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Effort launched to define a unique Costa Rican cuisine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The French probably have nothing to worry about yet, but Costa Rica is launching its national plan of healthy and sustainable cuisine.

The effort is a joint one among the Cámara Costarricense de Restaurantes y Afines, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad and the Club de la Gastronomía Epicúrea.

The organizations announced the plan Wednesday as part of the World Tourism Day celebration.

The idea is to create a unique cuisine to strengthen the national identity and perhaps even create new businesses.

Costa Rica basically is defined by gallo pinto, rice and beans. But the announcement suggested that there were a lot of food products here that could create a unique dish, such as risotto with flor de itabo or malanga chips.

The Costa Rican embassy in France promotes the Costa Rican cuisine as based on corn, beans, pejibaye and palmito. The embassy Web page includes a little poem to guaro, the national alcoholic drink.

But the proposal Wednesday is more complex and more creative. The organizations cited the work of Carlos Castrillo, executive chef of the Hotel Ramada Plaza  Herradura. He
put together a full menu based on local products such as the pejibaye palm nut and the níspero or sapodilla fruit.

The proposal is to rescue traditional foods and perhaps protect the flora and fauna of areas in risk of deforestation by suggesting alternate foods.

In fact, the Ministerio de Cultura and Juventud has conducted regional contests seeking the best of the local cuisine. These dishes have been put into booklets. So the research already exists.

The proposal also marks the 30th anniversary of the restaurant chamber. Manuel Burgos, president of the chamber, said that to put such a plan into action would require coordination with educational institutions. He said it was an ambitious, long-term project.

Expats can experiment with products usually found at the local ferias. For example, malanga is a root crop. And flor de itabo is very seasonal. The white flowers of this yucca plant are collected each year, mostly by those in the country, to provide zest for their meals. One use is in scrambled eggs.

But it also can be used in a salad.

Although guaro is well known as a local version of sugar cane alcohol, the country also produces several types of coffee liquor as well as rum. So crepes de flor de itabo flambé would not be out of the question.


Scientists show how New World yeast created lager beer
By the University of Wisconsin-Madison news service

In the 15th century, when Europeans first began moving people and goods across the Atlantic, a microscopic stowaway somehow made its way to the caves and monasteries of Bavaria.

The stowaway, a yeast that may have been transported from a distant shore on a piece of wood or in the stomach of a fruit fly, was destined for great things. In the dank caves and monastery cellars where 15th century brewmeisters stored their product, the newly arrived yeast fused with a distant relative, the domesticated yeast used for millennia to make leavened bread and ferment wine and ale. The resulting hybrid — representing a marriage of species as evolutionarily separated as humans and chickens — would give the world lager, the clear, cold-fermented beer first brewed by 15th century Bavarians and that today is among the most popular — if not the most popular — alcoholic beverage in the world.

And while scientists and brewers have long known that the yeast that gives beer the capacity to ferment at cold temperatures was a hybrid, only one player was known: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used to make leavened bread and ferment wine and ale. Its partner, which conferred on beer the ability to ferment in the cold, remained a puzzle, as scientists were unable to find it among the 1,000 or so species of yeast known to science.

Now, an international team of researchers believes it has identified the wild yeast that, in the age of sail, apparently traveled more than 7,000 miles to those Bavarian caves to make a fortuitous microbial match that today underpins the $250 billion a year lager beer industry.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Portugal, Argentina and the United States describe the discovery of a wild yeast in the beech forests of Patagonia, the alpine region at the tip of South America, that apparently solves the age-old mystery of the origin of the yeast that made cold-temperature fermentation and lager beer possible.

“People have been hunting for this thing for decades,” explains Chris Todd Hittinger, a University of Wisconsin-Madison genetics professor and a co-author of the new study. “And now we’ve found it. It is clearly the missing species. The only thing we can’t say is if it also exists elsewhere (in the wild) and hasn’t been found.”

Expanding the search to other parts of the world, however, finally paid dividends when collaborator Diego Libkind of the Institute for Biodiversity and Environment Research in Bariloche, Argentina, found in galls that infect beech trees a candidate species whose genetic material seemed to be a close match to the missing half of the lager yeast.

“Beech galls are very rich in simple sugars. It’s a sugar rich habitat that yeast seem to love,” notes Hittinger.

The yeast is so active in the galls, according to Libkind, that they spontaneously ferment. “When overmature, they fall all together to the floor where they often form a thick carpet that has an intense ethanol odor, most probably due to the hard work of our new Saccharomyces eubayanus.”

The new yeast was hustled off to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where a team that included 
yeast trip
University of Wisconsin-Madison/Barry Carlsen    
This is route yeast is believed to have taken

Yeast galls
Institute for Biodiversity and Environment Research,/ Diego Libkind  
Orange-colored galls on a Patagonian tree.

