I asked for an innovative menu for using local Panamanian ingredients for a future cooking class, and Professional Chef, Juan Linares designed just the right dishes to showcase. Chef Juan is seen weekly at the Boquete Tuesday Morning Market serving his delicious soups, chili and regional dishes.

When I received the list of local ingredients Juan needed to use for the class, I found most of them were available in Boquete. How to use them to make a full-course dinner for Juan’s cooking class seemed a mystery to me. These are vegetables I see every day in the many markets in Boquete, but I couldn’t identify them by name. So, I asked for yucca by name, and the shopkeeper pointed to yucca. Same for plantains, raspadura, guandu and chayote.

I found the prices varied greatly, depending on which market I visited. It was interesting to find many of Juan’s vegetables on the bottom shelves in most markets, in unmarked bins. The blocks of raspadura were also found in among the vegetables. I usually pass up the things in the bottom bins, because I don’t know what they are or what to do with them.

That all changed last night.

Juan arrived in my kitchen a couple hours before the class was to begin. He quickly sorted, peeled and prepared many of the ingredients for the dishes he had planned to present. He began with the Guandu Dip and the Platanos Chips for dipping.

The Frozen Papaya Smoothie with Ginger Root and Light Rum went exactly right with the appetizer. After a smoothie, most of the students wanted to help with preparing yucca, chile powder, adobo and chayote.

Students brought their favorite knives and Juan demonstrated his expert knife skills to an eager group of onlookers, then everyone got into the act, even me.

As you look at these photos, do you see how much fun Juan had watching his students prepare “fancy” Panamaian foods? They stir-fried Chayote and Shrimp and made Yucca Bunelos with Raspadura Sauce. We all enjoyed the evening, thanks so much to Juan for sharing his very clever ways of using common, inexpensive ingredients to make a full-course, delicious, nutritious and beautiful dinner.

Most all Juan’s recipes for using these local ingredients will be included in the new “Boquete Gourmet Community Cookbook”, to be released next month in Boquete. Look for it soon! Cora