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!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Desayuno: yogurt de cabra con fresas

Usually in the States I eat the same breakfast: cereal. It is fast, it is simple, and it is yummy. However, here in Xela we lack the variety of cereals I am used to. Thus after my first box of generic Guatemalan corn flakes, I decided to move on to greener pastures. Since I have to be at the bus stop by 8am, I'm not willing to wake up early enough to prepare something that takes work. While buying tomatoes at the market a woman convinced me to buy some strawberries (I'm not a hard sell when it comes to food). I had gone the day before the Bake Shop which is a Mennonite owned bakery where they sell doughnuts, cookies, bread, cheese and yogurt. I love doughnuts. But I figured I should try to be healthy too so I bought some yogurt. I had never tried goat yogurt, so I was excited to see it on the shelf despite the fact that it was double the price of normal yogurt. I also stole some knockoff grapenuts from my roommate. !

Delicious, healthy, and beautiful!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

El Dia De La Pupusa

Sarah, Erika, and I have been on a crazy pupusa kick lately. Pupusas are a food from El Savador which are basically corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, chicharron, and/or loroco (a flower bud). They are made fresh and heated on a grill with a minimal amount of oil. I first fell in love with them in San Salvador where they sell them on the streets and in pupuserias and returned to Xela where I now regularly frequent the pupusa stand in Parque Central (which is greasier and yummier) and the Pupuseria (which Erika and Sarah prefer). It is accompanied by a cabbage salad called curtido and a simple tomato sauce.

Last Saturday I woke up and had the normal craving for a pupusa. Since I didn't have class to teach nor to take I decided to make pupusas. However, since it was early in the morning I didn't want salty so I decided to make a full day of it and make breakfast pupusas in the morning and regular pupusas in the evening. I was quite excited.

The recipe for the dough is simple:

2 cups harina de maiz
1 cup water ( I ended up using a lot more than this but this is what the recipe calls for)

Just mix it together adding water till it is moist and doesn't crack when you form a pancake. Form it into a ball and then make a indentation in the middle so it there is equal room all around and it is thin on the bottom of the ball. Fill with your choice of food. Roll it back up into a ball and try not to allow the filling escape. Flatten it into a pancake.

I started off with mashed bananas, peanut butter, and honey.

The first batch was a bit too thick and dry. Nonetheless, with enough honey it was a good start to the rest of my pupusa day.

After our hearty breakfast we took our weekly trip to Minerva to sift through the Pacas (loads of used clothes from the States for insanely cheap prices). Coming home with the prize of a new dress for 3 quetzales (about 40 cents), I was ready for my second helping of pupusas.

I started off making the curtido:

1/2 head of green cabbage
1/3 cup of vinegar
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 medium size white onion

I adapted it from a few recipes I found online. Here is one example:


Next I made the tomato sauce. All of the sauce I've had with pupusas seem like a simple puree of peeled tomatoes with salt. The recipe I found was a bit more complex and I love these flavors so I did fancy it up a bit:


In all of the pupusas I put cheese and refried beans, the tradition way. I had 3 types of cheese:a queso fresco I bought in the market, shredded mozzarella, and a crumbly drier cheese from the coast. None of the cheese melted enough for my taste, but they were still delicious. I experimented with different amounts of oil in the pan (I used olive oil, but they usually use vegetable oil) and I personally like the greasy papusas. They were still a little dry for my taste and I wished it had more filling. Although I had a great day, I think I'll stick to Parque Central for my pupusa needs in the future.

Buen provecho!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Curry Tofu & Rice

I just so happened to have the afternoon free last Thursdays and both my roommates were around so we decided to cook together. After chatting for a while we decided to try out some sort of potato curry dish. Then I realized we had leftover tofu we needed to use. I quickly learned my Dutch roommate, Sus, had never had tofu before! So, obviously we needed to amend our plans in order take Sus's tofu virginity. I went about searching my favorite food blogs and stumbled upon a perfect recipe to combine our curry idea with tofu. Check out the recipe:


It happens to have curry, coconut, and tofu! I had to change it a little bit since we didn't have all the ingredients. Instead of coconut milk I ran across the street to get a fresh coconut and we used the coconut water. Usually you can find little boys selling bags of nuts around but we lacked the cashews as well. We exchanged cauliflower for broccoli which we all preferred . The tofu was from a vegetarian restaurant and was very firm and absorbed lots of flavor. It was a tasty dish in all, but because we used coconut water instead of coconut milk it was definitely missing a creaminess. I had some natural yogurt from a local place called Xelac which helped. It was interesting dish in all but I wouldn't make it again without the coconut milk.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mi Almuerzo: Tacos de Desayuno

Hola amigos! I have officially completed my first week of volunteering! I'm volunteering as a health educator at Primeros Pasos, a health clinic in a Pueblo close to Xela, and taking classes in the afternoon. It allows me to have about an hour to buy food on the way home, prepare it, and eat it. Monday, after my first work day, I felt like breakfast tacos (actually they wouldn't be called breakfast tacos since eggs are eaten at all times of the day here...but anyways). So on my way home I stopped at a little tienda that sold eggs and tortillas, then grabbed some tomatoes and avocados at the market next to my apartment.

I started off with the beans. I diced some onion and garlic in oil for a few before I added red peppers then the canned black beans. While that was cooking I scooped out some avocado and simply added some salt. When the beans were done I scrambled a few eggs up in the same pan and then put it all together with some green onion and shredded mozz cheese.

Nothing too special or unique, but a meal that I think will be typical of my quick lunch breaks. Still very local, fresh, and healthy. How lucky am I!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mi Primera Cena en Mi Casa

One of the things I missed most when I was living with a host family was being able to cook. If you know anything about me, you know I love food and I love to cook. My long stretch of unemployment allowed me to experiment and cook often. I'm very excited to have my own kitchen where I can get back to my love of cooking. I'm lucky that my apartment is across the street from a fresh fruit and vegetable market. So I can get fresh and local produce right at my doorstep!

My roommate, Erika, and I decided to have a dinner party for our friends. We decided on an Asian dish. So we went to el mercado Democracia and bought all of our supplies. Chow mien is very popular here so that was easy to find. There are a few veggie restaurants where you can buy tofu so we bought some nice, firm tofu. Then the veggies: red peppers, green onions, garlic, snow peas, broccoli, y jalapeños. For dessert red bananas, fresh pineapple, y mandarins with honey.

Raw ingredients

Red bananas
Snow peas
red peppers
chow mein
sesame seeds

We had a great time eating, drinking, laughing, and speaking Spanglish. Thanks to mi Sarita who made delicious guacamole!!!!!


Hola amigos! Lo siento por mi ausencia. I'm sorry for my absence. I have now been in Central America for 4 months and have not written a thing on my blog. I have two more months left before I return and I hope to actually use this time to blog a little about my experiences here in Guatemala. I have just returned from a two week trip to the states and want to start off on a new foot. I think the right one. I am in a new apartment, will be starting volunteering, take some private Spanish lessons, cooking local food, and planning for the future. Welcome back and I hope to see you here more often :)