When I married and moved to Guatemala, I had little experience in the kitchen. My culinary expertise at age 20 covered making coleslaw from scratch, making wieners with canned beans and cheese over top as a casserole, and making a cake from box. I was ill prepared for all I had to learn, as the quality of boxed or canned goods in Guatemala was poor and the selection extremely limited. |
First Encounters, Black Beans and Tamales
The first time I went to Guatemala was at Christmas with my Dad. I was to marry the following spring, and he wanted to meet the family and see the country I was moving to. One of the first foods I encountered was black beans. They were pureed. I had never seen pureed beans of any kind before, and I had no idea what these were. They tasted good, and I continued on. At Christmas in Guatemala tamales are an absolute must. Tamales Rojos y Colorados, two kinds mainly seen at the holidays are a savory variety and a sweet variety. Either kind had many flavors that were unusual to me and it took time to become accustomed. Once I did I learned to make them, a long process but rewarding. Corn Tortillas from Scratch
Another food that was present at every meal was tortillas. In Guatemala they were corn tortillas, made from scratch, by hand at each meal. The smell of corn tortillas baking on the comal is one I will never forget, and one I crave to this day. There is nothing remotely like the real tortillas patted out by hand and baked. The corn tortillas one finds in the stores here are a very poor substitute.
The Lowly Radish, Exalted
Radishes were one vegetable that my Dad grew in his garden and I grew up with them around, though I never cared for them. When presented with a bowl of something pinkish one lunchtime, I had no idea the dish was a radish salad, or Picado de Rabano. I tried it with trepidation, but found that prepared this way it was really delicious. Some days it was prepared as a side dish, but some days it was made into a main course by adding in chopped roast beef in equal parts to the radishes. The use of mint in a dish such as this was extremely strange to me, yet the mint really makes the dish.
One meal I have never managed to make to my satisfaction is Hilachas. Literally called Rags, in many places in the US now we find a similar dish called Ropa Vieja, or Old Clothes. It is a stew made with a roast beef that has been cooked and then shredded into strings, and thus the name. It is mixed into a sauce with a tomato base and usually served with rice and of course, tortillas.
The Versatile Plantain
Plantains are another food I had never encountered, and I found out how many ways they are used. Slightly green and cooked in plain water, they are a side dish used like a vegetable. There is little sweetness this way and that works well. If allowed to ripen more, and cooked in water, they have a sweetness present that the greener variety lack, and they can be used either as a side dish or as a dessert. At times the ripe plantains are just fried. They are delicious just plain, or sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, or topped with cream. Plantains are made into a dessert called Rellenitos, or Filled Plantains. The plantains are cooked, then mashed. A little sugar and cinnamon are added. Separately the pureed black beans are cooked until they become a thick paste, and teaspoons of the beans are encased in a portion of the mashed plantains, which are then fried and sprinkled with sugar. These are a particular favorite. Another way plantains are used is in a mole sauce. Mole is a sauce made with unusual ingredients, such as tomatoes, tomatillos, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon and chocolate. This is all ground together into a gravy type sauce and sweetened. The plantains are fried and added to the sauce. I make this dessert, still.
Stuffed Peppers Guatemalan Style
Stuffed peppers in Guatemala are a treat like no other. Generally using a mildly hot pepper like Poblano, the filling is a mixture of ground meat with vegetables that have been cooked and pickled separately, then mixed together. They are stuffed into the pepper, which is generally left with the stem on. The whole pepper is dipped into an egg batter and then fried. These are served with tortillas and a light tomato based sauce. The first time I was served a Chile Relleno, was between two tortillas with the sauce spilling out from the edges. It was sublime.
These are just a few of the many wonderful foods I learned to love while living in a foreign country. My advice to anyone traveling abroad is to keep an open mind and be willing to try new things. This is what makes traveling a wonderful experience.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope it was informative and helped you along your own culinary journey. You will find many more recipes and helpful tips on my web site. I am on Facebook at A Harmony of Flavors and share a recipe or tip each day to the fans that have liked my site. I hope to see you there soon.
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Food, Recipes, Cooking, Baking, Black Beans, Tamales, Holiday Recipes, Corn Tortillas, Plantain, Mole Sauce, Poblano Peppers, Chile Relleno,