Thursday, November 14, 2013

Recipes from Guatemala

I'm on a roll!  After cooking some really outstanding food from Grenada and Guam I've hit on another winner: Guatemala. I don't know if I'm getting lucky or I'm just getting a whole lot better at choosing meals that I can a) reproduce correctly and b) tell in advance are going to be tasty. Probably a little of both.

Guatemala is a Central American nation, in fact it's Mexico's closest neighbor to the south. At just over 42,000 square miles, it is roughly the size of the state of Tennessee, so not one of the largest nations on my list. It has a big history, though, since this is where the civilization of the Mayans rose and fell somewhere around the same millennia as the birth of Christ.

Guatemala is one of those places that attracts passionate travelers. Its archaeological sites are, for some people, deeply spiritual places or at least endlessly fascinating. Like Egypt, Guatemala is full of ruins both big and small, from Tikal to Quirigua and Zaculeu. You only have to spend some time looking at photographs of these places before you start to wish you could visit them, too.

Photo credit: Pedro Szekely

Guatemalan cuisine is, as you might expect, similar to the sorts of dishes you find in Mexico. Actual Mexico, I mean, not the one that pretends to occupy your local taqueria. The food comes from Mayan traditions, since it's the descendants of those ancient Mayans who now occupy the area. Corn, beans and chilies are all on the typical Guatemalan menu. Sounds good to me!

During my research there was one dish that kept popping up over and over again, and since it contained pretty much no ingredient that I don't find incredibly delicious I couldn't ignore it, even though it was kind of the obvious selection. Here it is:

Pork Jocón
  • 1 pound pork*
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tomato, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 6 green onion stalks
  • 20 tomatillos
  • 4 sprigs of cilantro
  • 2 green chilies (if you want it spicy)
  • 1 oz margarine
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp bread crumbs
* I gather that this dish is typically made with chicken. The only reason I didn't make it with chicken was because a lot of my recent TbS meals have been poultry based, and I wanted to try something different. I did find several references to a pork alternative during my research, so I think this version is still authentic even though it may not be typical.

On the side:

Arroz Guatemalteco

  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables (carrots, celery, sweet red peppers, green peas), finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups chicken stock
Now I desperately wanted to find a recipe that did not include peas and carrots, because as you know I'm like a little kid when I encounter peas and carrots. I just want to hold my nose and go "Ew!!!" But this really is the only rice recipe I could find, so I went with it. See, I'm not inflexible.

And finally:

  • 6 corn tortillas
  • 12 oz fresh Mexican cheese (I used queso fresco)
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • About 4 tbsp vegetable oil
Now I also had a dessert picked out, and even bought all the ingredients for it. Here's a link to it, in case you decide you want to make it. (Note: this is a Google Translate page, and the recipe is at the bottom after several others.) I forget what was going on that night, but by the time I finished making this meal I couldn't be bothered to do the bananas, too. But hey, it's not the first time I've done that.

So here goes, starting with the pork:

Place the pork in a pot with the onion, tomato and one of the garlic cloves. Add 1 tsp of the salt and cover everything with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the pork reads 145 degrees with an internal meat thermometer. Remove the meat from the pot, reserving the broth. Let cool and then cut up into bite sized pieces.

Diced pork in very strange lighting.

Place the green onions, tomatillos, cilantro, the remaining garlic cloves and the chili peppers into a food processor with about two cups of the broth. Blend well, then strain off some of the liquid.

Melt the margarine in a large saucepan and then add the tomatillo mixture. Season with salt and pepper and then add the bread crumbs to thicken. Add the pork to the pot and then bring just to a boil.

And now, the rice. Super easy, which would be great if it wasn't for those damned peas and carrots. Here's how:

Heat the oil in a heavy pot and add the rice. Stir for a few minutes, until all the grains are coated but don't let them brown.

Now add the (gag) vegetables, chicken stock and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed.

And finally, the Chilaquilas. Spoiler alert: these are pretty danged tasty and also really simple, if you don't mind beating egg whites.

First beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until you get some lovely stiff peaks.

In a separate bowl, beat the yolks lightly, then gently fold them into the whites.

Now put the tortillas in the microwave with a damp paper towel. Nuke them for 20 or 30 seconds to soften them up.

Slice the cheese into quarter-inch thick slices and put them inside the tortillas, covering one half of each one. Then fold the tortillas in half.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan and then dip each tortilla in the egg mixture, covering completely. Now place in the hot oil and fry on each side until golden. Keep warm while you finish the rest of them.
OK so I will admit, I even liked the rice. I might have picked out some of the carrots. Possibly also some of the peas. But I really did like it. It was rather plain, really, but I don't need my rice to be particularly fancy.

The pork was delicious, and went perfectly with the tomatillo sauce, which was not surprising since that's the basis for a chili verde recipe I sometimes make. But by far my favorite part of the meal was the chilaquilas. They were kind of like little tortilla-stuffed omelets. Now I know I'm a mean mom but I had to kind of tell Hailey a half-truth when she wanted to know what she was eating, because the chilaquilas contained her two arch nemeses, cheese and eggs. So I told her she was eating tortillas dipped in huevos and stuffed with queso, which meant nothing to her and which she evidently didn't think to question. So even she liked it. Now of course it was a heart-attack inducing mass of cholesterol-stuffed bad for youidness, so really, what's not to like. Hailey just hasn't figured out yet that she really does like cheese and eggs.

Still picking through the alphabet and can finally see a light at the end of the "G" tunnel! Next week: Guernsey.

For printable versions of this weeks recipes:

1 comment:

  1. This is great. I have always wanted to do something similar. You have inspired me. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.


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