Valentina Cho's Caldo Kash (Mayan Chicken Soup)
View photos: Links at the bottom of
The gastronomy of Blue Creek and of Mayan communities in general is fresh, hearty,
flavorful and satisfying, if not very diverse. A myriad of jungle fruits, edible plants
and seasonal produce aside, corn or flour tortillas, rice, beans, legumes, chicken,
tomatoes, onions and eggs make up the staples and they are seasoned with chiles, achiote
paste*, garlic, oregano, basil, salt, pepper or occasionally wild cilantro. All regional
cuisine has its superlatives and this cooking will impress you with its robust freshness.
Ultimately cuisine is defined by the quality of its ingredients and this recipe began in
the familys subsistence garden, progressed through the chicken coop, took shape at
the grinding stone and chopping block, and came to fruition at the hearth.
The best ingredients are one thing, but dont disregard the human factor,
preparation is crucial and Valentina wields considerable culinary skills in her rustic
kitchen. The pride she takes in her culture, cooking and independence is reflected in her
hand embroidered dress, hand-sculpted stove, and self-produced farm.
Watching her in action is initially inspiring and eventually downright tiring. Her warm
eyes, lovely features and deep belly laugh belie an energetic and fiery spirit.
Shell out haul you, out hustle you and out cook you and barely break a sweat. Did I
mention that shes 64?
Her soup was made from her prized rooster and herbs from her garden. She served it with
tortillas hot off the comal (mayan flat griddle for cooking tortillas), and we dined
around a little wooden table set in the middle of her packed dirt floor. Excellent!
This recipe comes from her kitchen to yours so thank her not me.
Ingredients: (serves 5-8, cut in half for smaller group)
Whole chicken cut up into parts
- 3 small to medium sized yellow onions sliced
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 tsp. achiote paste (made from red achiote berry, salt and spices, found all over
Central Am., Mex.)
- 1 mixed handful of fresh oregano, basil, chives (substitute ½ cup of dry herbs)
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- Salt, pepper and chile to taste
When we arrived, the kernels of corn had already been taken off
the cob, lightly par-boiled with lime (to soften the outer skin) and were ready to be
ground and made into masa dough for the tortillas. The soup however was to be made from
scratch and she hadnt started yet.
Reaching into the pen, she grabbed the el patron rooster, yanked him out by his wings,
inverted him and placed the ball of her foot on his neck and pulled. The rooster was soon
motionless and she dunked the entire bird in boiling water to kill bacteria and loosen
feathers for plucking. She plucked all the feathers in less than 5 minutes and singed off
the final downy fuzz covering the skin in the open flame of the hearth. She then washed
the entire bird with soap, rinsed it and quickly butchered and chopped it up into parts
and set it to boil. Once at full boil. she added the minced garlic and took one log out of
the fire to reduce the flame.
Meanwhile she set to grinding the corn and forming the masa with water. Once the soup
had boiled for 10 minutes, she added the achiote and salt and continued making tortillas.
10 minutes later she sliced the onions, ripped the fresh herbs by hand and stirred them
all in. While waiting for the meat to cook thoroughly the masa dough was completed. The
soup was taken off the flame and replaced by the comal griddle and the women sat down to
shape and flatten the tortillas, grill them and put them into a basket covered by a tea
Five minutes later we dined.
Mayan Corn Tortilla
All of you reading this Im sure have eaten a taco or two, many of
you have gone to the store and bought tortillas to make your own. Flour tortillas out of
the bag are edible, corn less so. There is no substitute for the real thing. Masa dough is
ground from parboiled corn kernels, flattened and shaped and grilled on the comal griddle
in front of your eyes. When one side is cooked, the women peel up an edge with their
fingersmiraculously burns rarely happenand flip them. The final test to see if
they are done is to pat them in the center a couple times with your finger tips. If they
puff up (and then deflate) theyre ready.
For centuries the Maya have made them exactly this way.
Only one ingredient and the simplest of tools are used. The only concession to technology
they make these days is a hand cranked metal grinder instead of the flat stone mortar and
Comfort food is a hot tortilla. Slightly crispy on the outside, and chewy on the
inside, perfectly pliable despite the lack of oil or lard, they are healthy, savory
- dried corn kernels (substitute corn meal or dry masa flour found in many
- lime powder (not citrus mind you)
Bags of dried corn kernels can be bought at some stores if you
want the authentic experience of hand grinding from scratch. A way to cheat and still get
the same result is to buy the masa flour and mix in water.
The kernels are par-boiled with lime to soften the skin on the kernel. While still al
dente, the wet kernels are ground in a hand cranked processor*. The resulting course
ground meal is formed into a ball with a little extra water and put through the grinder
again on a finer setting*. The process is repeated again until the masa dough is a fine
While the griddle is heating up, the dough is gathered into a large mass and placed in
the center of a table. The next step is to form the tortillas. Towards this end, the Blue
Creek ladies have developed an ingenious technique of using a circle cut from a thick
plastic sheet*. Its thin and pliable and smooth and the dough peels easily off it.
