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Posts Tagged ‘Panama’

This is my second installment of virtual vacationing in Panama. You joined me two months ago for breakfast (where did the summer go?) — now let’s check out dinner.

When two single women arrive in Panama, they can expect to be wined and dined every single evening. Without even making an effort. And when there are enough kosher restaurants to rival those in New York, you can bet that these two single girls were happy to oblige. Every night, gentleman would arrive at our door to sweep us away to a different restaurant. We met Panamanians, Argentinians, and Chileans. Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Religious and non-religious. Unfortunately, none of these gentlemen was memorable enough.

But the food was.

My favorite dish, the one that had me return to the same restaurant and request a meeting with the chef, was ceviche. I remember first trying ceviche in medical school when my Venezuelan classmate wanted to share with us some of her favorite foods. I was fascinated by the idea of cooking fish in the acid of citrus juice and since then, I have many variations with salmon and tuna. But the ceviche at Darna was the closest to my first taste of the specialty. I was determined to meet the chef to get the recipe, and on the morning of our flight home, I was able to do so. More on that adventure and the flight we almost missed later, but her is the recipe.

Panamanian Ceviche

In Panama, this ceviche is made from corvina - a white, firm fleshed saltwater fish that Darna Chef, Ayelet, said can be replaced with grouper, seabass, halibut, or red snapper. Not finding any of these today, I chose talapia. Ayelet gave me the recipe as she makes it in her restaurants – in batches big enough for 10 with 5 pounds of fish and 20 limes (about 1 L of lime juice). She explained that Panamanian ceviche differs from other South American ceviches in using more onion. I’ve adapted the recipe to serve 2-3 with a little extra poblano heat and replacing the celery with jicama.

Ratios:

- 1/2 pound white fish per person

- 2 limes  per person

- 1/4 large onion chopped per person

- 1/4-1/2 habanero pepper per person (the smaller the pepper, the hotter)

- 1/4 C chopped celery per person

- salt, pepper

My version:

- 1.25 pounds talapia

- 4 limes

- 1 small red onion

- 1 large habanero pepper

- salt, pepper

- 1 small jicama

Dice fish into ~1/2-inch cubes and place in a glass on other non-reactive bowl. Add the lime juice and salt and mix. Chop the onion very fine and add to the fish. Wear gloves to chop the pepper very fine. Gently toss with fish and refrigerate for 3-4 hours before serving.

The fish is ready when it firms up and turns opaque white.

Dice jicama into ~1/4-inch cubes and soak in a little bit of lime juice and salt. Refrigerate.

Add jicama to fish and toss. Serve over romaine leaves.

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I told you I’d be doing a little bit of virtual vacationing, so here is my first installment.

Almost a year ago, I went to Panama with my good friend Elvera. We stayed in Panama City for about half of our vacation, relying on the hospitality of my business school classmate, Joe, and his family, including his wife and son, and his parents. Everyone seemed happy to welcome two single girls to Panama, but more on that later.

The best part of my mornings was waking up early with little Jack and sneaking him out to the porch with a bottle to give his mom a few extra moments of sleep. We would lounge on the hammock lazily lapping up the few rays of sun slowly peeking out above the horizon.

After our early-morning nap, I was sometimes greeted by a glass of fruit juice. Not ordinary orange or grapefruit juice. No, this is Panama. One morning it was papaya juice, the next watermelon blended with ice and served in a frosty glass.

When Elvera and did venture out to Bocas del Toro, our AM breakfasts always included the same fruit salad – a mix of papaya, watermelon, and pineapple. And a lot of coffee. So, when I returned to my home, with neither hammock nor little Jackito nor the coordination to make a frosty fruit beverage, I recreated my tropical mornings with the same salad from Bocas.

Panama Fruit Salad

Choose the ripest papaya, watermelon, and pineapple you can find. Scoop seeds out of papaya and cut flesh into bite-sized chunks. Cut watermelon flesh into bite-sized chunks. Cut pineapple into bite-sized chunks (leaving out the stringy core). Add a few splashes of lime juice. Mix. Eat in the sunshine.

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sneak peek

Vic's olivey Israeli-style salad

I am no good at surprises. I come home from a trip with presents for family and friends, and I can barely get off the plane before I’m calling them up to say, “I’m home, guess what I brought you…No, don’t guess, let me tell you!” I have blown surprise parties. For real. Just don’t tell me about them. Or if you do, make sure I know it’s a surprise. And remind me that means I’m not supposed to tell the guest of honor. And that it means I have to show up on time (or in my case, early…or very very very late to avoid walking in with the guest of honor and saying something like, “How fun, I’m so excited for your birthday party…” as s/he reaches for the doorknob).

Yes. I’m that bad.

So, since I’m making dinner tonight for a friend, I can’t resist. Here’s the menu. And a sneak peek at one of the dishes since I made a test run earlier this week and I liked it so much, I’m repeating it. And, oh guest of honor, if you happen to check out my blog today, well, the surprise is ruined!

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, as reported by Mark Bittman in the NYT and as brought to my attention by Jess at Sweet Amandine

Unió olive oil for dipping — this stuff is good enough plain (there’s a pic of it in my kibbutz herb salad)

Roasted garlic

Warm za’atar olives

Spicy carrot tortellini

Bean and walnut paté

Vic’s salad: Israeli-style salad with olives (see below)

Green salad (maybe)

Spoon lamb – a sneak peek, after braising, before sauce: "falling off the bone"

Couscous

Roasted asparagus

Blueberries and golden raspberries with mint simple syrup (or a splash of lemon juice + mint)

If I have time: Almond butter cookies with just almonds (no chocolate chunks)

Just in case: a slice of apple strudel and min fruit tart from Catering by Andrew (the only place I know of here to pick up good kosher patisserie)

Vic’s Salad

Vic's Salad

Vic and Joe (and the adorable Jackito) were my gracious and amazing hosts during most of my time in Panama City. Not only did Vic make a decadent “chocolate explosion cake” that we took on our Santa Clara private beach picnic, but she shared this version of an Israeli salad of tiny chopped tomato and cucumber, salted with olive juice and seasoned with parsley. It became an instant favorite and I’ve been making it since I came home.

Makes 3-4 servings

- 2 tomatoes

- 2 small kirby cucumbers

- 3 scallions

- 10-15 kalamata olives (pre-pitted is easier), liquid reserved (don’t throw it out!)

- flat leaf parsley, chopped

- 1 lemon

- 2-3 T olive oil (to taste)

- freshly ground pepper to taste

Finely chop tomatoes and drain some of liquid in colander while chopping remainder of vegetables. Finely chop cucumbers (some remove seeds and peel, but I don’t bother). Slice white and light green parts of scallions. Slice  olives into ~4 pieces each.

Mix vegetables together and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Veggies, olives, and parsley

Season salad with juice of 1 lemon, 3-4 T of olive juice, 2-3 T olive oil (I used Unió — this oil really tastes like olives!).

Serve right away.

***

And of course, as I’ve been cooking, I’ve been listening to tons of music, including a favorite artist that I happened upon about a year ago: Hadar Manor, an Israeli who found her way to London and began busking in the Underground. I bought her eponymous demo CD that arrived over the Atlantic with a handwritten note and demos for her upcoming album, “Crossing London” which has recently been released. Some of my favorite songs, such as “Ir Miklat” didn’t make it to the album, so I feel like I have a secret stash, and other faves like “Cook a Man” did. One that I don’t (yet) have and would like to share with you is called “Queen of the Underground.”

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