MayaWorks - Recipes, Customs and Cuisine
photo of the Central Market in Antiqua Guatemala by ChowTrek-RoadFeasts
Many traditional foods in Guatemalan cuisine are based on Maya cuisine and prominently feature corn, chiles and beans as key ingredients.
There are also foods that are commonly eaten on certain days of the week. For example, it is a popular custom to eat paches (a kind of tamale made from potatoes) on Thursday. Certain dishes are also associated with special occasions, such as fiambre for All Saints Day on November 1 and tamales, which are common around Christmas. Meat including chicken, beef and pork is usually stewed or braised in sauces that are unique to the region.
Fruit is abundant in Guatemala including: mango, papaya, banana, pineapple, melons and many other fruits. Coffee is popular and tends to be served weak with much sugar and milk. (The best coffee is exported to the U.S.) Poor rural families tend to subsist on tortillas and chile peppers and whatever food they can grow.
More on MayaWorks and Guatemala
Guatemalan Dinner Customs
If you are invited to a Guatemalan's home, it is likely his wife will serve everyone first, even if there are servants, and then will be seated herself. Unless you are attending a meal served in a household from the privileged class that observes European-style customs, all of the food will be served at once.
If the meal takes place in a private home, bring a small gift to indicate your appreciation. However, do not bring a gift of food – your hosts will think that you do not appreciate the food they have prepared or that you consider the woman of the house an inadequate cook.
It is appropriate to eat everything you are served. If you don't like the taste of something, just attempt to eat a bit of it. If you cannot eat something for health or religious reasons, explain this and apologize for any inconvenience it may cause.
At the start of a meal, it is the custom to say to everyone, "Buen provecho." (Enjoy your food.) Most Guatemalans are fairly quiet once the food is served. Compliments about the food will be welcome. In some areas of the countryside, food is eaten with the hands. Follow the lead of your hosts. Napkins are provided. There are no special rules about their use.
If you must leave the table, before getting up say, "Con permiso, ya vengo." (With your permission, I'll be right back.) It's appropriate to stand when someone arrives at the table. If you do not want to drink, say, “Lo siento, pero no yo tomo." (Sorry, I don't drink alcohol.) Guatemalan women are expected not to drink. If they do, they have only a glass of champagne at most. This rule is applied to foreign women as well. Women who drink are oftentimes considered "easy."
The standard toast is to raise your glass and say, "Salud!" You should always offer your own toast: say how pleased you are to be in Guatemala and commend everyone for treating you in such a family-like manner.
If you are invited to a restaurant, your host will pay. It is appropriate to offer to pay for your part of the meal, but your offer will be politely declined. Reciprocate your host's hospitality with an invitation of your own soon afterward.
20 large poblano chiles, firm with stems attached
1 ½ pounds ground beef
1 pound cheddar cheese (or try Cotija cheese)
12 eggs, whites and yolks separated
Bowl of flour, for coating the chiles
Vegetable oil for frying
We will make two fillings: one meat, and the other cheese. For meat filling, fry the ground beef in a non-stick pan. Chop up the tomato and one of the onions. Add them to the pan when the meat is fully browned. Remove the pan from the heat and give the ingredients a stir. For cheese filling, grate the cheese into a bowl, then chop up and add the remaining onion.
Roast the chile peppers. In areas where chiles are part of the local cuisine you can buy them already roasted, and you can buy them on the internet, roasted and frozen. To roast them yourself, put them on the grill, on a gas stove over an open flame, or under a broiler - rotating until they are completely charred. Then rinse them off in cold water, rubbing off the burnt skin. You should now have 20 tender chiles ready to be stuffed.
Prepare the batter. Place a dozen egg whites in a bowl. Beat the whites until they are firm and white, almost like whipped cream, then stir in the egg yolks. Cut an opening in the side of each chile - large enough that stuffing can be put in, but not so large that the chile will fall apart. Carefully scrape out the seeds with a butter knife to reduce the heat of the pepper (optional).
Stuff the chiles – half with meat and half with cheese – and pin the openings with toothpicks. (Be careful because the soft, roasted chiles are easily torn.) Prepare a pan with vegetable oil. Allow the oil to get hot but keep setting on low. Coat the chiles with the flour to reduce the water content and to create a dry surface for the batter to adhere to. Dip the stuffed chiles in the egg batter.
Place them into the pan and allow them to fry, turning them as the sides obtain a light brown color. Serve hot with rice and tortillas.