They put a ball of masa in the center and with the finger tips of one hand pat it down
flat working out from the center. The edge of other hand is used to keep the outside edge
of the tortilla smooth and keep the overall shape circular (see photos).
The grilling* is the easy part, light brown on each side, and the eating is the
and Sour Chicken Soup
This recipe is another traditional Mayan dish that youll find wherever you go.
The varieties are endless depending on the cook and the region but basically, theyll
all tickle the same tastebuds with a wonderful combination of savory, hot and sour
flavors. It reminded me of some southeast Asian cuisine I have had in the past.
While simmering on the stove, the vinegar and oregano fill the kitchen with
mouthwatering scents and fill you with anticipation. The salty sourness of the broth is
complemented by the subtle sweetness of sliced onions and carrots, and the stewed chicken
melts in your mouth. Serve it with a steaming plate of rice or a stack of warm corn
- 1 whole chicken cut up into parts
- 1 ½ quarts of water
- 3 medium sized yellow onions sliced
- 2 carrots sliced
- 1 bell pepper sliced
- 5 tblsp. vinegar (or more, adjust to taste)
- 3 jalapeno chiles diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- small handful dried oregano leaves or 2 ½ tsp. oregano flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
Put the water in large pot to boil. Salt and pepper the chicken
pieces and brown in large fry pan. Pour off rendered fat and add chicken to boiling water
for 10-15 minutes. Add chiles, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper and turn down heat. Simmer
for five to ten minutes and add vegetables. Simmer for ten minutes and serve.
Heart of Palm Burritos
This tender and slightly sweet delicacy treasured by the Mayans
for centuries comes from the massive cohune palm and is the class of the field of edible
jungle plants. We spent a week in a small Mayan community in southern Belize called Blue
Creek, staying in the beautiful Blue Creek Rainforest Lodge, learning jungle survival
skills, edible plants and traditional agriculture from manager/guide/community leader
Ignacio Coc and fellow townsfolk. It was an amazing week with a wide array of jungle
fruits and nuts, water vines, cacau (cocoa), tubers and legumes that crossed our plates
(check the survival page "edible plants" section for more). All will keep you
alive if you lose your way in the jungle. A few will delightfully surprise you. The
following recipe will go down in the annals of fine Latin dining.
For those of you who unabashedly finish off the entire bowl of artichoke hearts at the
hors doeuvre table, this one is for you. The texture and flavor of cooked heart of
palm is remarkably similar. Its a perfect substitute for meat, and will send your
vegetarian friends into fits of incredulity.
Ignacios mother boiled the diced palm heart, mixed it with sauteed onions,
peppers and tomato, achiote* seasoning, salt and pepper. We spooned it into warm flour
tortillas fresh off the comal* and washed it down with an infusion tea made from fresh
leaves of the all-spice tree.
Ingredients: (serves 4-5)
- 4 cups diced heart of palm (substitute artichoke hearts or finely diced
- 3/4 cup diced onion
- 1/2 cup diced peppers
- 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
- 3 large cloves garlic
- achiote paste to taste
- salt, pepper and habanero salsa to taste
You will have to visit the
survival skills page to see how
to harvest the palm, its a bit difficult. Substitute artichoke
hearts or minced asparagus and follow the rest.
The heart of palm is quite tender and sweet when raw, excellent as a crudite. To cook
it takes little time. You dice it and boil it for a few minutes and drain in a strainer.
Sauté chopped onions and minced garlic in oil for a couple minutes, add chopped peppers
and diced tomatoes. Stir in achiote seasoning paste and salt, and mix in cooked heart of
palm. Thick handmade tortillas* and cold beer complete a simple but decadent meal.
Roast Garlic and
Cilantro Heart of Palm Spread
The day we went into the bush with our Mayan guide Ignacio to search out
this jewel (actually the edible portion is about 2 feet long and weighs 20 lbs.) of edible
plants, I shared the kitchen with the two cooks who were making the heart of palm burritos
to try a little experiment. It was a great success and would be perfect on crackers or
corn chips as an appetizer at your next exotic foods party (or just make it with artichoke
The sweetness of the palm and the fresh bite of cilantro stimulate your palate first
and the smoky tang of the roasted garlic, and heat of habanero linger. Eat on melba
toasts, drink with a cool dry white wine, and listen to marimba music and the sound of
crickets on a warm Summer night.
1 ½-2 cups diced heart of palm (sub. artichoke hearts or minced
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 tblsp. chopped fresh cilantro
- 1-3/4 tsp. habanero salsa
- dash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Pan roast the garlic cloves in their skins in a dry, thick
bottomed fry pan over low-mid heat for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, boil
the diced palm for 5 minutes or until tender. Peel the garlic and mash in mortar and
pestle, or alternatively chop on a cutting board and mash in bowl with back of wooden
spoon. Mash the palm the same way and mix with garlic. Add rest of ingredients and serve
at room temperature or chilled.
View the Photos
Other Interesting Pages: Harvesting
Cacao ; Harvesting
Sugar Cane ; Edible
Plants from the Rainforest