Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Most people are familiar with the tamales from Mexico. I know my Chicago folk greatly appreciate the tamale man-a guy who goes around to the bars late at night with a cooler full of tamales. The standard Mexican tamales has the corn masa, the meat, and the corn husk-pretty simple. Guatemalan tamales are quite a bit more complex and, in my opinion, tasty. First off, instead of a corn husk, a banana leaf is used to wrap the tamale. Also, there is a very intricate pepian-like sauce that is heaped on top of the masa which gives it the robust flavor. Another main difference is the different vegetables used. In the tamales I ate, a mixture of olives, red peppers, peas, carrots, and potatoes were deliciously combined and steamed to perfection.
My first experience with Guatemalan tamales was on Halloween. Tamales are served on special occasions because, as I later learned, they take a long time to make. They were served with pieces of white bread, which I chose not to do. The second time was with a host family as leftover new years eve dinner. Both were delicious.

In preparation, I called ahead to make sure Pete's Produce carried frozen banana leaves (too bad there is no market in Chicago to get fresh banana leaves from the corner lady). Luckily, Pete's had everything I needed: masa de harina, banana leaves, vegetables, and the ingredients for the pepian sauce: dried ancho and guajillo chiles, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, onion and garlic. I found recipes at two different sites:



To make the sauce I toasted the peppers, their seeds, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds for about 10 minutes before adding them to the mixture of water, tomatoes, garlic, and onion. I pureed it and had my sauce. The next step was to make the masa. I mixed the water, masa, and salt over a low heat until the handle of the spoon stood upright in the masa. I chopped up the many vegetables I ended up buying (after a second trip to another grocer) including chayote, potato, sweet potato, yucca, olives, red peppers, and carrots. I then defrosted the frozen banana leaves with hot water and was ready to put the pieces of my tamale together. First, I plopped down a good bit of masa, followed by sauce, followed by vegetables, and another dollop of sauce. Then I folded the banana leaf like a present making sure there were no cracks in the leaf (or if there was, it was reinforced by another leaf) and tied it with a some random twine lying around the house. Lining the bottom of the steamer with leaves, they cooked for about an hour until they were ready. The result was much like I remembered: a soft combination of complex flavors. Yummy!


I also want to give a shout out to......

my mom, the sou-chef.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Traigo a casa Guatemala

Leaving Guatemala, I knew I would miss so much about the home I had made for myself: my friends, my job, the rides on the chicken bus, awakening to the smell of burning garbage and the crow of the rooster (yeah the last two not so much). The end of my Guatemalan culinary journey was one of the things I knew I would miss the most. As I had boasted in my previous post, living in Xela provided me the opportunity to cook and eat fresh, local, in season, and a great variety of foods. Living next door to a market didn't hurt things either. Although I missed certain products like quinoa and soba noodles, it was a fun and exciting challenge to work within the local products readily available. I was, in part, excited to return to the fancy foods like quinoa (which I have already enjoyed a few times being back in the States) , I miss meandering the stalls of Mercado Flores and haggling for tomatoes. Luckily, a Pete's Produce Market opened very close to my mom's house which has many Mexican items typically found in Guatemala. I wanted to show my mom what comida tipica from Guatemala is. So I ran to Pete's Produce and grabbed some chayotes, yucca, and black beans.

I stewed the black beans with onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes then re-fried and blended them. I wanted it to be authentic, so I thought back to how I was served chayote in my host families and tried to repeat it.
I boiled the chayote and peeled it. I cut slices as thin as possible (which weren't very thin unfortunately). I sandwiched queso fresco between two slices, dipped it in an egg mixture, then pan fried it.
I really wasn't sure where to go with the yucca. I've enjoyed mashed yucca, yucca pan fried patties, and yucca fries. I started off by cubing then boiling them. I removed the stringy parts and then mashed it. The main issue was that it was pretty dry. I decided to form them into patties and throw them into the pan after I had fried the chayote. I felt it would have been better to leave it mashed and add some liquid, but it was still okay. I served the meal with some avocado.

The next morning I used the leftover beans to make a Guatemalan breakfast. I made an omelet with tomatoes and queso fresco. I pan fried some plantains which turned out to be very dry and tasteless.

While visiting my sister, the culinary school graduate, in Boston, I wanted to show off the new recipes I learned in Guatemala. I visited the Haymarket to buy some chayotes, yucca, and some spinach. I stewed the black beans with seasonings (cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, s & p), tomatoes, and spinach. They were definitely the biggest hit on the plate with plenty of flavor. I decided to try something new with the chayote. I found this recipe which claims to be authentic from Guatemala. I followed the recipe pretty well except instead of using breadcrumbs I used crumbled matzo since my sister and her boyfriend were observing Passover.