1/2 pound radishes, trimmed and sliced into thin rounds
1/8 cup mint, finely chopped
1/8 cup orange juice
1/8 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper (to taste)
Mix all the ingredients together and chill well before serving.
Needs at least 30 minutes chill time for the flavors to blend.
3 pounds chicken pieces, skin and fat discarded
1 tablespoon corn oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1/2 cup chopped ripe tomato
1 1/2 cups raw rice
1 cup sliced carrots
1/3 cup stuffed green olives
1 tablespoon capers
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup green peas
1/2 cup sweet red pimiento, cut into strips
1 hard cooked egg, sliced
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
In a large skillet, brown the chicken in oil over medium heat for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper. Remove the chicken and set aside. In the same skillet with the chicken fat, fry the onion, garlic and tomato for 2 minutes. Add the rice and fry for 2 minutes more. Add the carrots, olives and capers and mix everything together. Pour in the broth and chicken pieces. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover skillet and simmer until broth has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
Add the green peas. Cover skillet with aluminum foil and punch 8 holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes. Fluff up the mixture once or twice during the baking time. Serve warm. Decorate the surface with the pimiento strips and egg slices and sprinkle with the cheese. The rice should be dry, loose and not sticky. Serve with fried ripe plantain slices, salsa picante and pickled vegetables.
2 pounds beef-flank or skirt steak, cubed
5 cups water
2-3 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped tomatillos
2-3 Guarjillo chiles warmed over a flame, deseeded and chopped
Salt and pepper to season
1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Place the beef, water and a big pinch of salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the beef is very tender. Remove the beef to a bowl, reserving the broth, and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the beef with your fingers and set aside. While the beef is simmering, place the onion, tomatoes, tomatillos and chiles in a food processor or blender and puree, adding a little water if necessary.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium flame. Add the onion-tomato puree and simmer until the puree is cooked down and darkens somewhat in color, about 10 minutes. Do not burn. Add the shredded beef and about 3 cups of the broth to the onion-tomato puree and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
Stir in the potatoes, onions and a little more broth or water if necessary. Simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.
Stir in the breadcrumbs to thicken the sauce. Then stir in the chopped cilantro, adjust seasoning and serve hot with corn tortillas or rice.
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1/3 cup finely chopped white onion
1 (15 ½ ounce) can black beans, including liquid
1 medium garlic clove, pressed or finely grated
1/2 teaspoon árbol chile powder or cayenne pepper
Heat the oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until it's soft and browned at the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, garlic, and chile powder.
Let the beans come to a brisk simmer, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. While cooking, stir and mash beans often, until the beans resemble a very coarse puree and have thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. When you tip the pan, the beans should creep forward like lava. The beans will thicken a little more once they cool. Add salt to taste. Use warm or at room temperature.
1 can evaporated milk (any 10-15 ounce can will do)
3 cups whole milk (or more, see directions below)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract (the real stuff)
5 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar (or more depending on how sweet you like your flan)
pinch of salt
1 ¼ cups sugar
Also needed, flan mold or a good 5×9 loaf pan, and mesh sieve. Make sure that your flan dish can fit inside a larger dish filled with water as this is critical for the cooking.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Boil water in a saucepan for the water bath.
Heat 1 ¼ cups sugar in a small sauté pan under low heat until it melts completely and turns a medium brown color. Stir so that the sugar doesn’t burn. Carefully pour the melted sugar into the bottom of your flan mold and let cool.
Beat the eggs and yolks with a pinch of salt, and pour through a fine mesh sieve. Mix in 1/2 cup (or more) of sugar. Mix the can of evaporated milk with regular milk until you have 5 cups. Heat the mixture until almost boiling. (I do this part in the microwave.)
Whisk the hot milk slowly into the egg mixture. Add the vanilla extract. Pour the mixture into your flan mold. Place mold in the water bath (with water at least halfway up the pan that the flan is cooking in). Put the whole thing in the oven. The water shouldn’t boil so if it is boiling at 325 degrees you need to turn down the heat.
Cook until the flan is just set. It should still jiggle at this point, but just a little. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator for at least 24 and up to 72 hours before un-molding.
To un-mold, slide a knife around the edges of your pan to loosen the flan. Then flip it over quickly onto a plate. When you un-mold the pan, if there is extra caramel in the pan, you can add a little water and heat it to get more caramel out.
Compiled by Chris Byrnes