Let's Talk Cooking and Ingredients
First, the good news. There are lots of interesting and useful local ingredients. In particular:
- Lots of type of fruit. That includes some temperate climate typicals such as melons, tomatoes and avocados plus everything tropical from banana to zapote. While you find lots of pineapple, mango, papaya and guava there are lots of other interesting things from matazano to guyabana.
- For root veggies, we have an assortment of not really that exciting potatoes (I am saying that because most potatoes in the world and not that interesting) plus malanga, kikiste and other root veggies that actually have flavor. Carrots are very common as well.
- While garlic is grown here, most of what you find in the markets comes from China. In any case, garlic, onions, and ginger are easy to find.
- Lots of greens from lettuce to mustard to broccoli are grown locally. If the demand is there, they will appear where you shop.
- Cashews and peanuts are local crops and are readily available. I have been told that almonds are grown here and I can buy little bags of almonds but I have not found a buik supplier.
- Corn, red beans and black beans are grown in much of the country. Black beans are grown mainly as an export crop (to Costa Rica) but you can easily find them in public markets, generally at a lower price than red beans.
- Chia and flax are readily available in spite of the fact that most people here don't seem to appreciate how useful these two products are.
There are lots of items that are packaged and imported. You won't find them in the pulpuria on the corner but medium-sized stores (Las Segovias and Del Hogar are good examples in Estelí) will have them.
- Garbanzos, lentils and split peas. These are from Goya. While you may think that means they are from Spain, they are probably grown in/imported from the US.
- TVP. Made in, as I remember, Guatemala and cheap. My concern is that it is made with GMO soybeans.
- Brown rice. This used to be hard to find (only Naturaleza in Managua) but it is becoming relatively easy to find in one pound packages imported from Guatemala.
- Olive oil. Lots of brands/types, all imported.
- Quinoa. This, to me, is the most important missing ingredient. Most of it is grown in Bolivia, an ALBA sister country so I assume this is a demand issue. A couple of years ago I tried and tried to find a supplier in Bolivia that had any interest in exporting to Nicaragua. No go. One huge exporter of organic quinoa told me that they export everything to the US so I should go shop there. Groan.
- Olives. You can buy cans of so-so olives but nothing exciting. I assume this is a demand issue as it was easy to find excellent black olives in bulk in Costa Rica.
- Tofu. It is made in Managua but I have never seen it elsewhere. Clearly a demand issue as it is easy to make (but not worth the effort for individual consumption.) My concern is that the soybeans available here are GMO.
- Mushrooms. Readily availabe in cans with the flavor or cans. This seems like a good business opportunity for someone in the northern mountains. (If I wanted a business, I think this would be an excellent place to start and, yes, I even have a basic plan that takes advantage of existing demand and distribution systems.)
- Tamari. That is, real brewed soy sauce without wheat.
- Miso. Particularly for vegetarians, an important ingredient.
- Kombu and other sea vegetables.
- Nutritional yeast. (This is another business oportunity for someone.)
I am sure I forgot some important items but, for me, that's a good start. For fresh produce items (bell peppers, basil, ...) it is just a demand issue. All can be grown here but are not items you can leave on the shelf until a customer comes in.