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.
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.
- 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
- 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.