Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Blend of Cuisines

Guyana is not to be confused with Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, the French Guinea, or Guinea Bissau, although all five of these countries have very similar names. A former colony of the Netherlands and England, Guyana is the only South American country whose native language is English. Most of the people speak the English based Guyanese Creole. 90% of the people live along a thin strip of coast at the north of Guyana. There are rich rainforests not accessible by humans and a savannah towards the south, making coastal living the best choice for building cities and industry.


You might be a little shocked that tonight's meal comes from South America. There are were tortillas, beans, or cheese made in any of tonight's four dishes. I can explain the strangely Caribbean, Indian, and Chinese flair that Guyanese cuisine tends to have. Even though it is technically connected to mainland South America, Guyana is considered part of the Caribbean because of it's Dutch and British roots. It did not have the Latin influence of other South American countries like Brazil and Argentina. About 43% of the population is Indian, making them the largest ethnic group. They are descendents from the indentured servants who came over from India in the mid 1800s. Lastly, Chinese food is very popular in Guyana. They even have their own type of chow mein and low mein noodles. This ethnic mixture influenced tonight's table. The main Chow Mein dish was served alongside Roti and an Indian eggplant dip called Baigan Choka. To accompany the meal I made a very smoothie-ish drink called Peanut Punch.


I cannot believe I made chow mein for a country in the Western Hemisphere. The more I researched, the more I learned that chow mein is a common dinner across Guyana. It is a little spicier than the Chinese variation thanks to the hot wari wari pepper. Chicken is commonly added. I think

Chow Mein
serves 4
12 oz Guyanese chow mein or spaghetti noodles, cooked according to the instructions on the package
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into strips
6 tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
½ tsp ground ginger
1 each yellow, green, and orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 carrot, shredded
1 ½ cups green beans
1 wari wari pepper, seeded and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp oil

Mix together the Chinese 5 spice powder, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, ginger, and chicken. Allow the chicken to marinate for 30 minutes. Heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Cook the chicken for a couple of minutes on each side until it is done. In a large wok, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Sautee the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the sweet peppers, hot pepper, and beans. Cook for another 3-4 minutes before adding the cabbage and carrot. Once the cabbage wilts slightly (a couple of minutes), add the chicken, soy sauce, and noodles. Toss until everything is combined and heated through.


Here is an updated version of roti from the one I made when I cooked Guyana for breakfast. This flaky flatbread folded in layers of oil is perfect to go along with any meal.

makes 2
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup hot water
½ tsp oil, plus more as needed

Mix together the flour and baking powder. Stir in the water and ½ tsp of oil until everything is combined. Knead for about 8 minutes until a pliable dough has formed. Cover with a damp towel and let the dough sit for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into two balls, and roll them out into thin disks. Brush the tops with oil, cut a slit halfway down the middle, and roll them up like a cone. Cover again with the towel and let rest for 15 more minutes. Preheat a large pan over medium heat. Roll the dough balls out into large disks 1/8” thick. Cook them one at a time on the pan, flipping after the bottom is golden brown. Brush the top with oil, and flip when the other side is brown. Brush this side with oil as well. Quickly remove the bread from the skilled and clap out any air bubbles. Serve hot.


Spread this warm eggplant dip onto your roti for a true Indo- Caribbean side dish. Baigan means eggplant, and it is very similar to an eggplant dish served in India called Baingan Bharta.
Baigan Choka
1 eggplant
2 cloves garlic, sliced
¼ cup thinly sliced onion
1 tsp oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 450 degree. Pierce the eggplant with a knife and slip the garlic in the holes. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes until tender. Meanwhile, sauté the onion in the oil over medium heat until slightly golden but crispy. Peel and mash the eggplant together with the garlic and onion. Season to taste.


Peanut punch is a popular cold blended beverage that is found throughout the Caribbean. You can even find it in packaged variations. This smoothie-like drink was probably my favorite part of the meal.
Peanut Punch
serves 4
3 cups milk
6 tbsp peanut butter
6-8 ice cubes
sugar, to taste

Toss everything into the blender and blend until creamy.

Overall, I was not too thrilled with Guyana. I probably should have stuck to making dishes from on of the ethnic groups instead of creating a mixture that did not really go together. I did not hate it, but it all didn't really settle well together.

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