I found the chayote difficult to mash thus I think it would have been better if I had blended the chayote before stuffing it.
Again I was befuddled on what to do with the yucca. I thought about making yucca fries but I didn't want it to be too greasy. All the pictures of baked yucca fries looked too dry. I figured I'd try to go my own way. I cubed, boiled, and de-stringed the yucca. I made a mojo de ajo (olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and lime juice). Again, it turned out dry and flavorless.

Bringing Guatemala home makes me miss my old home a little less. Although I cannot cook comida typica anywhere close to any Guatemalan, it was nice to show my mom and sister what I had eaten the last six months. I've decided chayote is not my vegetable. I hope they do not exist in Ecuador. However, I would really like to succeed with yucca. Any recipes or suggestions?

Coming up next....Guatemalan style tamales in banana leaves....wish me luck!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Los Mejores Restaurantes in Guatemala

Xela is a gringo-friendly town. Thus, there are plenty of restaurants that cater to a diverse range of appetites. Most of these are not particularly something to write home about, but there are a few gems. Pasaje Enrique is a building across from Parque Central with numerous restaurants, bars, a hostel, and travel agency. My favorite place there is called Salon Tecun. Boasting itself as the oldest bar in Xela, Salon Tecun has a wide variety of food on their menu. However, I wouldn't know this because every time I go, I order pizza. Because it is delicious. And yummy. And scrumptious. I can tell your their fries are pretty good because they came free with a half a bottle of vodka, but trust me, go for the pizza. They have lots of options with crazy ingredients and interesting combinations. My first weekend in Xela Steve and Dave brought me here to watch football. Dave and I split a pizza with olives, broccoli, and hard-boiled eggs. It was my first time eating hard boiled eggs on pizza, and I really enjoyed it. I also tried their spicy margherita pizza which wasn't very margherita like with olives, jalapenos, and sliced tomatoes. For my last dinner in Xela, I decided to finally go for the eggplant pizza. I find eggplant can be delicious when done right. I've seen it sold at the market and on menus all over Guatemala, but I was always too afraid to try it in Guatemala. To be honest, I avoid it in a lot of places in the States because I find it often just soaks up the oil and lies flat on flavor and textures if not prepared well. But it was my last night and I knew I would regret it if I didn't try it. I felt guilty immediately that I had doubted Tecun's pizza abilities. Matched with sundried tomato and mint. It was a delicious way to say goodbye to Xela. I will miss you Salon Tecun Pizza!

One drink you can always count on in Guatemala is a delicious, refreshing liquado-a smoothie. The abundance and variety of fresh fruit available at all times and blenders makes for a wonderful combination. At most restaurants liquados show up on the menu for about 8-16

quetzales ($1-2). They offer them with water, milk, or yogurt. I started out drinking lots of mango, pineapple, and strawberry liquados, but ended loving watermelon. I had though watermelon would be a strange texture in a smoothie, but on a hot day, it is very refreshing and hydrating. At Lago Atitlan, for my last weekend, I was obsessed with drinking cheap, refreshing, and healthy watermelon liquados

My last meal with Paula, my roommate, in Antigua was perfect. She was in the mood for Thai, so we wandered the streets for a while unsuccessfully. We ended up running into Fonda de la Calle Real. Despite being touristy, it was very cute and had a beautiful ambiance. There was a kitchen in front of the courtyard where the tables were set up so you could watch your food

being cooked. The veggie entrees were not terribly priced for such a nice, touristy place at 57 quetzales (about $7). I was very excited to see Pepian sauce, a traditional Guatemalan dish, matched with veggies rather than meat. The second dish was grilled vegetables in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For dessert we ordered plantains in mole sauce. It was dark, complex, and chocolaty. I was so satisfying to have one of my last meals so elegant, authentic, and delicious!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mi Despedida

Its so haaaard to say goodbyyyyyeeee......

Besides volunteering, I have spent the last 3 months cooking, discussing Spanish grammar, exchanging cultural experiences, goofing off, watching tv, traveling, growing, and living with three amazing roommates in our cozy little Xela apartment. It all started when Erika and I decided we couldn't stay in with host families anymore (although families are great curfews, lack of control of food, inability to cook, and the lack of a common area to relax became very difficult after 4 months). After a week or two of searching we came upon Casa Latina, a tranquilo little apartment above small Spanish language school. It was clean, had wifi, comfortable enough beds, a kitchen, television, an amazing balcony with a view, hot water (in the sinks too!!), and-get this- you could flush the toilet paper. It was amazing and were were so excited.

One of the owners is from Holland so Saskia, a friend of hers, had also moved in when I returned from Atlanta. Soon after, Paula, another Dutch chica arrived to make our group a foursome. We all got along swimmingly. When it came time to say goodbye, there was no better way to do so than with food. The night before Saskia left to travel and a week before I left the country we had our goodbye dinner. Paula made the salad: cucumber with her delicious honey mustard dressing made from scratch. Erika made the refried beans and Saskia made the dessert. I prepared the main dish: enchiladas (from Mexico-very different from enchiladas from Guatemala which are tostadas with a mayo covered vegetable salad or meat).

