Dash of Class: Panama native shares favorite dishes

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Food column by Nora Sweat

By Nora Sweat

As promised, we’re focusing on dishes of a foreign country, Panama. A dear friend of mine, Maritza Johnson, agreed to share three of her favorite Panamanian dishes.


Maritza was born and raised in Panama City, Panama, the southernmost country in Central America and the first European settlement on the Pacific coast. Maritza met her husband, Mike, while he was stationed in Panama and despite her mother’s warning she dated him.

A typical Panamanian meal usually includes chicken or other meats, rice and beans and is accompanied by local fruits and vegetables such as yucca, squash and plantains. The food of Panama’s islands and expansive coasts is vibrant with fresh seafood — The word “Panama” means “abundance of fish” in the native language —and tropical embellishments, such as mango and coconut. And coffee is an absolute must in Panama.

Panamanian cuisine ranges from the familiar to the ultra-exotic because of Panama’s diverse Spanish, American, Caribbean and indigenous influences.

Arroz con Pollo is one of the most popular dishes. Slow cooked Chicken served with rice and vegetables can be found in every restaurant in Panama.

Ceviche is the side dish of choice everywhere in Panama. The most popular Ceviche is made from raw fish, cut in little pieces and prepared with lots and lots of lime juice. Ceviche is also made with shrimp, squid or octopus.

Flan is without a doubt the most popular dessert of Panama.

Nora Sweat, author of “Mama and Me,” is a native of Hardin County and a retired home economics/ family and consumer science teacher. She can be reached at norasweat@thenewsenterprise.com or by mail at 408 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown, KY 42701.

Maritza’s Luscious Flan

¼ cup water

1 cup sugar

6 eggs

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

12-ounce can of evaporated milk

2 ounces of skim or whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add water to sugar and melt over low heat in a heavy non ferrous pan, stirring constantly until completely dissolved into a golden caramel color. Coat the bottom and sides of an oven safe mold with the caramel. Let cool.

In an electric blender or with a whisk, beat eggs first, then add all of the other ingredients and blend until well mixed. Pour mixture into cooled caramel coated mold, cover with foil, and make about 6 tiny holes in the foil with a toothpick. Place the mold in a pan filled with water deep enough to come up half way on the outside of the mold. Bake in preheated oven at 325 degrees for 1 to 1½ hours until a toothpick comes out clean.

Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

For flavor variations, 8 ounces of cream cheese and/or 1 teaspoon of lemon extract can be added when blending the egg mixture.

To serve the flan,use a knife to separate the flan from the sides of the mold. Place a serving tray over the top of the mold and turn it upside-down rapidly. Pour the remaining caramel from the mold onto the flan.

The flan can be garnished with favorite fruits and/or by grating half of a lemon peel over the top.

Shrimp Ceviche

1½ teaspoons salt, divided

16 ounces medium raw shrimp, fresh or thawed

10-ounce can of diced tomatoes

1 cup cocktail sauce

½ red onion, finely chopped

½ cup finely chopped cilantro

½ of a jalapeño pepper

½ cup of red or green sweet pepper

¼ cup fresh lemon juice or ¼ cup fresh lime juice

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (this can be omitted if a mild flavor is preferred)


Tortilla chips or Saltine crackers

2 limes cut into wedges

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and season with 1 teaspoon of salt. Add shrimp and cook for 3 minutes. Immediately plunge cooked shrimp into an ice water bath. Peel shrimp and place in a deep glass dish.

Combine diced tomatoes, cocktail sauce, red onion, cilantro, hot peppers and sweet peppers. Add lemon juice, lime juice, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and crushed red pepper. This sauce is best made the day before and refrigerated. Add sauce to the shrimp and with a plastic or wooden spoon combine ingredients thoroughly. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

The ceviche can be served in a deep glass bowl and guests can spoon it onto the tortilla chips or saltine crackers.

Or spoon ceviche (about 4-5 shrimp) into small clear cups or glasses and garnish with tortilla chips and lime wedges.

Arroz Corn Pollo (Rice with Chicken)

¼ cup lemon juice

1 cup chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

4-5 garlic cloves chopped finely (half for chicken, half for sauce)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 small can tomato sauce

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small jar pimiento stuffed olives

1 tablespoon capers

1 large chicken cut or chicken

quarters, skinned

2-3 cups medium or long grain rice

1 teaspoon saffron or turmeric

3-4 ½ cups chicken broth

2 cups frozen peas

1 small jar of diced pimento

Mix lemon juice with cilantro, salt, pepper and garlic. Pour over chicken, toss well and marinate for three hours. Sauté chicken until golden brown and set aside. Save the juices from the chicken.

In a large deep casserole, mix diced tomatoes and tomato sauce with the onion, rest of garlic, olives, capers and the juice from the sautéed chicken. Cover and simmer until thickened. This sauce can be done the night before if cooking for a crowd. Add the chicken and simmer until tender.

This can be served on a large platter with the chicken and sauce over the rice.

Romaine lettuce and avocado salad goes well with this dish.