The two years I spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural village in northern Belize taught me to embrace the unfamiliar—and that included adapting to an entirely new cuisine.
Early on, I missed the variety of my American diet. I longed to stroll up to a cheese counter and discover something new from an ever-changing display case. But I quickly realized that in my new village of Libertad, cheese came in only two forms: hard and soft. The former was an unassuming yet satisfying Edam—a Peace Corps budget splurge at six dollars per pound. The latter was a mild processed block from Austria called Happy Cow.
Not much by way of choice, but as I integrated more into the community, things changed. Invitations to birthday parties, quinceañeras, and Holy Communions became part of my routine. At these celebrations I discovered soft cheese’s most magical form: the ubiquitous “cheese dip.” A straightforward mix of four ingredients, it was simple yet undeniably gratifying when paired with homemade tortilla chips. As Belizean cuisine became my new norm, nothing excited me like the promise of cheese dip at the next community event.
After returning from Belize, I moved to New York City, where the range of fare is truly boundless. But despite the wealth of options, I sometimes find myself craving the simple-yet-familiar. Those two varieties of cheese once seemed so limiting, but now I seek them out. And restaurants serving hot queso just don’t do it for me; only properly made, chilled Belizean cheese dip transports me back to that time in my life—an era of community and comfort.
Belizean Cheese Dip with Homemade Tortilla Chips
- CHEESE DIP:
- 8 ounces processed white cheese such as Happy Cow, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 12- ounce can evaporated milk
- 8 ounces salsa casera or other salsa
- 2 or 3 slices pickled jalapeño optional
- TORTILLA CHIPS:
- 1 pound corn tortillas
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2 tablespoons lime juice optional
- Kosher salt to taste
- CHEESE DIP: Combine cheese, evaporated milk, salsa, and jalapeños (if using) in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days before serving.
- TORTILLA CHIPS: Spread out tortillas in a single layer on 2 baking sheets. Set aside at room temperature overnight.
- Fill a large skillet with ¼ inch of vegetable oil and warm over medium-high heat.
- Quarter tortillas. Working in batches, fry in a single layer for 30 seconds, then flip tortillas. Fry until oil stops bubbling around tortillas and they look dry, about 1 minute.
- Remove chips from oil and drain on paper towels. Once cool, sprinkle with lime juice (if using) and salt. Serve immediately, with chilled cheese dip.
Photo Credit: Adria Zern (village), Eileen McGowan (cheese dip)