Hittinger, Jim Dover and Mark Johnston sequenced its genome. “It proved to be distinct from every known wild species of yeast, but was 99.5 percent identical to the non-ale yeast portion of the lager genome,” says Hittinger.

The Colorado team also identified genetic mutations in the lager yeast hybrid distinctive from the genome of the wild lager yeast. Those changes — taking place in a brewing environment where evolution can be amped up by the abundance of yeast — accumulated since those first immigrant yeasts melded with their ale cousins 500 years ago and have refined the lager yeast’s ability to metabolize sugar and malt and to produce sulfites, transforming an organism that evolved on beech trees into a lean, mean beer-making machine.

“Our discovery suggests that hybridization instantaneously formed an imperfect proto-lager yeast that was more cold-tolerant than ale yeast and ideal for the cool Bavarian lagering process,” Hittinger said. “After adding some new variation for brewers to exploit, its sugar metabolism probably became more like ale yeast and better at producing beer.”


arepa
Arepa with cheese and carne mechada
Here's how to prepare arepas,
the signature dish of Venezuela

By Derek Marin
Caracas Arepas & Juice Bar

Most people identify foods with a particular country. Pizza for Italy, tacos for Mexico and gallo pinto is 100 percent Costa Rican. Well, if you ever want to impress a Venezuelan, you should tell them how much you love their famous arepas.

Arepas are as important as gallo pinto and casados are for Costa Ricans. So what exactly is an arepa? It's a warm circular corn patty that is usually stuffed with delicious foods such as pulled beef, cheeses, ham, salami, avocado, fried egg, tuna, or if you want, just a slab of butter. Two make a perfect lunch. One makes a perfect mid-afternoon snack. Lucky for you, they are easy to make and the ingredients readily accessible:

    * Pre-cooked white corn meal (look for the yellow colored
                packet called harina pan)
    * Vegetable oil
    * Water
    * Salt

Pour 1/4 of a kilo of the corn meal into a bowl. Slowly pour an equal amount of luke warm water into the bowl and move the cornmeal around with your hands (feel free to add a bit more water). Add a teaspoon of salt and a few tablespoons of oil. Start running your hands through this corn dough so that it smooths out. Try to squash all the little corn balls that inevitably form.

Take a ball of about 150 grams into your hands and mold into a flat, circular patty. A good size is about 5 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick. When both sides of the patty are flat, place on a grill, or pan, at low to medium heat.

Make sure the pan has a bit of oil on it so that the arepa does not stick. Cook on both sides for about six minutes. It is ready when the outside is a bit toasty and the inside is soft and gooey. When the arepa is cooked, just slice open like pita bread, stuff with cheese and you have got yourself an arepa de queso. You should get about four arepas out of that corn dough mixture.

However, if cooking isn’t your thing or if you'd like to try one made by a Venezuelan first, come visit my restaurant in downtown San José, Caracas Arepas & Juice Bar. We have got 12 different kinds of arepa stuffings, such as the popular carne mechada, and we also make great Venezuelan smoothies like the tres en uno, which has orange juice, beets and carrots.

Happy arepa making!

*Mr. Marin is from Boston where his Venezuelan parents live. His Web site is www.caracasarepas.com


pouring champagne
American Chemical Society photo
The best way to preserve the CO2 is down the side!
After intensive research, hic!,
champagne secret is revealed

By the American Chemical Society news service

In a study that may settle a long-standing disagreement over the best way to pour a glass of champagne, scientists in France are reporting that pouring bubbly in an angled, down-the-side way is best for preserving its taste and fizz. The study also reports the first scientific evidence confirming the importance of chilling champagne before serving to enhance its taste, the scientists say.

Their report appears in ACS’ bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: “On the Losses of Dissolved CO2 during Champagne Serving.”

Gérard Liger-Belair and colleagues note that tiny bubbles are the essence of fine champagnes and sparkling wines. Past studies indicate that the bubbles — formed during the release of large amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide gas — help transfer the taste, aroma, and mouth-feel of champagne. Scientists long have suspected that the act of pouring a glass of bubbly could have a big impact on gas levels in champagne and its quality. Until now, however, no scientific study had been done.

The scientists studied carbon dioxide loss in champagne using two different pouring methods. One involved pouring champagne straight down the middle of a glass. The other involved pouring champagne down the side of an angled glass. They found that pouring champagne down the side preserved up to twice as much carbon dioxide in champagne than pouring down the middle — probably because the angled method was gentler. They also showed that cooler champagne temperatures (ideally, 39 degrees F) help reduce carbon dioxide loss.

Quest for perfect loaf of bread
becomes a year-long effort


By the A.M. Costa rica wire services

Few things in life are as simple or complex as bread.

The same four essential ingredients — flour, water, yeast and salt — can yield 10,000 different combinations.

That's what author William Alexander discovered when he embarked on a year-long odyssey to re-create the perfect loaf of peasant bread. In the process, he says, he learned an important lesson about baking and life.

