Sunday, November 15, 2009


I've been looking forward to Guatemala since the blog began. It is the first of the countries we've covered that I've actually been to. My love for this country began when I was in college. Two friends of mine and myself were planning to make a winter break trip outside the country, but we hadn't pinned down exactly where we wanted to go. Being college students, we didn't have much cash to blow. So, we decided to take a flight to the cheapest destination. That turned out to be a flight from Indianapolis to Cancun, Mexico. None of us wanted to stay in Cancun, so we took a bus south through Belize and into Guatemala. Despite the stress of figuring out the country's complicated chicken bus routes,, and the difficulties we would have in changing so many kinds of currencies at borders, I had such a great time that I made the exact same trip the next year with another friend. I could go on about my good times in that country all day.

But enough about that, this is a food blog after all. And Guatemala has a lot of great food. The majority of Guatemala's cooking is influenced by the country's rich Mayan heritage. Much like Mexico, the Pre-Columbian staple foods of beans, corn, and tomatoes tend to work their way into just about every meal. Unlike their Mexican neighbors and much to Amy's relief, the Guatemalans don't use nearly as many hot chilies in their cooking. This came as a shock to me as I crossed borders and immediately noticed that the salsas no longer burned my mouth. Although they cut back on the heat, the food does maintain a lot of flavor.

For this meal we decided to have more people than usual over for the dinner and relocated it to my larger former Apartment where our good friend Carl still lives. As a theme we settled on making it a Pre-Columbian thanksgiving of mostly indigenous ingredients in enormous quantities. What follows is one of the largest feasts that can be thrown together with about twenty dollars.

Refried Black Beans

Quite possibly the greatest food to feed a large group of people at little cost to yourself. Two pounds of black beans make a mighty six pounds of goodness. Nearly every market stall I ate at in Guatemala served me some rendition of this very basic dish. To truly save money make sure to use dried beans, but if you are pressed for time or just feel lazy, canned beans work fine as well.

2 lbs dried black beans
Thyme and rosemary
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp salt
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Soak the beans in plenty of water over night.
2. Drain the water and rinse the beans thoroughly. Sometimes I find rocks in mine.
3. In a large pot cover the beans with plenty of water again. Add the herbs. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover for 1.5 to 2 hours or until the beans have become nice and tender.
4. In a food processor grind batches of the beans with a bit of water to loosen them into a smooth mixture.
5. Add the ground bean mixture to the pot and mix in the olive oil with a wooden spoon.
6. Bake the beans in the oven uncovered at 375 for 45 minutes and serve garnished with queso fresco or any other crumbly cheese.

Carrot and Radish Salad

Most vegetables I was served in Guatemala tended to be very simple preparations. This recipe took about 3 minutes to prepare. It provided a nice relief from the large amount of heavy food in the meal.

2 medium onions thinly sliced
1 lb carrots skinned and julienned with either a processor or box grater
1 lb radishes julienned in the same manner
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp salt

Combine everything, taste for seasoning, and serve.

Stuffed tortillas

I first had these at a street cart. They work just as well in my oven. And they were a great way to feed vegetarians.

For the tortillas:
24 fresh corn tortillas
1/2 pound queso fresco
1/2 pound queso chihauhua
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
1 medium onion finely chopped
salt and pepper
4 eggs
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup oil

For the sauce:
3 tomatoes finely chopped
3/4 cup water
1 0nion
1 red bell pepper

1. Warm the tortillas in a 300 f oven for five minutes.
2. Shred the cheeses and combine with onion, bell pepper, salt and pepper.
3. Whisk the eggs with the flour.
4. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Stuff the tortillas with 2tbsps of the cheese mixture into half moon shapes, dip them in the egg mixture and fry them quickly in the skillet until lightly browned. You'll do this in a lot of batches. Add oil as the pan dries out.
5. Combine the sauce ingredients in a sauce pan and gently bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes. Mash the tomatoes into a smooth sauce or run through a blender.
6. In a deep oven proof baking pan, layer the stuffed tortillas with the tomato mixtures poured between layers.
7. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Serve.