I started with a roasted tomatillo salsa:

1 pound of tomatillos roasted
5 cloves garlic-roasted
salt to taste
lime juice (about 1.5 medium size limes)
enough water to make the correct texture
1 small white onion
either 1 jalapeno with seeds or 3 small serrano chiles-mine ended up being medium heat

As you can see, I husked, rinsed, and roasted the tomatillos in a pan along with garlic for about 7 minutes. It took a few rounds to roast all of the tomatillos. I threw in the rest of the ingredients in the blender and added water slowly until I achieved the desired thickness. The cilantro ended up giving it a tangy flavor because it was a bit old or a bit too new....not sure.

Next, I cooked up some güicoy ,which are like small green pumpkins and taste a lot like zucchini, with onion and garlic. Then I put two pans on the stove over low-medium heat and added a cup of the salsa to one and a cup of salsa with vegetable broth to the other. I used the pan with only salsa to dip in the corn tortilla (I bough some that were made by machine in a local store rather than the thicker hand made tortillas). I followed this recipe below and heated the oaxcan cheese in the salsa, then put it into the tortilla with some of the vegetable mixture and topped it with queso fresco.


Here you see the enchiladas accompanied by refried beans topped with queso fresco. Also some wine (thanks to Erika
and MeMe), mini floral arrangements, and cucumber salad.

Saskia spent a lot of time and effort to make delicious cookies. I especially enjoyed the preparation because I got to lick all the bowls and spoons!

As I sit in my hostel on my last night in Guatemala I realize it was not only my love for the country, but the amazing people I shared it with that made this experience so meaningful. I love you ladies and will never forget the times we spent together. Ya les extraño.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Festival de Carnaval

So apparently Xela parties pretty hard for Carnival. The festival was about 2 minutes away from my house and on my way to the bus stop. Thus, I was lucky enough to see the dilapidated carnival rides, closed up stands covered in Disney bed linen, and smell day old fried foods bright and early every morning. The carnival rides were a show in themselves; the typical ferris where, merry go round, and other children's rides were there, but they were chipped, discolored, faulty looking, and plain old creepy.

The characters on the kid's rides included Ronald McDonald, some male character from a Mexican tv show with pigtails and freckles, and rip-off Pooh bear with a button down collared shirt, and other strange looking animals. It was an overwhelming and interesting festival with lots of colors, noises, and smells. But lets get to the part that I'm really interested in: the food.

All of the typical suspects were there: hot dogs, hamburgers, eggs & beans, meats, and tacos.

If you look closely at the right upper hand corner you can see some women killing a turkey. Fresh food, eh?

Okay now let's move onto dessert....

Chocolate fruits are an everyday norm offered on every block in Xela. But usually they have chocobananos, pineapple, strawberries, or cake. At the festival they had apples, pears, marshmallows, and pretty much any other fruit you can think of covered in chocolate with either nuts or sprinkles.

There was also sugar cane to chew on, peanuts, lots of colorful candies.

And for my favorite part...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sopa Rica: Aguacate

I stumbled upon some avocado recipes while wandering around NPR.org checking out the news of the day. I've stayed away from making soups due to a lack of a blender or food processor, but I figured I could mash avocado enough so that the soup would have a soup-like texture. All of the ingredients were easily found on my doorstep at mercado flores. It was easy enough to make yet had a wonderful mixture flavors: avocado, cilantro, lime, queso fresco, and a little spice. I replaced the chicken broth with water since I have not yet found vegetable bullion yet. Here is the link to the recipe:

As a topping I used the fried tortilla and queso fresco suggested, but also added some tomatoes and cilantro. It was fresh and absolutely delicious! I look forward to making it again soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

El Dia De Cariños

With my boyfriend thousands of miles away, a virtual date was the best we could do for Valentine's day. Steve had planned on making tomato pie with his mother so I tried to adapt the recipe to what was accessible here in Xela. Here is the recipe:


The main obstacle was my lack of an oven. In place of the crust I molded some masa de harina into a pan. Instead of baking the veggies , I cooked them in olive oil over the stove before putting them into the tortilla crust pan over low heat. I also added a green, pumpkin like vegetable since the only veggie the recipe called for is tomato.

I tried to make a heart shaped tortilla which, as you can see, was a bit of a failure. It's the thought that counts, right? I thought the mayo was a little strange, but the rest was not bad. The tortilla crust turned out better than expected.

This was Steve's version. His crust was definitely much cuter, and flakier. It also looks nice and gooey. He used cream cheese instead of mayo which I wish I had also done.

We enjoyed our tomato pies over a glass of wine and a computer monitor. Not ideal, but it was nice :) Hope everyone had a great valentines day filled with love for themselves and those around them. I miss and love you all!!