For most of his life, William Alexander didn't really care much about bread.

"As a kid I never liked bread," he says. "I grew up in the 1950 and 1960s with this horrible cellophane-wrapped pre-sliced white bread. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I tasted real bread. I never knew bread could be this good; the crust was this dark brown, sweet crust that turned chewy in your mouth. And the crumbs, rather than being like dense and mushy like white bread, it was this open-celled, almost honey-combed crumb. It just had a wonderful yeasty smell, just a delicious flavor."

Alexander, who had never baked before, says he knew the only way to have this kind of bread again was to learn how to make it himself. He started, literally, from the ground up.

"I planted my own wheat and harvested and threshed and winnowed and ground that wheat into flour," he says. "I even built a hole in my backyard, took mud that came out of that hole and made a clay oven to bake the bread."

Alexander baked a loaf every week for a year. He says it was an exciting learning experience.

"What happened was with each failed loaf, a new questions arose. When the bread didn't rise, I started wondering what yeast was, so I went to visit a yeast factory."

Alexander chronicles those experiences in his book, "52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust."

"I wanted to go to a place where bread mattered to people," he says. "There had recently been riots in Morocco due to the cost of wheat going up, so I traveled there to bake alongside Arab women in a large village oven. It was the largest oven I'd ever seen. They all brought their own bread there. They would put a mark on it so they would know their family's bread and leave it with the baker. Then they would come back later in the day."

In the course of his bread quest, Alexander won second place in the New York State Fair bread competition. He enrolled in a bread-making seminar in Paris, and spent a few days at an abbey in Normandy, France, where he taught the monks how to make the traditional abbey bread.

"That was about three quarters into my year of baking," he adds. "When I found a medieval abbey in France that said they had been baking for 1,300 years, but had lost the last monk who knew how to bake bread, I volunteered to come over and bake some bread for them. They came back and said, 'Sure, that sounds like a good idea, but could you train a monk to bake while you are here?' I suddenly realized I was in this absurd situation: I am an amateur baker, I hadn't been in a church in years, I barely speak French, and found myself going over to try to restore the lost 1,300-year-old tradition of baking at the abbey."

When Alexander's year long bread making adventure came to its end, he realized that the perfect loaf of bread he was after was whatever loaf he was baking at the time.

This was not Alexander's only attempt to produce his own food. In his previous book, "The $64 Tomato," he chronicled the joys and frustrations of growing his own vegetables.


Chayote are peeled easily and the large seed inside comes out easily.
Cutting chayote
A.M. Costa Rica file photo

Chayote: The all-purpose
MesoAmerican treat


By Saray Ramírez Vindas
From the A.M. Costa Rica archives


The chayote looks like a big, wrinkled green or white pear. But it really is a gourd and a type of squash.

You can eat it creamed, buttered, fried, stuffed, baked, frittered, boiled, mashed and pickled, food experts note. And in Costa Rica it is the all-purpose veggie.

The chayote (Sechium edule) has a long history associated with the pre-Columbian peoples of Central America, and you can’t be here for long without finding one on your plate.

The vegetable can weight up to a pound, and there is a big seed inside that is not eaten. Once the skin and seed are removed, the white flesh remains and is the part that is eaten. The vegetable is so much a part of Costa Rica that to visit or live here without trying it is like never trying gallo pinto or Cerveza Imperial.

Perhaps the best way to eat chayote is chopped up in a mixture of other foods, a picadillo with sausage, chicken, carrots, corn, potatoes, onions and other MesoAmerican staples.

The final dish, eaten with small tortillas, not only is tasty but also colorful. Plus the dish always is a success because proportions of various ingredients are highly variable. Use what you have!

The recipe for picadillos is not exact. Mostly anything goes.

You need:

     5-6 chayotes
     2-3 carrots
     1 full sausage
     two ears corn kernels (or small can)
     2-3 medium potatoes
     2 heads of garlic
     5-6 sprigs of basil

Chop up in small pieces the chorizo or sausage and brown in a fry pan along with chopped garlic.

Peel and cut up chayote, carrots and potatoes into small pieces and boil until tender. Drain and set aside.

Do the same with corn: Boil the kernels gently.

Chop up basil, too, and add to the nearly browned sausage.

Put all ingredients into one big pot, put on heat and stir.

Arrange attractively with garnishes of carrots or other handy vegetables. Don’t forget the basil.

Serve with warmed small tortillas or rice a su gusto.

Originally published March 28, 2003.

The finished product is a colorful dish.
Chayote chopped up
A.M. Costa Rica file photo


lobster and vanilla
The finished masterpiece

Lobster and vanilla simply
cry out for some champagne

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

La Luz executive chef Carlos Zuñiga spent 20 years learning to cook in U.S. East Coast restaurants.  Lobster was plentiful, and some of the recipes were quite exotic.  When he returned to Costa Rica, he brought the recipes with him.

