Culinary Capers
by Fannie P. Hernandez
The Panama Canal Review - November 1969

Panama's cooking has been influenced over the centuries by the people of many nations.  The Spanish settlers, the Negro slaves, the French, Italians, Chinese, Hindu, and since Canal construction days, the Yankees, have left on the Isthmus vestiges of their cultures and their kitchens.

The culinary habits of Panama have been shaped by the fruits, vegetables, and herbs native to the country, the abundance of fish, and local animals and fowl.

The even, tropical temperature permists a large number of fruits and vegetables to be available throughout the year in Panama markets and at stalls along the roadside in the Interior.  Meat and fowl are plentiful all year.

Down through the years, Panama has developed its own "cuisine" replete with delicious dishes that are appetizing and distinct.  Seasoning is the secret in Panama's kitchens just as it has been since primitive cooks added a bit of this and that to enhance the flavor or texture of the daily nourishment.  Two flavoring agents work near miracles in Panamanian cookery, the "recao verde," and achiote.

The mere aroma of "recao verde," which fills the air with a sweet pungent bouquet, lifts ordinary food into the realm of epicurean pleasure.  "Recao verde" is a combination of herbs - sweet basil, cilantro, parsley,  and thyme, chopped onion, tomatoes, green pepper, and crushed garlic cooked in a little oil or butter.  It makes the difference when added to sauces, stews, meats, fish, fowl and vegetables.  Achiote, the brownish-red seeds found in the market and cooked in a spoonful of lard, adds the magic of color and mild flavor much like that imparted by paprika and saffron.

A menu for a special holiday dinner in Panama may include hors d'oeuvres of sweet sausages cooked in Malago wine, pejibaye -the red or yellow fruit that grows in clusters on a palm tree- or the favorite of favorites, seviche.  There may be a roast turkey or arroz con pollo, tamales steamed in tender banana leaves, baked plantain, mashed yucca and a dessert of "glory soup" or "flan."



1 lb. lean pork
1 clove garlic
2 small onions
1 cup Malaga wine
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup water
1 small bunch parsley
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cups brown sugar
2 cloves
1 stick cinnamon


Grind the pork with the garlic, onions, sprig of parsley, and powdered condiments and one tablespoon of wine.  Mix well and let stand for 2 hours.  Take a level teaspoon of the mixture and roll into balls the size of a marble.  In a heavy frying pan place the water, stick of cinnamon, cloves, and brown sugar.  When this boils, drop in the meatballs and add the wine.  Cook slowly, stirring often until the meatballs have absorbed the liquid and are dark brown.  Remove and insert toothpicks.  Spear a little parsley through the toothpick first to give it that gourmet touch.



To prepare the "bocas" (as hors d'oeuvres are called in Panama) of pejibaye, boil them in salted water for half an hour and peel.  Cut in half, discard the pit and fill the cavity with mayonnaise or butter. The nutty flavored fruit which is available from September to December, has the meaty taste of sweet potatoes or chestnuts and a slight flavor of peanuts.  It is especially good as a snack with cold drinks.

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On occasions such as Christmas and New Year's --  For a culinary adventure and a tasty treat, try this Panamanian-style dressing for the Thanksgiving turkey.  The following recipe should be sufficient to stuff a 14 pound bird.


2 1/2 lbs. fresh lean pork, cut in pieces
1 chopped onion
1 chopped tomato
1 tsp oregano
culantro, a few leaves
1tsp soy sauce
1 tsp Worcesershire sauce
1 tsp vinegar
salt and pepper to taste


Mix all the ingredients and place in refrigerator for about 4 hours. Then cook over medium hear until the meat is tender.  When cool put through a meat grinder and add:

1 cup raisins
12 olives
4 hard cooked eggs, chopped
2 tsp capers and 2 tbsp juice from capers

Mix well and stuff turkey and roast according to usual method.

Presented by CZBrats
November 20, 1998
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