Squash and Cheese Tamale

No recipe for this as of yet, but Carl was compelled to cook as well since the dinner was at his home. I'll have the recipe for this delicious banana leaf tamale soon!

Pulled Turkey in a Rich Pumpkin Seed and Sesame Sauce

Mayan food is not all simple tastes. No Pre-Columbian meal would be complete without the great indigenous bird that we are all familiar with. This old Mayan recipe provides a great departure from the standard roast turkey we're usually served at this time of year.

1 12 lb turkey
10 cups water
1.5 cups sesame seeds
1 cup squash seeds
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups tomatoes
1 cup tomatillos
1 tbsp arbol chiles ground
5 ancho chiles seeds removed
6 guajillo chiles seeds removed
1 red bell pepper
1 tbsp achiote paste
1 cup bread crumbs
Salt to taste
Rice and tortillas for serving.

1. Break down the turkey into breasts, wings, legs, and thighs. When cutting through the joints I found a pounding the back of my chef knife with a mallet helped me cut through the dense joints. Set aside the skin and back portions for making stock or discard if you're feeling wasteful.
2. In a very large pot bring the water to a boil and add the turkey. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat and cover. Cook over low for an hour and a half.
3. Strain out the turkey parts and set aside to cool.
4. Toast the sesame and pumpkin seeds at 375 in the oven for ten minutes, and soak the guajillo and ancho in warm water as the seeds cook.
5. Grind the seeds in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Drain the chiles and put into a blender. Add the tomatoes, tomatillos, pepper, tomatillo, achiote, arbol, and powdered seeds.
6. Process the mixture into a smooth paste adding a bit of water until a smooth paste is achieved.
7. Once the turkey cools pull the meat from the bones and toss the meat back into the pot with the water it cooked in.
8. Add the paste, bread crumbs, and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered over low heat for another hour or until the sauce is thick and rich. Salt to taste and serve with rice and tortillas. This could probably feed 30 people!

Rompope: Guatemala's Spiked Egg Nog

Once again we drank our dessert. It was very heavy and was probably unnecessary given the size of the dinner. But since winter is around the corner I thought it would be nice to start the season off with it.

5 eggs...mmmm
1 12 oz can of condensed milk
1 coffee mug of dark rum
7 ice cubes

Combine everything in the blender and chill before serving. As you can see by the ingredients, this stuff is not healthy. Drink sparingly or you'll ruin your night.


This was both our largest and cheapest meal! I think that makes it quite a success. What really counts is the food was great and nobody was lacking. Amy and I just finished up the leftover turkey this evening. In fact, the meal proved to be way too much for most of us. About thirteen were in attendance and we could easily have fed another ten. Most of us ate way too much and went into the classic thanksgiving hibernation mode after the dinner. The next meal will be much lighter, and our stomachs will thank us. Senegal will be next! Until then salud!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Dominica, aka "Nature Isle of the Caribbean", was named by Christopher Columbus after he spotted the island on a Sunday (dominica in Latin, domingo in get the idea). This lush island contains volcanoes, which are still forming the land, the second largest boiling lake and rain forests. Like most other Caribbean nations, Dominica's history includes a long spell of European rule that they became independent of in 1978.

In 1981, a particularly interesting event occurred in Dominica wherein an American named Perdue and a Canadian called Droege, attempted a coup. Now, it failed miserably and was stopped by the FBI before the ship even left American soil, but the plan involved overthrowing the government, misleading many mercenaries into going to Dominica, and, oh yeah, it was initiated by members of the KKK. It was called Operation Red Dog formally, but the media called it the "Bayou of Pigs" after the most notorious fail at the time, the "Bay of Pigs".

Now, the cuisine of Dominica is very similar to many other Caribbean nations we'll be covering. They do have a national dish known as mountain chicken, which is actually made of a giant toad indigenous to the island. Sadly we weren't able to legally purchase any large toads in the Chicago area. We did, however, have access to a goat butcher which provided us with the centerpiece of our meal.