Champagne Vanilla Lobster is one of four lobster tail specials (the others include Rockefeller, Fra Diablo, and Orillineta) all served Valentine's Day Weekend at La Luz Restaurant in The Alta Hotel, Alto de las Palomas, Santa Ana.

More information about dining there is HERE!

Champagne Vanilla Lobster

A sauce of vanilla bean and champagne with lobster over fettuccini pasta.

Ingredients

½ cup champagne
1 vanilla bean (split down the middle)
½ cup cleaned spinach leaves
3 tablespoons cream
1 tablespoon butter
2 lobster tails
¼ pound fettuccini (white or spinach)
2 tablespoons scallions

Instructions

1.Simmer champagne and vanilla bean.  Reduce the liquid.
      Add the spinach leaves.
2.Add cream and cook.
3.Whisk in the butter.  Season with pepper.  Salt to taste (we try
      not to use too much). 
4.Discard the vanilla bean.
5.Add the lobster tails until cooked (will vary with size).
6.Cook the pasta in boiling water.
7.Remove the lobster tail and add the pasta.  Stir. Warm pasta
      but don’t cook.
8.Place pasta and sauce in center of plate.  Turn lobster tail inside
      out and place on top of pasta.  Garnish plate with scallions.

Researchers find that wine tastes
better when the light is correct


By the University of Mainz news service

The background lighting provided in a room has an influence on how wine tastes. This is the result of a survey conducted by researchers at the Institute of Psychology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. Several sub-surveys were conducted in which about 500 participants were asked how they liked a particular wine and how much they would pay for it. It was found that the same wine was rated higher when exposed to red or blue ambient light rather than green or white light. The test persons were even willing to spend in excess of one euro more on a specific bottle of Riesling when it was offered in red instead of green light.

"It is already known that the color of a drink can influence the way we taste it," says Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel of the General Experimental Psychology division. "We wanted to know whether background lighting, for example in a restaurant, makes a difference as well."

The survey showed, among other things, that the test wine was perceived as being nearly 1.5 times sweeter in red light than in white or green light. Its fruitiness was also most highly rated in red light. Accordingly, one conclusion of the study is that the color of ambient lighting can influence how wine tastes, even when there is no direct effect on the color of the drink.

"The extreme lighting conditions found in some bars can undoubtedly influence the way a wine tastes," concludes Oberfeld-Twistel. He also recommends that serious wine tasting should be conducted in a neutral light color environment.

Perhaps a partial explanation of why lighting influences the way humans taste wine is that in pleasant lighting conditions, individuals also regard the wine as being more pleasant too. Additional research is planned.

papaya
The many seeds can be removed easily

Agricultural officials try
to boost unappreciated papaya


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agricultural officials are trying to give a boost to the unappreciated papaya to increase local consumption and exports.

The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería is promoting the fruit for its health benefits and said that there are about 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres) planted of the fruit in the country. Most of the production is in Pococí, Guácimo, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Paquera, Parrita and Orotina, the ministry said.

The fruit has an unusual taste that grows on consumers like a good scotch whiskey. Pineapple and mango seem to be more preferred in a fruit plate, but papaya does not have the sharp taste. Dried papaya can be a sweet treat.

The ministry touts the vitamins C and A that are contained within the fruit. The Universidad de Costa Rica has produced a new variety, payapa perfecta, that does not have a strong odor, and the tall papaya trees usually produce fruit of about the same size, perfect for marketing. The flavor is supposed to be better, too. Most papaya grown here is of this variety.

The tree actually is a big herb. The fruit sells cheaply in the marketplace, and the ministry notes that it has been lauded for its aid to digestion. Papaya also can be used as a meat tenderizer. Some Costa Ricans wrap meat in papaya leaves. Commercially it is a powder sold as a tenderizer. The seeds can be eaten. Some cooks grind them and serve them like pepper for their sharp taste.

Papaya now is exported to Canada, and the ministry hopes to increase exports to Europe.

Papaya is believed to be native to Central America. Mexican residents were eating the fruit long before the rise of the great civilizations. Now the fruit is produced all over the tropical world.

In Spanish it is called melón zapote, mamao, naimi, capaídso, fruta bomba, lechosa, mamón, mampucha, pucha and paque. In some countries papaya is not a word for mixed company, so substitutes have been created.


vanilla pods
Photo courtesy of Henry Karczynski          
These vanilla pods still are on the vine

Rare vanilla spice from Quepos
produced in fully organic setting


By Donna Norton

Special to A.M. Costa Rica
 
Chefs and hobby cooks from around the world visit Villa Vanilla, a certified organic/biodynamic spice farm operated by Henry Karczynski in Villanueva near Quepos.  The farm grows a variety of spices and essential oil plants, including vanilla, cocoa, and ceylon cinnamon.

