Published On: Thu, Oct 30th, 2014

Curaçao has culinary wisdom to impart – Stuffed cheese recipe, try it!

keshi_yenaAlthough much of the food on Curaçao is imported, the arid landscape is not conducive to growing much produce, the cuisine is considered one of the best in the Caribbean. Heavily influenced by not only Africans and Dutch, Curaçaoan food has been enhanced by the Jewish population there as well. Having been expelled from Portugal, Jews settled on Curaçao and have been major participants in the cultural and business growth of the country, and their culinary practices blended in with those of the island. As a result, Curaçaoan cuisine has its own style and nuances.

What can probably be dubbed the signature dish of Curaçao is keshi yená, or “stuffed cheese.” This dish is traditionally made with chicken, vegetables, seasonings, and raisins, which are stuffed into a scooped-out Edam or Gouda cheese shell. The “top” of the cheese is replaced and the whole is baked for at least an hour. In Colonial times, the Dutch masters would eat the cheese and “generously” donate the shell to their workers, and having to make due with what they had, the poor people of the island came up with this specialty. It is not only visually striking but unusually savory and redolent of Dutch influence. It is a “homey” dish that not many restaurants offer; however, if you look hard enough, you’ll find a few places that do serve it. Gouverneur de Rouville serves a slightly “fancied-up” version, baked in individual casserole dishes, and made with prunes and peppers. It is filling, sweetly aromatic, and oozing with a thick cheese top.

Two very popular dishes on Curaçao, and throughout the Antilles, are funchi and tutu. Both based on cornmeal, they are commonly served as side dishes or appetizers. Taken directly from African cuisine, these two dishes are still cooked in the traditional manner. Funchi is much like polenta, in that cornmeal is poured and stirred into boiling water seasoned with butter and salt. It is stirred with a spoon-like utensil called a mealie or funchi stick. It is most often left mushy and served in a mound, although sometimes it is allowed to stiffen and then shaped into dumplings, much like U.S. hushpuppies. Some fancy eateries will shape the funchi into ramekins or other molds. Tutu is like funchi but with the addition of mashed black-eyed peas and is mixed with a lélé. Bitterbal is also a popular Dutch-inspired dish. It is sausage meat formed into balls, coated in bread crumbs and fried, and is eaten for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Bitterbal and other Dutch specialties can be had at the conveniently located Iguana Café, which sits alongside St. Anna Bay.

Another treat that can be found in the Antilles is the rijstafel. Literally translated, this is a “rice table,” on which a buffet is set up with numerous dishes (anywhere from 10 to 25!) that are accompanied by rice. This was introduced by the Dutch, who in turn, picked it up from Indonesia, where they also ruled. Condiments are laid out on your table and you can season the food to your liking. If you’re the adventurous type, you might try something that is considered healthy fare on the island: Sopi di yuana, or iguana stew. It is believed that it will make sick people well and young men strong. Iguanas may look like prehistoric creatures, but word on the street is that they taste like chicken! I’ll spare you the iguana stew recipe but I’ll share with you recipes for keshi yená,
Bon Probecho!

KeshiYená (Stuffed Cheese) 

Adapted from The Jewish Kitchens of Curaçao

1 small Edam cheese (2 to 2½lbs)
2 lbs. shredded cooked chicken
3 tomatoes, chopped and peeled
2 sliced onions
1 garlic clove
1 chopped green pepper
¼ cup sliced olives
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon parsley
¼ minced hot pepper (or hot sauce to taste)
½ cup raisins and chopped prunes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
5 eggs

Slice the top off the cheese and reserve. Gently scoop out the inside, leaving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch shell. The cheese should resemble a hollowed out pumpkin. Sauté the remaining ingredients, except the eggs, in the butter; simmer for about 20 minutes. Beat 4 eggs and stir into the mixture. Spoon it into the cheese shell, replace the top and spread remaining beaten egg on top to seal. Grease a shallow baking dish and fill it with about 1 inch of water; set the cheese in the dish and bake at 350° F for 1 to 11/2 hours. The cheese will expand and flatten slightly but will keep its basic shape. Serve piping hot, cut into wedges. Leftovers are good reheated.


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