Nicaraguan cuisine is known as being hearty. Plantains, rice, beans, chicken, pork and beef are some of the main culinary staples of a Nicaraguan diet. The traditional dish Baho incorporates some of these elements but also uses traditional cooking methods that have been passed on for generations.
Essentially, Baho is pork and or beef steamed with yuca, plantains and other vegetables in a large pot lined with plantain or banana leaves. It is traditionally prepared for a Sunday afternoon or a special occasion. As I was visiting Ometepe Island during the Christmas and New Year and my family was hosting a fiesta, Baho seemed like the perfect main course. This meal for over 25 people was prepared by the very talented cook Marina, owner of the restaurant “Comedor Mi Ranchito” on Ometepe Island in Santa Cruz. I was intrigued by the whole process, and was lucky enough to have her as my teacher. Not only was the end result delicious (our guests loved it), but Marina and I also became good friends. Food definitely has the power to bring people from around the world together. I am very thankful for that!
Below is the description as to how Marina and I prepared Baho. It may be difficult for you to replicate at home… add that to your list of reasons to visit Nicaragua (and her restaurant).
It’s a Saturday morning, January 5th on Ometepe Island, and without much surprise it’s sunny, beautiful and 26*C. Marina arrives at our house, ingredients in hand along with two sharp knives. Without missing a beat, she walks into our kitchen, grabs the large pot of yuca and begins slicing the thick bark skinned root into reasonable sized chunks for cooking. Marina leaves the yuca soaking in water while explaining how to peel the vegetable and identify the best quality yuca. She shows me how to carefully slice the superficial layer to peel off the wooden bark skin along with the pink underside. Perfect yuca once peeled is solid white. If you encounter any green veiny lines in raw yuca with a yellow tint, it shouldn’t be used. After peeling the yuca, we gave it a rinse and left it to soak in water while moving on to prepare the plantains.
Marina’s Baho recipe calls for the green plantain – known for being starchy, along with the sweet yellow plantain. Before we begin to peel and slice the green plantain, Marina explains how the sticky sap of a plantain can discolour clothing. She then, very quickly, removes the green plantain skin by slicing it down the middle. The skin of these green plantains is kept to the side… to be used for layering the pot later. Marina then cut the plantain in half. While preparing the yellow plantains for Baho, they were cut into similar sized chunks to the yuca. The skin of the yellow plantains was left on.
After helping Marina prepare the Baho’s starchy components, she explains the marinade process for the beef and pork. Each type of meat was sliced into longer pieces with surface slices every few inches. For the pork, it is important to leave the fat on to ensure a flavourful cook. Marina had the meat marinating for about 24 hours in a mixture consisting of acidic orange juice, garlic, celery, sweet pepper and bay leaves. The pork marinade contained achiote (or annatto seeds). I must say it smelt delicious!
Next, we check on the rock fire pit outside, which my Dad assembled to perfectly fit Marina’s two very large cooking pots. Yes, this dish is cooked outside over a fire! According to Marina, hot embers are important for the perfect temperature fire.
Now the one thing we were missing was plantain leaves. Marina popped over next door and asked our neighbour if she could use a few to prepare Baho. We then, on our front porch, spilt up some of the larger plantain leaves into manageable pieces before beginning to layer the large cooking pots. Those green plantain skins put aside a few minutes ago were then used to line the pot’s base. The plantain leaves were placed on top of these plantain skins to line the cooking pots (about 4 leaves used on the base of each pot).
Marina strategically begins to stack ingredients into each pot, while explaining to me the yuca and meat are perhaps some of the most important parts of this dish. The base of the pot- the outer circle, alternates between green and yellow plantain (as the skin was left on the yellow plantain it will not affect the taste of the green one). The inner circle contains yuca. The same layering pattern is repeated, the first slab of meat (beef in this case) is placed on top of the yuca. The top of the pot is loaded with more yuca and then the rest of the marinated beef is placed on top. More plantain leaves are added to the sides of the pot, encompassing the entire dish contents in plantain leaves. Before covering the pot with a last plantain leaf, the meat is topped with chopped up garlic, celery leaves, tomatoes and onions cut in thick circular pieces and is seasoned with salt, cumin and bay leaves. We take this pot outside and get it cooking – as the beef Baho is expected to take 4 hours.
Roughly the same stacking pattern is repeated for the pork Baho pot, except the bottom layer mostly consisted of plantains while the second layer was stuffed with remaining yuca. In addition to the other toppings/ seasonings to finish off the pot before cooking, cilantro, jalapeño peppers and a bit of mint leaves were added to the pork. The pork Baho was expected to take about 3 hours to cook.
It is important to make sure enough liquid is in the pot to maintain moisture and steam the meat and vegetables, so we add one cup of water to each Baho pot. Next, we make a puree to be added to the Baho throughout cooking. In a blender, Marina adds salt, onion, a small amount of mint, garlic, celery, cilantro and sweet pepper. Perhaps the most interesting ingredient to her sauce – banana vinegar, that is homemade! Once blended, the sauce – green in colour tasted delicious. It was added to both pots outside, and at this point you can hear everything cooking, bubbling and boiling, while smelling the delicious ingredients in Marina’s Baho.
By 3pm, both pots of Baho were cooked and ready to serve. The meal was accompanied by a homemade coleslaw salad, along with red cooked beets.
Now what was my opinion of the final product? It was amazing (as you could tell by the picture). The pork and beef were flavourful, the yuca and plantains were cooked perfectly.
I am very grateful for my Nicaraguan cooking lesson with Marina. It was a once in a lifetime experience. In sharing Marina’s Baho recipe, I hope people will appreciate this traditional style of Nicaraguan cooking.
** Previously uploaded on “Adri and Gabby”