The farm got international notice when it was the recipient of the periodic  "Longest Vanilla Bean" award in August 2008.  An independent vanilla Web site awarded this honor to the farm, proclaiming it to be the ultimate organic vanilla producer. The farm produced beans from 9.5 to 10.5 inches or from 24.5 cm to 26.5 cm. The award is a way of highlighting top vanilla producers.

Karczynski, a soft-spoken man and a U.S. expatriate with an MBA from Illinois, found his calling as a farmer while serving in the Peace Corps.  "Happiness and success are not defined by one´s amount of financial wealth," he said. "I enjoy what I do, and I am fortunate that it also affords me and my family a living."
 
After purchasing degraded pasture land in Quepos 23 years ago, Karczynski transformed the farm using agroforestry, permaculture and tropical biodynamic cultural practices.  Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies. The plantation is now also visited by students, researchers and practitioners of sustainable development, said Karczynski.

The farm markets its spices under the Rainforest Spices label.

The plantation offers a tour for visitors. The vanilla vines grow on a host tree and the dangling pods are filled with tiny edible seeds, said Karczynski. He notes that vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world. The plant is a type of orchid.

The pods have no flavor when they are picked, and it is the curing process that turns them into the highly demanded spice.

On his Web site Karczynski notes that "the pod can be chopped finely or processed in a blender and used to flavor cakes, puddings, ice cream, milkshakes and many everyday sweet dishes. The whole pod can also be used to flavor custards and other liquids, taken out, dried carefully and used again up to three or four times. To flavor milk, allow one bean per 500 ml, bring to a boil and allow to stand for an hour.

His two and a half hour spice plantation tour is topped off with a session of tasting of gourmet pastries and drinks made by his pastry chef.  At the tasting, exquisite spice drinks and desserts are brought to the tourists one after the other while they relax at Villa Vanilla´s secluded mirador overlooking mountains and rainforest.  A naturally sweet Ceylon cinnamon tea, vanilla/lime cheesecake, vanilla and/or cinnamon ice cream, and even farm grown and processed chocolate (cacao) for cookies and chocolate drinks are some of the offerings.  According to Karczynski, his Villa Vanilla plantation is one of two places in the world, the other being India, where these types of quality organic spices can be purchased, and even ordered via his Web site, www.rainforestspices.com.

Karczynski discovered on the farm ancient cacao artifacts used as tools in cracking cacao beans, including a large, egg-shaped stone, metate and mano in Spanish, and a rock mortar and pestle.  Villa Vanilla actually uses the large rock mortar and pestle artifact to help in the production of cacao nibs, edible pieces of pure cacao. It is clear that the pre-Colombian native inhabitants valued cacao plants, too.



chef's lasagna
Two large shrimp crown lasaña de chile pimienton.

Heredia' chef's signature dish
is lasagna without the pasta


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Chef Ruben Naranjo at the recently remodeled Bar Restaurant Alex Seth Friends in Santa Barbara de Heredia has as his signature dish  lasaña de chile pimienton. 

A former soccer player turned chef (he was formerly with the Hotel Parador in Manuel Antonio), Ruben said “Well, this lasagna does not have cheese or pasta, so it is a bit different. In fact it is based on sweet red chiles, avocados and shrimp.”

Directions: 

Wash two sweet red chiles and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes until skin is blistered. Immerse in cold water and remove skin, reserve. 

Take a ripe, large Haas avocado and cut into small cubes and put in mixing bowl with the juice of two Mesino limes (yellow flesh without seeds), white onion finely chopped, cilantro, the skin of half a tomato finely chopped with salt and pepper to taste.  

Take eight pinky shrimp and two jumbo prawns and clean and place in bowl.  Take a frying pan and saute the shrimp in olive oil with a bit of finely chopped white onion, a tablespoon of brandy and a tablespoon of white wine until liquid burns off.  Set aside.

Assemble the lasagna on a plate by placing one red chile on bottom and spooning on the guacamole mix with four pinky shrimp; make another layer and on top put a red chile or two with nothing on it.  Take the two jumbo prawns and skewer them to the top with toothpicks and green pimiento olives.  Great as an appetizer or side dish.

A.M. Costa Rica invites recipes from chefs at other food establishments and from readers. Photos are great, too. Send them to editor@amcostarica.com.


Mamon chinos
Ministerio de Agricultra y Gandería photo  
White layer around the seed is what the fuss is all about.

Seasonable fruit makes inroads
in commercial production here


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 400 producers of mamón chinos have about 800 hectares (nearly 2,000 acres) planted in the fruit. The country has become the largest exporter of the product in Central America, according to the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

Seven years ago the ministry was encouraging the planting of the fruit in the southern zone as a barrier to citrus diseased that might come in from Panamá. Now that area and the Caribbean coast
mamon chino
Enough for a ight snack
product commercial quantities of the small, red or yellow spiny fruit.

The principal producing areas in the southern zone are the cantons of  Corredores, Osa, Ciudad Cortés and Pérez Zeledón. In the Provincia de Limón, the commercial producing areas are  Pococí, Guácimo and Siquirres.

