Our first evening after a long day of travel, included a dinner reservation at the French Steakhouse at the neighboring Manchebo Beach Resort. We were greeted by the manager and seated promptly. I chose the Keshi Yena appetizer (a local dish to Aruba) which was more than ample for a light dinner, accompanied by crispy polenta and plantain.
Spence chose the Blackened Mahi Mahi with jasmine rice and broccoli with a Creole sauce. Along with delicious rolls, it was perfection.
Adding to the ambiance, Eddy played piano splendidly, romantic music and gained two new fans. As we had settled our check and were preparing to leave, we were ushered back to the table where they brought a chocolate cake with a giant sparkler and sang happy birthday to Spence. Satiated, happy and tired, we walked the short distance back to Bucuti and turned in for the night.
Here’s my recipe for Keshi Yena, a true Aruban dish (and the story behind making it) – it’s incredibly delicious!
I made quite possibly the most unusual dish in my culinary journey for last night’s dinner. Let me recap how this came about. About 30 years ago, I traveled to Aruba with my stepbrother, meeting my dad and stepmom who were enjoying the winter at their timeshare. I’ve always wanted to return for a romantic adventure and just last week, Spence and I committed to a 2015 autumn vacation in Aruba. This week I’m visiting my stepmom and shared my travel plans soon after my arrival. Excited, we started talking about the food (not shocking for those who know me – a big factor in my travels) and she mentioned the Aruban dish, Keshi Yena. By the vacant look in my eyes, she clearly deduced that I’d never heard of this. She described it, I was intrigued. The following morning, I’d culled a number of Pinterest recipes and reviewed them with her. There were variances but we settled on one was closest to her memories, headed to the grocery store and made it last night. Can I just say here, OMG! It was AMAZING. Full of flavors, none overpowering just complimenting each other. I dreamt about it, I awoke thinking about it. And when I go to Aruba, of course, I will seek it out. The history relating to the origin of this dish is quite fascinating and I’ll share it following the recipe:
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into small pieces (I highly recommend a rotisserie chicken – light & dark meat, easily obtained in today’s world at most supermarkets. It truly amps up the flavor!)
1 lb Gouda cheese, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 Tbsp butter
1 large tomato, chopped
2 cornichons, minced (small dill pickles)
1 large green pepper, chopped 8 green olives, sliced (about 1 1/2 Tbsp)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 – 1/2 c golden raisins
1 Tbsp yellow mustard
1/2 c ketchup
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 c cashews, chopped/ground – use a food processor – if not, chop very fine
Step One: In a skillet, saute the onions and garlic in butter until they are softened. While that’s happening, prep the other ingredients – except for the gouda – in a large bowl and gently mix together.
Step Two: Add the meat mixture to the skillet and using two wooden spoons, incorporate the onion and garlic butter into it. Let this simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.
Step Three: I used a medium size, 2 inch deep oval casserole – square is fine – but deep is necessary. Butter the casserole or baking dish. Slicing your gouda, begin by placing a layer in the bottom of the dish – think “puzzle”, cover the bottom completely.
Step Four: Start ladling about half the meat mixture over the cheese “puzzle” in the bottom of the dish and cover completely. Now going around the entire rim of the dish, place slices of gouda along the inside perimeter of the dish, creating a two inch high “rim” of cheese around the edge of the meat mixture. (remember, it’s called Chicken Stuffed Cheese, you’re building up the cheese to surround the meat.)
Step Five: Add the remaining meat and complete the cheese “puzzle” on top of the casserole covering the entire top. It will look like this:
Bake at 325 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes. After removing from the oven, let it rest a minimum of 5 minutes before serving.
We served this in a bowl with a glass of Pinot Grigio which was the perfect pairing.
Here’s a bit of history that I found while researching the recipe, (source Huffington Post). When it came to the table, the Dutch liked their Gouda cheese, and their Edam cheese — both of them shipped to Curaçao in round formats. The Dutch “masters” couldn’t be bothered with the rind of these cheeses, so the milky-creamy part at the center of the cheese got scooped out and consumed; the hollowed-out cheese shells were returned to the kitchen as refuse. Often, the slave is wiser than the master; they certainly were in this case. The kitchen workers noticed other foods coming back from the dining room — such as pieces of chicken and other meats, left over from stews. It was a logical leap from there: Season the meats, add something a little sweet (like raisins), add some favorite island ingredients (today, olives are common), stuff the cheese shells with the meat mixture, and steam the stuffed cheeses gently in a bain-marie for a few hours. The result is a perfect marriage of cultures: the stolid creaminess of the North meets the lively spiciness of the South.