chicken Soup

(6 servings)

Ingredients (adapted to those that can be found outside of the Belizian Jungle)

-2 lb potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
-1 lb summer squash (Choco is the actual ingredient – I think summer squash would work as an approximation) cut into chunks
-3 ripe plantain, cut in half and then quarters (lengthwise)
-1/2 a head garlic, mashed
-1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
-1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (Kolantro, which is similar to cilantro, is the original ingredient)
-1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
– (1/4 cup Tep leaves, chopped – I have no idea what this was – it smelled somewhat like bergamot)
-2 tsp Annato paste (this is a red pigment made from the Annato plant – apparently it can be found in Latin American/Brazilian stores)
-12 cups water
-Salt, to taste


Put water into a large soup pot, and drop the washed chicken pieces into it as well as the salt.  Bring to a boil.  Once water is boiling, add the vegetables and then the herbs, then the Annato, but not the plantain.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.  Then add the plantain and cook for a remaining 10 minutes.  This soup is accompanied by corn tortillas.


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