Pigeon Pea Pumpkin Soup

This soup is easy to make and gave us probably one of our last tastes of fall (*sniff).

2 small onions, chopped
1 clove garlic
8 oz. can of tomato puree
1 medium size green pepper, chopped
1 lb. of pumpkin, cubed
2 pints water
1 1/2 pints of chicken stock
1 lb. can of green pigeon pea (with their liquid)

1. Throw a bit of butter in a large, heavy soup pan.
2. Add onions and garlic over moderate heat for 5 minutes to make them transparent, but not browned.
3. Add the tomato and green pepper and simmer for 5 minutes
4. Drop in the pumpkin, pigeon peas, chicken stock, and water.
5. Bring to a boil at a high heat, then reduce heat and cover for 20 minutes, or until pumpkin gets soft.
6. Puree the soup and season to taste.
7. Serve!

Shrimp Salad
We could not make an island country complete if we did not do some sort of seafood dish. This dish is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also has a wonderful blend of tangy, fresh and a little bit of spice in flavor.

1 lb medium shrimp shelled (reserve the shells for stock)
3 cloves garlic crushed and chopped
2 tbsps butter
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 lb fresh spinach (washed and dried)
8 radishes thinly sliced
1/2 red onion thinly sliced
1 mango cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 green bell pepper cut into strips
1/2 cup cilantro chopped
2 avocados
1 habanero seeded and thinly sliced (you may even want to run cold water over this for a bit to cut down the spice level)
1 tsp cumin
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Salt the shrimp and set aside for five minutes. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for two minutes being careful not to burn it. Toss in the shrimp and cook for 2-3 more minutes until the shrimp are firm and pink. Remove and dust shrimp with the paprika.
2. Make a dressing by whisking the olive oil, cumin, vingegar and soy sauce together. Salt and pepper it to taste. In a bowl combine the shrimp with everything but the avocado and spinach. Pour the dressing over the shrimp and vegetables and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes or until you are ready to serve.
3. When you are finally ready to serve. Slice the avocado thinly and gently toss with the marinated shrimp and vegetables.
4. On a large platter arrange the spinach in a ring and scoop the shrimp and vegetables in the center. Serve.

Goat Curry

Dominica is really into their lamb, goat and chicken dishes. Since we have not had a meal with goat yet during this project, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to make a dish with one of our favorite unsung meats.

3lbs cubed goat shoulder (easiest to have a butcher do this with a mechanical bone saw)
1/4 cup corn oil
2 medium yellow onions thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic
1 can coconut milk
1/2 pint water
2 tbsp curry powder or make your own for less heat: 1.5 tsp turmeric, 1.5 tsp cumin, 1 tsp peppercorn, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp garlic powder
1.5 tsp allspice ground
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1. In a deep pot, gently fry the onions in the oil until they are translucent
2. Add the goat and saute for five minutes.
3. Add the spices and saute for yet another five minutes.
4. Add the water and coconut milk and cook over low heat covered for 3 hours.
5. Squeeze lime juice in at end. Serve curry in small individual bowls garnished with the cilantro.

Yellow Rice and Pigeon Pea Risotto

I think the best part of this dish was the utilization of our shrimp shells from the salad to make the stock. It added a nice note to the risotto and tied the meal together perfectly.

1.5 cups short grain rice
1 can pigeon peas drained
5 cups shrimp stock
2 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp butter

1. Make a stock by boiling the leftover shrimp shells in a large pot of water with a few carrots and an onion. Boil 30 minutes. Strain and reserve.
2. Melt half the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the rice and cook stirring frequently until the grains become translucent.
3. Add the turmeric and stir for another minute. Begin to add the stock 1/2 cup at a time maintaining a very low heat. Allow each half cup of stock to be absorbed by the rice before adding more. Stir frequently as you do this. This takes about 30-40 minutes so grab a beer and get comfortable by the rice. This can get very boring if you are by yourself so try and keep company around you as you tediously stir.
4. 2/3 of the way through this process add the pigeon peas.
5. When the rice is creamy and cooked to your preference (I like to have a bit of a bite to the center) add the rest of the butter and serve.

