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!

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