(40) Venezuela – Pabellón Criollo

Hey guys- today we are in VENEZUELA! You already know it’s going to be good. Venezuela is situated on the Northern coast of South America neighboring Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Colombia. It is considered to be a megadiverse country with several species calling Venezuela their one and only home. Also found here is the world’s largest waterfall, Angel Falls which measures at a staggering 3,212ft total height!

Angel Falls. Source: Australian Geographic Luis Carillo/wikimedia.org

Venezuelan cuisine is influenced by West Africa, Europe, and Native Americans. Their dishes can often contain yams, plantains, corn, beans, and of course meat! The dish I made for Venezuela is called Pabellón Criollo. It consists of four separate dishes: shredded beef, garlic rice, plantains, and the most amazing black beans you’ve ever had. If you don’t know by now I have quite the plantain obsession and I hope you will grow to have one too!!

The history of this country’s national dish is not set in stone, however it is thought to represent the ethnic groups that populated Venezuela in the colonial area- shredded beef and plantains represent the indigenous people, white rice represents the European (Spanish) settlers, and black beans the Africans that were brought over with the Spanish. Another interpretation is that the colors represent the country’s flag.

I used this recipe which was easy to follow even with several elements cooking at the same time. I had prepped veggies while the meat was cooking which saved time later on. The rice I saved for later so it wouldn’t get cold. Plantains are always since they are a fried food and would not taste as good reheated.

We loved this dish! It was very savory, the beans especially standing out with rich flavor. I think I would have liked the shredded beef cooking in a sauce versus beef juices, however it was still very good. All the flavors went well together and the plantains brought a nice crunchy texture to the dish.

We rated the dish 7.5/10. Let us know what you think and drop a comment below!

(39) Northern Mariana Islands – Kelaguen Mannok

Welcome back to a warm place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.. The Northern Mariana Islands. This archipelago has 15 volcanoes that are mostly dormant . The Northern 10 volcanic islands are uninhabited leaving 5- Rota, Guam, Aguijan, Tinian and Saipan. Guam is a US territory that is the southernmost island of the chain. The Mariana Trench (West of the Mariana Islands) is actually the lowest part of the Earth’s crust and it is so deep that Mount Everest would completely fit with room to spare between the peak and the surface of the water!

Source: Giftbasketsoverseas.com

These islands neighbor Japan and the Philippines and are traveled to for their beauty, coral reefs, and golf courses. Today I made a dish that is popular in Guam, however it will represent the chain of islands in their entirety. Kelaguen Mannok is a chicken salad which can be eaten as is or wrapped in a tortilla. This salad is made up of cooked chicken that traditionally is marinated in soy sauce and cane sugar. Other ingredients include items that might make you feel like you are some place tropical- unsweetened coconut, lemons, and hot peppers. I used this recipe to create this dish and took advantage of the tip to use a rotisserie chicken!

I decided to make the common red rice pairing as well. The rice gets its color from annatto powder (I had to make my own blend using tumeric, paprika, and nutmeg). Annatto powder is more commonly used in cooking solely for the color it gives food vs flavor. It comes from the seeds of spiny fruit of an achiote tree, the fruit remind me of burdock that are found stuck to your clothes when coming out to hike in Maine!

I will admit I wish I had done more research prior to making this dish to know to marinate the chicken. Instead I just drizzled some soy sauce on the salad and mixed it well prior to wrapping it up. The rice had nice flavor from my spice blend, however no matter how much I tried it did not look nearly as colorful as the real deal.

We thought this was a pretty yummy dish and the addition of a tortilla obviously was a superior way to eat it! It was surprising that the chicken with the combination of flavors and the fact that it was cold tricked my mind several times to think it was fish! The citrus and mild heat components was a nice contrast that paired well with the sweetness of the coconut. We rated this dish an average of 7/10.

(21) Costa Rica – Carne en Salsa with Gallo Pinto

To close out the week we are in Costa Rica! I decided to make two dishes that are very popular in the Costa Rican diet. Costa Rica is found in Central America and is known as the hummingbird capital with over 50 species native to the region. It is full of spectacular nature, an overwhelming amount of insects, and active volcanos. This country has it all- amazing views and food!

Nauyaca Waterfalls of Costa Rica. Source: Pinterest

The first portion of this meal is carne en salsa – a shredded beef dish that soaks up a flavorful red sauce. The finely shredded beef is very versatile and could be used for tacos, tamales, sandwiches or even nachos! I was able to find the highly recommended Salsa Lizano on Etsy which helped give the meat and rice a wonderfully sweet and smoky flavor. This sauce has been a Costa Rican staple for over 100 years!

The recipe I used for the lovely carne en salsa can be found here. This blog also has a separate link for the preparation prior to the shredding. If you don’t have an Instant Pot I would recommend slow cooking the beef for 6-8 hours or until it easily shreds.

For the second part of this dish I decided to make the national dish of Costa Rica- Gallo Pinto. Gallo pinto translates to spotted rooster and was likely given this name due to its contrasting appearance. Nicaragua also claims this dish as its own, however it is controversial.

I used this recipe which was very easy to follow. It required 1/2 of cup of the locally made sauce, but have no fear Worchester sauce is a good substitute. This paired well with the beef and once again seemed like a dish that could be used for many different meals. In Costa Rica it’s commonly served up with eggs for breakfast.

Additionally I fried up some plantains which brought a wonderful crunch to the dish. This meal was well balanced and honestly one of my favorites! It was pretty straight forward to prepare and not too time consuming. Another bonus is how each element could be used in various dishes or stand out alone.

We could not recommend this meal more and gave it an 8.5/10 rating (definitely suggest frying some green plantains as well). Next on the menu is Guyana 😊

(12) Uzbekistan – Plov

Urungach Lake. Source: People’s Daily

Welcome to our sixth week cooking every country! I start the week of in the beautiful Uzbekistan (roughly translating to Land of the Free from Turkish/Persian). It is a landlocked country meaning it does not border any oceans or seas. It was the center of the Silk Road which was what connected Europe, China and and the Middle East together. Additionally, Uzbekistan did not become an independent country from Russia until 1991.

The meal I will be recreating from this country is called Plov (or palov osh). It is very similar to rice pilaf and is the national dish of Uzbekistan. The dishes name actually is an acronym for it’s ingredients: P-piyoz (onion),  a – ayoz (carrot),  l – lakhm (meat),  о – olio (fat),  v – vet (salt),  о – ob (water),  sh – shali (rice).

There are various varieties (upwards of 60) which depends on which region of the country you are in. Common ingredients that make up the base of all plovs are rice, mutton/lamb, carrots, and spices. One other meat that can be found as a substitute is kazi or horse meat sausage.

It is so easy to make your own veggie broth!

Plov was first created back in the 10th and 11th centuries for weddings and other big events. At this time only the high class could afford to eat it, but in present day it is adored by all classes and tourists alike. It can be made for weddings, holidays, or on a daily basis which will predict how grand the dish will be.

I used this straight forward recipe for this meal. We loved the new blend of flavors (especially the currants/raisins)! We feel that there could have been more seasoning (I added more after the fact) to let the ingredients come to life. Also after cooking lamb a few times now we have discovered that we aren’t huge fans of the flavor.. in the future we will be substituting the beef equivalent (much cheaper too). We rated this dish 6-6.5/10, it would be higher with beef and more seasoning.

Tomorrow I break out the Instant Pot to make Ropa Vieja from Cuba!