Ginger Beer

I must admit that when Tom mentioned he wanted to make ginger beer for this meal, I cringed a bit. The only exposure I've had to it in the past has been in commercially packaged 2 liters, which I have never enjoyed. Just remember this is a taste you cannot buy in the store, put the bias away and add rum if you like.

1 lb ginger chopped into 1/2 inch thick discs
1 stick cinnamon
2 cloves
1.5 cups sugar
1 gallon water
Juice of 4 limes

1. Boil everything except the lime for 30 minutes covered.
2. Pour into a large jug
3. Squeeze in the lime juice and refrigerate overnight or until ready (it gets stronger the longer you leave it)
4. Strain the brew and server chilled over ice.
5. We decided at the last second to make cocktails out of these and our good friend Carl ran to grab rum from the grocery. Pour in a couple shots of dark rum into each glass to make everyone a dark and stormy.

This being our first randomly picked country was in a way a cruel irony. Had we gone in alphabetical order, the Bahamas would have been next and we would have eaten Caribbean cuisine anyhow.

Either way, we enjoyed having a taste of the tropics, as we lose our sunlight around 4:30 these days. This meal also provided us with our very first ceremonial end of meal drawing of a random country. Tom is very excited that it will be Guatemala: the first country we'll have done that he's actually been to! We've already bought the turkey! Until then...uh...cheers!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The first thing we figured out in our week of looking up food from Azerbaijan, is that the country's preferred adjective is Azeri. We also discovered that their pop radio stations streaming on the internet really love to play Celine Dion. Mostly, we determined that they have amazing food. Our only sources for recipe inspiration were this wonderful blog from an Azeri woman living in California, and Please to the Table, a mighty book of Soviet recipes published just before the superpower's breakup. Apparently Azeri food was wildly popular with the Soviets and after our dinner we understand why. Seriously, Azerbaijan proved to be a sleeper hit of a cuisine for us. The flavors were unique, strong, and delicious.

Amy and I were very dubious about the food as we researched recipes. We had never before had Azeri food. And there were no Azeri restaurants to test our palates at in Chicago. Many of the flavor pairings seemed too sweet or too strong. But, in the end, it all worked. And all in attendance ate very well!

Eggplant Rolls

Anybody who's eaten at a lot of Italian restaurants is probably familiar with eggplant involtini. This Azeri preparation isn't too different, and we found it was fantastic to serve at room temperature.

3 large eggplants
Paprika Mayonnaise (Add 2 tsp paprika to 1 cup mayonnaise)(preferably homemade)
1 cup crushed walnuts
1 cup chopped parsley
Olive oil

1. Cut eggplants lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices, sprinkle slices with salt, and set aside for 20 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 450 f. Drizzle eggplant slices on each side with olive oil and bake 20 minutes, flipping slices halfway through. Remove when eggplant is browned. Set aside to cool.
3. Spread mayonnaise on each slice, then sprinkle walnuts and parsley over each slice.
4. Starting at the thinner end of each slice, tightly roll the eggplant and fasten with toothpicks.
5. Set aside until you are ready to serve.

Pepper and Pickle Salad

October has now ended and the vegetables are getting more and more scarce at the local markets. Fortunately bell peppers were available in large quantities, and pickles never go bad. We made this Azeri salad as our goodbye to harvest season.

3 bell peppers seeded and cut into thin strips(we had orange and yellow, but red and green work as well)
1 cucumber roughly chopped
2 medium sized dill pickles (4-5 inches long) minced
2 cups pickled buttoncap mushrooms cut in half
2 medium onions thinly sliced
2 carrots cut into thin strips
1/2 packed cup fresh dill
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Add everything else. Toss together and set aside for at least an hour before serving. This can also be made the night before!