More than 1,800 metric tons are exported each year to El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to  Alberto Montero González, head of the
ministry's section of non-traditional fruits. Although the fruit is cheap in Costa Rica, a kilo shipped to the United States brings from $4 to $7, the ministry said.

There are two types of mamón chino in the country.  The more traditional one is called chupachupa. This is not a freestone variety, and some say the fruit is not sweet. A new variety is  a freestone, and the edible pulp pulls from the pit easily. The ministry had distributed more than 40,000 saplings of this type over the last five years, and officials are encouraging farmers to substitute the more marketable variety for what they might now have.

The fruit is about as big as a golf ball, but a lot easier to nibble. Vendors sell both the red and yellow varieties from July through November. The mamón chino is called rambutan in Asia. The Latin name is Nephelium lappaceum.

The spiky, red or yellow fruit is held between the fingers and the top is bitten just enough to remove the hard outer shell. Inside is a sweet, pulpy mass surrounding a big seed.

The seed is edible but usually should be roasted first. It is the pulp that the casual nibbler seeks. Throughout the downtown and elsewhere in Costa Rica mamón chino-lovers can be seen walking along chomping at the fruit. Purdue University reports that the roasted seeds are said to be narcotic. The fruit can be made into a syrup or canned, but most are eaten fresh.

Costa Rican officials fear that the introduction of the citrus disease leprosis will cause great economic loss to the country. So they have established a line of control along the frontier of Panamá and seek to eradicate completely citrus trees inside this area adjacent to the border.

The mamón chino is one of the alternatives, the ministry said. The fruit can be grown from seed, but someone doing this runs the risk of lavishing effort on male trees that do not produce fruit. Montero recommends that farmers use cuttings and grafting to maintain a high quality of fruit.


potatoes
Cardiologists do not recommend the
editor's bacon and garlic Cartago potato medley.
For recipe, see below.

Cartago shows off complexities
of its cusine with contest


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


There is a lot more to the Provincia de Cartago than potatoes, and cooks of the communities have joined together to prove that.

The event last month was another of the culture ministry's efforts to capture the nation's traditions.

When most Costa Ricans think of Cartago, the words chilly and potatoes leap to their minds. The province, centered around the Canton of Cartago is generally higher than communities in the Central Valley. Cartago itself at 1,435 meters is 274 meters (about 900 feet) higher than the bulk of San José.

That may be bad for sunbathing, but the weather is great for temperate vegetable crops, including the potato, carrot, onions and even the chayote. And these work their way into the area's traditional menus.

There are seven other cantons, La Unión, Jiménez, Turrialba, Oreamuno, Alvarado, El Guarco and Paraíso. Each has developed their own variations on food. After all, they have had plenty of time. Cartago was founded in the middle of the 16th century, and Spanish settled in the region due to the healthy climate. The city was the nation's capital until 1823.

The region is also known for its conservatism, so one can expect that the Spanish tradition will be a strong influence on the local foods.

Garlic Cartago potatoes

By popular demand (Well, we got some e-mails, anyway), we include the editor's famous garlic potato medley shunned by cardiologists the world over.

Ingredients:

2 cans of Imperial (or similar) beer
half pound bacon (200 grams más o menos)
1 large onion
12 toes of garlic (more or less)
12 small (golf ball size potatoes or six tennis ball size) Cartago potatoes
cup of olive oil
Whatever extra seasonings you like such as Italian or Mexican or maybe you like parsley, thyme, bay leaves, or cilantro.

Procedure

Open and start drinking the first can of beer.

Cut into smaller pieces and start frying bacon in large fry pan.

In a few minutes combine chopped onion and chopped garlic in the frying pan. Put in the seasoning you like now. Add about half the oil. Keep heat moderate to let the tastes meld.

Don't forget the beer.

Wash and clean the small Cartago potatoes. Nuke them in a microwave for from 5 to 7 minutes.  Then chop them into sixths or eighths.

Don't forget the beer.

Put the potatoes in the same frying pan with the onions, bacon, and garlic for a few minutes. Sprinkle with the rest of the oil. Then after a few minutes transfer the entire dish to a metal or glass baking dish and stick in a pre-heated oven.

Depending on the time for dinner, cover with foil to keep garlic, onions and bacon from burning. Make sure to remove the foil during the last 10 minutes to make the potatoes slices crisp.

Reward yourself with the second beer. (This is really a beer-type dish. But port after dinner goes well, too.)

Serve with beer and meat of your choice, perhaps a pork roast.

mixture of nature's boundy

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas  
Vitamin on the half shell to eat out of hand or in drinks.
From left, a seedy grandilla, a naranjilla with dark interior, a guava,
starfruit and a piece of snowy white
guanabana

A few thousand colons provides
a bounty of delicious fruits


By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delights from star fruit to guavas to the prickly guyabana and the delicate naranjilla are on the market now, and you can get your daily dose of vitamin C with little trouble.

