Cocadas are a popular snack and dessert in Panama. They are made from coconut flakes which are cooked until caramelised. The sticky mixture is usually moulded into balls but can also be made into bars. They reminded me of a common snack in Nigeria known as coconut candy. Similarly cooked until caramelised and formed into balls. Coconut candy is a popular street snack in Nigeria, likewise the Cocadas in Panama. I am simply amazed at how much culture transcends from Africa into several Central American cultures. Thanks to my Panamanian friend, Vivi, I was able to journey through this food culture of African descent. We added some extra bits here and there. Such as using cashew nuts to give the Cocadas an extra nutty flavour.
As this was my introduction to Panamanian food. Aside from the delicious Cocadas, we also made some “Arroz con Guandu”, rice and peas cooked in coconut milk. It reminded me of the different versions of rice and peas we have across the Caribbean and West Africa. Guandu is the pea used in this Panamanian dish. To go with the dish we made some plantains. As is similarly done in almost all cuisines that have African heritage. Plantain en Tentacion is what it is called, which translates to plantains in temptation and I’ve never heard a more accurate phrase.
How to make the Arroz con Guandu (Rice & peas)
- Vegetable oil
- 1 Onion
- A handful of Coriander (cilantro)
- About 1 1/2 cups of Long grain rice
- One 400ml can of Coconut milk
- 400g canned Guandu beans(Pigeon peas)
- Salt to taste
- Rough chop the onions and cilantro into small bits.
- Place a pan over medium-high heat and pour in about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
- Add the chopped onions and cilantro, stir and fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Wash the rice and add it to the pan, then pour in the coconut milk and water, just enough to cover the rice.
- Season with salt, stir together and cover with a lid. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Drain the can of guandu beans and rinse with water. Add the beans to the cooking rice and cook for a further 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and Its ready to be served.
How to make the “Platanos en tentacion” (Plantains in temptation):
- 3 Yellow plantains
- Handful of cinnamon sticks
- About half a cup of water
- about a 3rd of a cup of brown sugar.
- Vegetable oil for frying.
- Slice each plantain at a slanted angle into chunks.
- Place a large pan over medium-high heat, and add enough oil, just enough to cover the surface of the pan.
- Once the oil is hot, place the sliced plantain and fry on both sides until a little charred.
- Add water, sugar and cinnamon stick to the pan and bring to a boil.
- Simmer until you have a thick syrup coating the plantains.
- Remove from heat, serve with the rice and enjoy.
After enjoying a plate of “Arroz con guandu” and “Plantanos en tentacion; some cold Cocadas are the perfect dessert to complete the meal.
How to make the Panamanian Cocadas with Cashew nuts:
Extra nutty Cocadas (Caramelised Coconut balls with cashews)
- Cashew nuts (About 250g pack)
- Grated coconuts (about 1 or 1/2 cup)
- Honey (As much as you like or 250g)
- Water (about 1/2 a cup)
- Salt (Optional)
- Crush the cashew nuts into small pieces and pour in a pan over medium heat.
- Add the grated coconut, honey, water and a pinch of salt.
- Mix all together and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
- Once cooked, the mixture should have a dark caramelised colour.
- Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.
- Prepare to mould the coconut balls. Take a tablespoon, a bowl with water and a plate.
- Deep your palms in the bowl of water to get them wet, then use the spoon to scoop the coconut into your palm. Mould with your palms into a round ball and place on the plate. Do this for the entire pan of coconut.
- Place the plate of coconut balls in a refrigerator. Best served cold.