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A Mayan dinner party for 12.21.12 (+video)

Mayan end-time talk got you down? Forget superstition and learn something about today's Mayan culture with these recipes from the 'Flavors of Belize' cookbook.

By Kitchen Report / December 19, 2012

Panades are a typical Mayan pastry, stuffed with either beans, fish, or meat. They can be eaten plain or smothered in a spicy hot pepper onion sauce.

Matt Armendariz/McNab Publishing Ltd.

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There is a lot of talk about the Mayan calendar rolling over to Dec. 21, 2012 and simply coming to end, which has been translated by some as, that's it, folks. No more time, no more us. I can't say that I agree, since I've already received my 2013 work calendar and everything there seems to be in order just fine. For a more reasoned, scientific explanation, you might want to check out NPR's report, "A Guarantee: The world will not end on Friday."

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Staff editor

Kendra Nordin is a staff editor and writer for the weekly print edition of the Monitor. She also produces Stir It Up!, a recipe blog for CSMonitor.com.

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My first brush with Mayan culture was when I hopped off a cruise ship in Cozumel in 2006 and explored the Chacchoben Mayan ruins. That's where I found a rather modest exhibit sign next to one of the many-stepped pyramid temples indicating that the Mayan calendar would finish up in six years. It tried to be reassuring that while some people interpreted this to mean the end of time, it could also be seen as a restart. A clean slate for all of us.

I'd like to suggest that you give both theories a rest and instead actually learn something about Mayan culture. A good place to start would be with Flavors of Belize: The cookbook created by Tanya McNab and Shelley Bowen Stonesifer. First of all, the Mayans haven't vanished. There are by some estimates some 7 million Mayans alive and well living throughout Guatemala, southern Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras.

In "Flavors of Belize," Mayan culinary traditions are explored alongside those of the British, Mestizo, Creole, Chinese, Lebanese, Garifuna, and more. Belize is a melting pot of all these cultures and this cookbook is an attempt to showcase the best of them, relying on renowned chefs and cooks to share their recipes.

My own second brush with Mayan culture came when I spent a week in Belize learning about the chocolatemaking process – from cacao bean to chocolate bar. After spending one morning tromping around 30-acre cacao farm in the rainforest, we headed to the farmer's homestead for lunch. Afterward we huddled under a pavilion with a rustic, knee-high stove. Some of us perched on plastic lawn chairs, others leaned against the smooth posts that rimmed the edge, and watched as the farmer's adult daughter made us a traditional Mayan chocolate drink.

First, she scooped dried cacao beans onto large sheets of metal balanced over the open flame. She used a dried corn cob to stir the beans to ensure each one felt the heat from the metal to draw out the base, earthy flavors of chocolate.

When the beans were fully roasted she dumped them out on a squat table and used a small round stone to crack the shells off the beans leaving behind cacao nibs. We all took a turn pounding the pile of beans.

Next came the winnowing process, sifting the exposed beans through a mesh pan to allow the lighter outer shells to blow away, leaving behind the meaty nibs. The nibs were then passed through a hand-cranked grinder. This is hard work. The warm jungle air felt even hotter with the heat from the nearby fire and beads of sweat flew as we ground the cacao into chocolate paste.

The smooth paste was shaped into round patties. These were stirred with water, raw sugar, and pepper in large colorful plastic jugs to make the famous Maya chocolate drink.

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