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Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors – it’s how you combine them that sets you apart.
– Wolfgang Puck
Yes, it’s finally food time.
The most delicious recipes from around the world vary from simple to complex. To every single one, there is a process and a technique with their own strictness and flexibility. From thousands of ingredients, there are millions of possibilities to give you the perfect culinary experience. The art of cooking lies in the right combination of all these elements and as a start, I’ll share with you today a distinctive but little-known example of that: a simple and exquisite dish from home, a Honduran masterpiece.
A dish whose origins have traveled seas and oceans
It was 1492 when America got discovered and 1502 when Christopher Columbus touched Honduran territory for the first time. Fast forward four-and-a-half centuries and you find a country with a blend of different cultures. Honduran gastronomy has constantly evolved since then, where globalization has played a big role in the development of our local dishes.
What you see in the image above may be only a tortilla filled with beans, meat, and other vegetables, but what I see is a beautiful infusion of cultures and a representation of hard work, efficiency, coexistence, and creativity.
Before the Baleada had a chance to exist, its wheat-flour tortilla-base was first introduced after the arrival of cookers brought from India and Pakistan to serve the executives of the then-newly-established banana companies. Through the attempts of these cookers of reminding themselves of home through food and sharing that with their local co-workers, naans and chapattis got popularized among locals and adopted as the more practical version of corn tortillas.
When creativity and initiative took charge
The Baleada may have some Indian-Pakistani influences, but the idea and integration of its ingredients are inspired from local gastronomy and adapted to the Honduran palate.
The Baleada sounds for all Spanish speakers a bit confusing since it means the [one who got] shot. The real origin of the name itself is not officially stated. However, two theories have survived throughout the years: The first one tells the story of a woman who had a food stand and got shot during a shooting near her stand. Word got around and after her recovery, locals began referring to her and her stand as “the one who got shot,” hence la baleada. This is a popular but rather false theory, which probably only proves the Honduran dark humor.
The second and most accepted one is based on the stories of the self-claimed creator of the dish and name itself, who is still referred to today as “doña Tere” and found at the same spot where everything started: in La Ceiba. The Baleada was born from the efforts of a mother trying to sustain her family. Aware of the hungry workers from a banana fruit company and late-night hungry party-goers, she targeted them as the perfect bait to grow and popularize her small business. Mission accomplished, but where does the name come from? Nothing less than an interesting metaphor. The Baleada is like a gun: “the beans are the bullet, the cheese is the gunpowder, and the tortilla is the cartridge.”
A street-and-fast-food favorite
The Baleada has become one of the best Honduran street-and-fast-foods. You can find hundreds of Baleada stands throughout the cities with eager clients lining up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner time. Besides it being a super cheap dish, it’s very easy and quick to make, it’s packed with a lot of flavors and has a very satisfying texture. You will hardly find a Honduran who doesn’t love a Baleada, maybe because you can adapt this beautiful tortilla with beans into having the flavor you are looking for.
We say in Spanish, “for every taste, there’s a color.” I prefer my Baleada with ‘carne asada’ (grilled meat) or chorizo, sweet plantains, avocado, and ‘chismol’ [chij’mol] (pickled onion, tomato, and bell pepper salad) or spicy ‘encurtido’ (pickled onions and jalapeños) – or even both.
The best baleadas I’ve had in my entire life come from the late-night food-stands near my neighborhood. Somehow food tastes even better after midnight! After moving to Germany, I’ve constantly been trying to mimic that flavor, bring back that memory, get that feeling and that smile I had every time I ate there. That’s the version I always try to introduce my friends and they to end up loving it.
I care to always explain how Baleadas are usually consumed, which’s the classic version and which’s the popular one. The classic is composed of four ingredients: wheat-flour tortilla, refried beans, Honduran sour cream, and Honduran dry cheese. Already amazing. However, we Hondurans love to add more and more flavor to anything possible, so we came up with the “Baleada con todo,” which means baleada with everything: a classic baleada plus scrambled eggs, red or white meat (beef, pork, chorizo or chicken), avocados, ‘chismol’ or ‘encurtido’.
With time I’ve improved my Baleada-making skills. I’ve come from preparing a Baleada twice a year to preparing it at least once a month. So after constant practice and pretty satisfied clients (a.k.a. friends), I’ve brought you my Baleada recipe for preparing the Baleada at your Kitchen Abroad!
The recipe might look extensive but it’s only being specific. For anyone cooking something different for the first time, details are essential, I know from experience. This recipe should make it very easy for you to prepare a Baleada (it is, afterall, really easy), but most importantly, this recipe should lead you a bite away from Honduras, a bite away from a tiny part of history, a bite away from an integration of different cultures, and a bite away from the love of a hard-working mother.
Food is not only essential for survival, it’s essential to honor and enjoy life itself.