Season Stepp: Apocalypse sounds like a great time for a dinner party


Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 9:06 p.m.

By now, anyone with access to the Internet, TV, radio or workplace gossip around the water cooler must be aware of the Mayan prediction.

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"Flavors of Belize: The Cookbook"

While some New Age followers prepare for a Mayan apocalypse this week, there's no better time to throw a Mayan dinner party. Many books and cookbooks, such as “Flavors of Belize: The Cookbook,” above, discuss the modern adaptation of Mayan cuisine.

New Age interpretation suggests that Dec. 21 will begin a time of change, possibly the beginning of a new era on Earth. Although most scholars disregard this concept, I suggest instead of a full-scale fear of the apocalypse, we embrace this “new era” as one of culinary appreciation.

Instead of dreading the predicted date, let us celebrate this one of many end-of-the-world predictions with a Mayan dinner party to commemorate the culinary gifts given to us by the Mayan culture.

The Mayan people covered parts of what are now Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The location, landscape and climate both encouraged and restricted the variety of foods available to the Maya. Maize was the staple and used in many ways, from a gruel form to what we now recognize as tortillas and tamales.

Domesticated maize eventually made its way throughout the New World and was introduced to all European explorers and settlers, forever changing cuisine in many cultures.

One thing for which I will be eternally grateful to the Mayans is chocolate.

The cacao bean was used as a beverage, although probably not sweetened at the time, and when introduced to the Europeans, spread around the world to become one of the greatest treats of all time.

Many edible plant species were domesticated by the Mayans, including many that we still consume today. More information about the modern adaptation of Mayan cuisine can be found in many books and cookbooks, such as “Flavors of Belize: The Cookbook,” and “Guatemala: A Journey Through the Land of the Maya” (Michael Shapiro and Kraig Lieb).

Puerco Pibil

(Slow-Roasted Pork)

Makes 8 servings

5 pound pork shoulder or pork leg, bone in

1 head garlic

1½ tablespoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin

1½ teaspoons freshly ground allspice

1½ tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons red achiote paste*

½ cup orange juice

2 medium onions, quartered

2 medium green bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed; quartered

¼ cup cilantro, minced

Smoked banana leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pierce pork with knife and insert garlic cloves all around. Mix all dry ingredients; combine with achiote paste, diluted in orange juice, and coat pork. Marinate overnight.

Place pork in large roasting pan lined with banana leaves.

Add onion and pepper and place cilantro on top. Pour remaining marinade liquid, and add more water to pan, to about 1 inch high. Cover with banana leaves and seal tightly with foil.

Bake for 5 hours or until meat is very tender and starts to release from the bone.** Shred pork and serve on warm corn tortillas topped with pickled red onions or habañero salsa.

*Look for achiote in the Hispanic section of most grocery stores or at your local Latin market.

**Can also be cooked in a slow cooker, on low, for 12 hours, or on high for 6 hours.

— Adapted from “Flavors of Belize”

Maya Chocolate Cake

1½ cups buttermilk

1½ cups canola or vegetable oil

1½ teaspoons pure vanilla

2½ cups sugar

3 eggs

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 cup cocoa powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1½ cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Dust with flour and line with parchment paper. Set aside.

Combine buttermilk, oil, vanilla and sugar in a bowl. Add eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients.

Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients ½ cup at a time, mixing with water as needed. Mix until well blended.

Pour batter evenly into the two baking pans. Bake 40 minutes or until knife inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, loosen sides, then cool to room temperature and remove from pan.

— Adapted from “Flavors of Belize”

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