You Can’t Leave Aruba Without Trying this Dish
Just in time for the holiday season comes this easy recipe for keshi yena, the traditional dish from Aruba you’re sure to swoon for. I first tried this delicious casserole featuring spiced meat and melted Edam cheese at Aruba Ocean Villas in Savaneta, Aruba where Chef Annelotte Ellis served it in individual baking dishes and we dined at sunset overlooking the water. It offers a taste of history and culture in every bite.
One of Aruba’s best pastry and appetizer chefs, Chef Annelotte Ellis is recognized throughout the Caribbean for her artistry and creative use of local ingredients so I was lucky to have the opportunity to try her variation on this classic dish. We also got to try keshi yena pizza but that’s a recipe for another post. Although Chef Annelotte Ellis is now helming a new restaurant Delicious, it’s still possible for hotel guests to enjoy keshi yena at Aruba Ocean Villas. Read below for details on this.
Easy Recipe for Keshi Yena a Must-try Dish in Aruba
In many ways, keshi yena reminds me of picadillo, the traditional hash made with ground pork, ground beef, chicken (or all three) that’s popular throughout Cuba, Latin America, Mexico and Spain. The recipes vary from country to country (and each cook’s kitchen) but picadillo gets its signature layers of flavour from the salty-sweet mix of olives, capers and raisins.
History of Keshi Yena
With its spicy-sweetness and melted cheese, Keshi Yena reflects the culinary influences of Aruba’s diverse population – a fascinating mix drawn from the Caribbean, South America, Africa, India, Asia, the Netherlands and other European countries. Like many other traditional dishes, keshi yena has humble beginnings. It was originally designed as an inventive way to use leftover scraps from the kitchen, most notably the rind of a round of Edam cheese. Leftover meat was seasoned, spooned into the empty cheese rind and then baked or steamed, resulting in a round of slightly nutty, melted Edam cheese stuffed with piping hot spicy meat. All of which makes it a real crowd-pleaser and a dish you must try on a visit to Aruba.
For those of us craving keshi yena — but who don’t have a rind of Edam handy– it can be made by lining a baking dish with slices of Edam. Or, for a low calorie version, just mix generous helpings of grated Edam into the spiced meat mixture.
With the weather getting colder in Canada and northern USA, autumn is an ideal time to make this satisfying yet easy recipe for keshi yena for your next party, pot-luck or get-together with friends. This is my interpretation of the Keshi Yena I enjoyed in Aruba. Note that it doesn’t contain eggs and is gluten-free.
Serve it with toasted slices of French bread or cornbread. Whip up a batch of Siboyo Tempera (the addicting fresh onion and hot pepper salsa) to serve with your keshi yena. Get the recipe here: Siboyo Tempera
- 1 pound of chicken (white and dark meat) or ground beef
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 green pepper chopped
- 1 garlic clove chopped
- 1 Tablespoon raisins
- ¼ cup green pitted olives coarsely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon capers
- ½ Madame Janette pepper (or Scotch Bonnet)
- 1 Roma tomato seeded and chopped
- 1 Tablespoon ketchup
- 2 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 Tablespoon sweet relish
- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 Tablespoon parsley chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ pound Edam cheese
- If using chicken, prepare it in advance by simmering in water (with salt, water, onion, parsley which is later discarded), allow it to cool, remove from the bones and then shred it. You can also bake the chicken pieces (sprinkled with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning) in a 350 oven for 45 minutes, allow it to cool, remove from the bones and then shred it.
- Brown the shredded chicken or ground beef ( or a combination of both) in a heavy frying pan.
- Add the remaining ingredients except for the Edam cheese and parsley
- Simmer for 15 minutes
- Slice ⅔ of the Edam cheese into thin slices (optional. Omit if you're not lining the casseroles)
- Grate the remaining ⅓ of the Edam cheese and add it to the meat and spice mixture.
- Line the individual serving dishes with the slices of Edam cheese making sure they overlap (optional)
- Fill the dishes with the Edam, meat and spice mixture and top with grated Edam
- Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, sprinkle with parsley and serve hot with sliced toasted French bread or chunks of cornbread
Where to Stay in Aruba
For the ultimate in Caribbean dining, there’s nothing quite as memorable as enjoying keshi yena in an overwater bungalow surrounded by the sea. Boutique-sized Aruba Ocean Villas Resort (Old Man and the Sea) features six intimate villas, three perched over the Caribbean and three set directly on the private beach. If you’re planning a honeymoon and looking for the ultimate in privacy, these overwater bungalows offer an unforgettable couples retreat. The newest, #6 or Dushi Sue Villa (dushi means sweet), offers unique features such as a chandelier created of crystals and the branches of a divi-divi tree as well as a hammock slung at water’s edge.
Not only is an authentic Aruban breakfast included in each overnight stay at Aruba Ocean Villas but when you book on the website there is an option to book a 3, 4, or 5 course gourmet dinner with a private chef at your villa. And keshi yena should definitely on your wish-list to try.
Aruba Tourism Authority: Get maps, travel advice and other valuable resources on the official Aruba Tourism Authority website. www.aruba.com
Old Man and the Sea Ocean Villas: This collection of boho-chic bungalows and villas located in Savaneta are the only overwater villas and beach bungalows in Aruba. Stay overnight and swim in shallow water, watch heron diving for fish and enjoy fabulous cuisine for breakfast and dinner. Rates begin at $250 USD per night. Visit the Old Man and the Sea Ocean Villas online or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in more delicious recipes, travel tips and information about travel to Aruba? Check out these posts:
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