Rita Chi’quien gave me her recipe.
“Thank you!” I said profusely and she looked at me cross-eyed.
“Of course. Why not give you the recipe? Why I not do that?’ I realized that my profuse gratitude was out of step with the local custom of “recipe generosity.”
Getting a cook to turn over their recipes at home was like asking for their first-born child. Words like “proprietary” and “copyright” ring out loud.
Here in the jungle – everyone shares because you need to know how to cook. Not knowing a recipe is akin to not being able to eat. I understood her quizzical look that said, “If you know this, then you can start feeding yourself. Of COURSE I will give it to you.”
To know the Kek’chi, you need to eat Kek’chi food. This is a dish that everyone makes and is the number one comfort food for the Maya.
Caldo, Chicken Soup, Kek’Chi style, with lots of garlic from Rita Chi’quien.
This is the kind of recipe that has a thousand variations. You can adjust the flavors to your tastes. As always – read it through first and THEN cook. The recipe is cooked outside on a fire hearth. You can adjust it easily to cook indoors.
1 Whole Local Chicken
1 large Cassava root, peeled and cut into spoon-size chunks. ( If you don’t have cassava, use another “ground” food like sweet or white potatoes, rutabaga, carrots or parsnips. Cassava taste like the love child of potatoes and parsnips.
1 large onion. Cut into a large dice.
2 Chocos (chayote) squash, cut into wedges
8 Cloves of garlic peeled and halved.
1 large tablespoon of annato paste – You can also use red recado. If you cannot find this, use a small touch (1/4 teaspoon) of smoked paprika for color.
Salt and Pepper
1 Bunch Culantro, cut into a chiffonade strips. Culantro smells and tastes like Cilantro, but has large, flat green leaves with jagged edges. Its bud look like thistles and the edges can be pointy – so watch out! It is worthwhile seeking out this herb if you can find it. Most families in Forest Home have it growing in their yard. When they tread on it, the aroma is refreshing. If you cant find it, use 1 bunch cilantro, chopped lightly.
To cut a chiffonade: Lay leaves on top of one another and roll into a cigar shape. Cut across leaves into thin strips. The strips will unroll into ribbons.
1 bunch green onions, washed and cut into halves
1 big pinch Maya pepper. This is made by drying habaneros or red chiles over the wood hearth. It is very hard to find. You can replace it by using 1 tsp chile powder.
Wring, scald and pluck your chicken- if live and ultra-fresh. Clean and wash the meat and cut the broiler into halves, then quarters. Prep and wash your vegetables and have spices, herbs and garlic prepared to add to pot. Maya cooks have everything “ready to go” as Miss Rita Explained. She had a neat and tidy table.
Heat wood fire or coals to red hot. Place chicken pieces in pot and cover with water. Bring to boil. Alternatively, if you are cooking over a stove, place pot with water and chicken over heat and bring to boil. Add onion, garlic, annato paste, and chile powder.
If using, add cassava root. Cook 15 minutes, then add other root veggies. Cook 30 minutes more. If you need to add more water just to cover the veggies and chicken do so now. Add chocho after an additional 15 minutes.
After cooking 1 hour total, check root veggies. They should be tender but not mushy. Add salt and pepper and culantro and green onions. Cook until green are tender.
Serve a bowl with one piece of chicken, root veggies, all covered with broth. Serve hot with corn tortillas.
Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons