This post came about because I had an old bag of frozen peas whose time had come. I also had two black-ripe plantains that had to be used.
In March 1999 I went to Cuajinicuilapa, Guerrero, Mexico to attend a four-day conference called El Tercer Encuentro de Los Pueblos Negros de La Costa Chica, or The Third Meeting of the Black Towns of the Costa Chica of Guerrero. I heard about the people of African descent on the coasts of Guerrero and Oaxaca from Stanford University anthropologist, Bobby Vaughn. He told me about the Encuentro scheduled in March and that was all I needed. I booked a flight, flew into Acapulco, took a bus four hours south along the stretch of coastline in Guerrero that people call La Costa Chica -- as opposed to La Costa Grande which goes north from Acapulco and encompases all the luxury resort towns as Manzanillo, Zihuatanejo, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta.I checked into the Hotel Marín.The Encuentro was initiated by Trinidadian native, Father Glyn Jemmott, parish priest of El Ciruelo, Oaxaca. The purpose of the gathering is to bring the black towns together that dot the coastline from Acapulco down to Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca. There are lectures, music, displays of traditional Afro-Mexican dances, food, workshops and a wonderful feeling of community and camaraderie.On the second day of the Encuentro I took a break from the proceedings to walk along Calle Cuahutemoc, peering into the shops and buying an occasional length of oil cloth.One shop carried a miscellany of items -- laces, ribbons, dishes, rope, farming chemicals and feed. The woman behind the counter asked from where I came and asked what relationship I had with the Encuentro. When she found out that my interest was in food, she said, "Oh, you need to talk to my mother, she's a great cook and she can give you lots of recipes. Come back tonight and ring that doorbell".
That evening, as instructed, I rang the high doorbell and waited. The woman from that afternoon answered and let me into a large carport, down a hallway and up two flights of stairs. We walked into a large airy room that was open onto the street and consequently let in all the smells from the food stalls, the horns from the taxis and the general Friday night excitement. The daughter introduced me to her mother, Bertina Garcia Bernardino, who, eschewing the modern red-upholstered matching chair and sofa in their living area, languidly swung in a hammock and kept an eye on all the proceedings down in the street. Doña Bertina welcomed me and didn't waste time launching into her favorite recipes; Adobo Crudo, an uncooked marinade, Manchamanteles, a tablecloth-staining red sauce in which to cook a filet of beef: Mole Verde de Pollo, green tomatillo mole flavored with ground pumpkin seeds; Mixiotes de Barbacoa, individual parchment paper packages of chicken, garlic and chiles, steamed in a huge pot. She kept them coming, one after another, until I was glad I had invested in a hand-held tape recorder.
After her recitation she showed me her immaculate kitchen and, eyeing her "batterie de cuisine", I wondered how she could create so many dishes with so few implements and pots. On the wall was was a photograph of her as a young woman and a certificate of midwifery from a correspondence school in Miami! She talked to me about her children, her late husband, about how she had brought half of Cuajinicuilapa into the world and how she built her small hardware business downstairs. Doña Bertina even showed me where she had a birthing room built and where, still keeping her hand in the "birth" business, she kept a cryogenically sealed vat of bulls' sperm.
The recipe she gave me called for manteca -- lard, but last night I chose to use coconut oil.
4 Chicken breasts, cut into "fingers"
4 Tablespoons coconut oil (or butter and olive oil)
1 Large onion, sliced
4 Garlic cloves, minced
2 Ripe plantains, peeled and diced
1 Large carrot, julienned
2 Large tomatoes, peeled and cubed
4 Cups chicken broth
2 Ounces pimento-stuffed green olives
4 Medium waxy potatoes, peeled and diced
2 Ounces pickled jalapeño slices
8 Ounces frozen peas
Heat the coconut oil and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Set chicken aside. Add the onion and garlic. Add the cubed plantains, carrot, tomatoes and potatoes. Sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken broth and the jalapeño slices. Bring to a boil and cook for about five minutes. Return the chicken and juices to the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in a larger piece registers 160˚. Add the peas at the end and taste for salt.