In water, milk or cocktails, the fruits give up their delicious tastes.

The rainy season brings pure water to revitalize the earth and improve the environment. It also gives a boost for some fruits. And this is a good time to explore fruity options.

Costa Rica has a long list of delicious tropical varieties rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and C.

Blending fruits with water to make a refresco is common in Costa Rican homes. Water is preferred for its lower costs, but the daring can try milk and even cream for some of the fruit. Watch out for seeds if a blender is to be used.

A reporter went to the Mercado Central with a few thousand colons to seek out fresh fruit. Another option is the ferias del agricultor, but many markets are just one day a week.

At the central market there were at least guayabas, maracuyas, carambolas, naranjillas and guanabanas.

Here is what they are:

The guayabas or guavas are 1,100 colons a kilo, about $1.93. The baseball-size green fruit has five small protrusions on the flower end. Some fruits have up to 500 seeds but they can be eaten.  They are Mexican or Central American natives now found all over the world.

The carambola is the starfruit now grown locally and available in most North American supermarkets but not at 600 colons a kilo, or a bit more than $1. The whole fruit, including skin, can be eaten.

The maracuyá is the passion fruit or what is called grandilla here in Costa Rica. They are available for 850 colons a kilo, about $1.50. The fruit can be several colors, but most here are yellow. There are plenty of seeds. They can be eaten but some folks like to strain them for juice.

The naranjillas (1,500 colons per kilo) are like tiny oranges, with lots of seeds and a dark interior. They can be eaten out of hand, and the juice is green. Unripe fruits are sour but can be eaten with sprinklings of salt.

The guanabana is the soursop, a giant fruit that frequently is cut up to be sold. It runs 1,200 a kilo ($2.10) at the market. The creamy meat of the plant is eaten out of hand or juiced. The black seeds, about the size of those in a watermelon, are not eaten.

Each of these fruits can be the subject of its own monograph. But the wise shopper will try new fruits and in different ways. Some can end up in jam as well as drinks. Others can be reduced to a sweet syrup.

Some fruits have a reputation as a medicine or a cure. But that is a whole different article.


Pigs with the right genes sought
for the best tasting meat


By the University of the West of England Press Office

How can pigs be produced that provide healthy and yet good tasting meat?

Meat eating quality and healthiness are closely related to the amount and type of fat. During the last decade there has been extensive selection towards leaner genotypes which has resulted in reduction of not only undesirable subcutaneous fat, but also in a dramatic decrease in desirable intramuscular fat (commonly known as “marbling” fat).

Intramuscular fat has the key input in meat tenderness and juiciness and a low level of intramuscular fat is associated with dry and unpalatable pork. The challenge which the pig producing industry is facing now is how to increase intramuscular fat without increasing subcutaneous fat?

A project which has recently started at the Institute of Biosensing Technology in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Biomedicine at the University of the West of England (UWE) aims to identify the genes controlling subcutaneous and intramuscular fat deposition. The end-aim of this work is to provide data which could form a basis for developing a genetic test for intramuscular fat and which could assist pig breeders in genetic selection.

 The project is undertaken by Duncan Marriott, a doctoral student with a amster's degree in meat science and five years experience as a research technician at the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Veterinary Science.

“Pigs need to be leaner to produce healthy meat but to carry
sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain good eating quality,"
Marriott explaind. "The project will be conducted on a number of commercial pig breeds, which differ in intramuscular fat content. My challenge is to identify the genes controlling both the intramuscular and subcutaneous fat content in different breeds.”



pejibaye halved
A.M. Costa Rica photo      
The first step is to half the palm nuts

Editor's favorite soup is easy
and very much Costa Rican

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Here's the lowdown on the editor's favorite soup. One serving is about a zillion calories, so Weight Watchers can tune out now.

The beauty of pejibaye soup is that it is easy to make, tastes great and is uniquely Costa Rican. The fruit have been grown here since long before Columbus.

Pejibayes are those palm nuts found in the vegetable sauna at the grocery. They range from orange to green and resemble large, bobbing acorns. When they are hot, they are easier to peel.

Purdue University in Indiana says that one average pejibaye fruit contains 1,096 calories. They are the perfect junk food: low in protein, high in fat.

Of course they're high in fat, they are the product of a palm tree. One palm tree can produce more than 140 pounds of nuts in a year. So they are far from endangered.

The biggest challenge in making pejibaye soup is in forcing yourself not to eat the peeled halves. They make a nice hor d'oeuvre topped with mayonnaise. Another challenge might be in getting someone else to peel and halve the fruit. There is a pit that must be removed. (Hey, Honey, can you give me a hand for a minute . . . . ?)

The soup is a snap. Drip a little oil in a saucepan and make tender chopped onions, garlic and maybe even jalapeños. Then drop in about a dozen pejibaye halves . Or two dozen. It really makes no difference because you can cut the soup with milk or cream to make it the consistency you desire.