Dried Fruit and Saffron Pilaf: Plov

I had no idea pilafs could be such a centerpiece in a meal. The Azeris take their rice very seriously and this pilaf is a great example of this.

2.5 cups Basmati rice
2 sticks butter (don't worry this makes a lot of rice)
1/2 tsp saffron
4 eggs beaten
Dried fruit (we used Apricots and golden raisins)
1/2 cup freshly chopped mint
1 tsp salt

1. Rinse the rice well to remove starch and soak for 30 minutes.
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil soaked rice for 8 minutes.
3. Rinse and drain cooked rice.
4. Remove 1 cup rice and combine with beaten eggs and a bit of salt.
5. Heat a large casserole over medium heat and add 1/2 stick butter. When butter melts add the egg and rice mixture and gently heat for five minutes.
6. Add half the rice and another half stick of butter cut up.
7. Add the rest of the rice and yet another half stick of butter.
8. Cover the rice and set heat very low. Stir the mixture gently making sure not to break the egg crust at the bottom every 10 minutes for 30 minutes.
9. Melt the remaining butter and combine with saffron. Add 1 cup finished rice.
10. Put the rest of the rice on a large platter. Sprinkle yellow rice on top of the white. Add the dried fruit and mint and crumble the egg crust over the top.
11. Serve with lots of stew.

Lamb, Pomegranate, and Hazelnut Stew

So complex yet so easy to make. This went great with the pilaf.

2 lbs lamb cut into 1.5 inch cubes
2 cups shelled hazelnuts
1.5 cups crushed walnuts
2 medium yellow onions thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 tsp dried mint
1.5 cups chicken stock
1 stick cinnamon
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup corn oil
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped mint

1. Heat oil in deep casserole over medium heat. Add onions and sugar and cook ten minutes until the onions have turned translucent.
2. Add the lamb and turmeric and cook a further ten minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients except the mint and hazelnut. Stir, bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Cook for a further two hours. All of this can be done the day before.
4. 30 minutes before serving gently reheat the stew over low heat with the hazelnuts. Garnish with mint before serving.

Rose Water and Saffron Sherbet

Gotta be honest with this one. Most of us thought this stuff tasted like a cup of perfume, but a few loved it. I'm sure this matches a lot of peoples' tastes, but I won't be making it again. I must say I still have yet to find a Central Asian dessert I like. Generally I just don't have a sweet enough tooth.

3 cups sugar
2 cups water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup rosewater
1/2 tsp crushed saffron
Water and ice for serving

1. Combine sugar and water and boil over high heat for 10 minutes until a thick syrup is formed.
2. Add the rosewater, saffron, and lemon. Stir and set aside during the meal.
3. At the end of the meal combine with equal parts water and a few ice cubes in serving cups.
4. Drink slowly as a dessert.

I love food that challenges my taste buds with new combinations of flavors that somehow work together. Azerbaijan's cuisine did exactly that. The meal was unlike any other I've ever made, and I look forward to making much more in the future. Due to the holiday weekend we had to schedule the dinner for a Thursday evening and were a bit more rushed in putting the meal together. Fortunately nearly all of the food kept well and could be made Wednesday night. This gave us plenty of time to drink and socialize while we waited for the pilaf to cook. Also none of the food needed any fancy plating and we were able to simply put it out buffet style in huge family portions. I will definitely be entertaining with mighty pilafs next time I'm in a pinch!

Dominica is next! Afiyæt oslun!

Going Random!

The polls are closed, and the decision has been made. We're going random with our country choices! Above we have our pig jar from which we will be pulling all future countries at random. After each dinner we will pull the next country. For those of you who worry about everything getting too out of order, I recommend checking out our new links on the side to countries by geographic region. They should help keep some sense of order to this madness. We hope you all enjoy the excitement of randomness in our future meals. Our next dinner will be the island nation of Dominica!