Baho, vaho or bajo, depending on languages and cultures, is a wonderful party dish from Nicaragua. It is the true cornerstone of the culinary influences of the country.
Prepared with marinated beef brisket (but also sometimes with veal liver), plantains, yuca (cassava) and various vegetables, the whole dish is then steamed for a long time in banana leaves. The word baho itself means “to steam” in Spanish.
This Nicaraguan dish mixes indigenous cultures with the Afro-Nicaraguan blend of the country. It is usually accompanied by curtido, a salad of raw vegetables with cabbages, tomatoes, vinegar and or lemon juice.
This is the traditional dish that is almost always served for Sunday lunch. It is prepared on Saturday for the next day so that the flavors of the marinade combine perfectly. Nicaraguans generally call this dish carne en baho and everyone loves it. Baho is a particularly friendly experience because when family and friends gather on Sundays to enjoy it, everyone brings their favorite fresh fruits to accompany them. This traditional cuisine and culture is called nica and is still very popular in the country that is in constant struggle with globalization and the popularity of fast foods among young Nicaraguans. Enjoying baho is a real deal. You start with a few glasses of passion fruit juice or rum served in fresh watermelons and then enjoy this hot dish, usually sitting in the garden.
How to prepare baho?
The success of the dish begins with the cutting of the meat that is called tapa barriga. It is a piece of beef brisket cut between fat and lean. A marinade made from bitter oranges is then prepared and the meat is marinated overnight. During this time, you prepare the cooking pot by arranging branches in the bottom of a pot to prevent the banana leaves to be immersed in the water. Their steam will slowly cook the meat, fruits and vegetables. Guayaba branches, a local tree, are usually used. Obviously, the branches are picked up here and there and are not on sale but most Nicaraguans have a small garden where a guayaba is planted. For banana leaves, young leaves such as those used to package nacatamales are used, the others being used to make plates and packaging materials.
Then comes the time to extract the meat from the marinade and start filling the pot with pieces of brisket, fruits and vegetables. Everything is layered and sprinkled with the marinade. Then, you close everything and cook for several hours on a wood fire. The preparation of this dish is long and tedious as is often the case for large festive dishes for which it is recommended to cook with others and get help. Everyone can participate and enjoy this Sunday lunch. Although the preparation is long, it does not require any finishes so you can relax quietly while the baho simmers on the fire and use this opportunity to discuss and have fun. At the time of the service, the guests all approach the pot to breathe the delicious perfumes, everything is perfectly melting and tasty. You would then place a piece of banana leaf at the bottom of a plate, cover it with meat, yuca and plantains and finish with the pickled cabbage salad that brings a lot of flavor and freshness to the dish. Beef fat has had the time to flavor the plantains and the cassava.
We have copiously feasted with this festive dish and we will probably make it again for our friends and family.
- 4 lb beef brisket , cut into thin slices
- 4 lb manioc (cassava)
- 6 plantains , ripe
- 3 plantains , green
- Banana leaves
- 2 cups bitter orange juice
- 5 cloves garlic , halved
- 5 large onions
- 1½ lb tomatoes , peeled, seeded and sliced
- 1 small red bell pepper , cut into slices
- 1 small green bell pepper , cut into slices
- ½ white cabbage , grated
- 4 tomatoes , peeled, seeded and cut into small pieces
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 small chili pepper , chopped
- Cut the onions in half.
- Generously season the meat with salt and put it in a bowl.
- Add the cloves of garlic, onions and juice of bitter oranges.
- Marinate for 24 hours.
- After the marinade, wash the meat very quickly to remove excess salt.
- Cut the onions used in the marinade into thin slices.
- Peel the cassava and all the plantains and cut them in half.
- Line a large casserole with banana leaves, leaving them overhanging so that there is enough to cover the preparation, leaving no openings between the leaves: the water must not enter.
- Then form 3 layers.
- First add the cassava.
- Then add the green and ripe plantains. Place them in a standing position (like ladyfingers when forming a charlotte).
- In the space in the center, place the meat and cover with tomatoes, bell peppers and onions. Close the leaves over to close.
Add about 2½ cups (700 ml) of water around and boil for 2 hours over medium heat.
- Then reduce the heat and continue cooking for 2 hours. During cooking, add more boiling water if the water evaporates too much.
- While cooking the meat, mix all the ingredients of the cabbage salad and keep it in a cool place.
- Baho is traditionally served on a banana leaf.
- Each serving consists of a piece of ripe plantain, a piece of green plantain, a piece of cassava and a portion of meat. The dish is finally topped with a portion of cabbage salad.