Add a cup or two of water and begin breaking up the pejibaye. Or you could run the whole mixture through a blender. Add milk or cream to reach the consistency of soup. Serve hot and season to taste.

A little experimentation will show that the pejibaye mixture is perfect for a sauce over traditional foods. And they say fermented pejibaye will knock your socks off.


green mangos
A.M. Costa Rica photo     
A quick snack of green mango

Time for a sour green fruit
that's loaded with vitamin C


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Among the more underrated offerings of the Costa Rican produce markets is the green mango. Most expats know about ripe mangos and have enjoyed the drippy, juicy fruit with its unique flavor. They may also have used it in blended drinks or as a flavor for ice cream or soda.

Less respected is the green mango. This can be found prepared in the little baggies offered by street vendors. Included in the bag with the strips of mango is a bit of lemon and salt. Nice vendors also will add special ingredients, like chili, upon request.

This is street finger food. The long mango strips are bitter and an acquired taste. And that's about all the average Tico sees of green mangos.

The inhabitants of India and some Asian countries have a 4,000 to 5,000 year head start on using the fruit. Chutney,  the condiment identified with the British Empire and India, has a mango base.

Green mangos can hold their own in any taste test, and the addition of sea salt, chili, chilero or black pepper can cater to the desires of the consumer.

A real treat is a green mango salad. There are an infinite number of recipes. The basic salad contains either grated or strips of mango. From there on in, the choices are many. One version uses baked coconut and various nuts, bean sprouts and basil.

Those who want to add fire to the sour treat can create a mango-jalapeño salad, heavy on lime or lemon and pepper.

The fruit is so accommodating that a chef can hardly go wrong. The salad can become a main course with the addition of chicken or shrimp.

The mango also contains all sorts of healthful compounds, including vitamin C and fiber.

The only downside is the large seed in the middle that sometimes can be a challenge. Freestone versions of the fruit exist, but they are foreign to Costa Rica.


Chinese bottles
A.M. Costa Rica/Arron O'Dell
There's no need to read the bottle. In fact, most of us cannot, despite loosely enforced Costa Rican laws to the contrary that call for labels in Spanish. It's just time for experimentation!

Take the Chinese liquor plunge
and drink that mystery elixir


By Arron O'Dell
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

China is a country known for the Great Wall, temples, big cities, big culture, a billion people and their seeming love to eat anything.  If it grows out of the ground, walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or does any combination, the people of China have found a way to kill it, cook it, eat it and enjoy it.  However, the liquor traditions of China seldom come up in conversation.

There are more Chinese than you can shake a stick at around the globe and not one beer that is popular around the world.  This is the sort of thing not to be taken lightly. There must be a good reason for it.   Most Chinese joints here don't even sell an Asian beer and, if they do, it's almost always Thai or Japanese.  You will never here a Chinese expat say something like "Yeah, this Pilsen  is okay but you should try this beer I use to drink back home." 

What the Chinese did bring with them was liquor, high octane, burn-on-the-way-down, glorious liquor.  You haven't seen the stuff at Hipermás, any of the big mercados or your local super, because it is not there.  You cannot find it in any of the places you frequent for your standard shopping needs. 

The only way to track down Chinese liquor is to search out the small shops around town with the Chinese characters on the front.  These shops are here. You can find them.  When you fall into one of these places you hit gold because of the strange and exotic smells.  A good shop will have two or three shelves of bottles in a variety of shapes sizes with red and gold labels and writing that means nothing unless you read Mandarin.
 
My friend and I have found the best way to pick the best one is by style.  The first bottle we took home was chosen this way and still remains a favorite.  It was a short and fat bottle shaped like an oversize pineapple hand grenade with a colorful label.  When my friend saw it, he said something like 'I've got to have that bottle. It looks cool!'   He was that excited about this new elixir we had found. 

With bottle in hand we quickly made our way to the closest place to home that sold beer and yanked several six packs off the shelf and darted home at a near run.  With two open cans and empty shot glasses in front of us we stared admiring the bottle for a moment.  Then with stupid giddy expressions on our faces we poured. 

After the straight shot, we felt compelled to try it every way we could come up with until there was no more. We sipped it, drank it on ice, with soda, chased it, used it as a chaser for beer.  This tasting was was done very scientifically. 

It was very similar to Jägermeister without the bite on the front, and for 2,000 colons it was a superb deal.  Somewhere around around the bottom of the bottle it occurred to us it might be nice to have a name to put to this wonderful concoction.   We studied every character that  The People's Republic of China felt necessary to put on the ornate paper label on that fine, cheap bottle, and all of it was in some form of Chinese.  

When we inquired of the proprietor of the local Chinese restaurant, he told us that it was  an “export-only” liquor from mainland China. How fortunate for us that they chose to export this fine elixir!
Honey Bean Coffee


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