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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Guatemalan Tacos

This is the thirty-fourth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Odds are you’ve probably indulged in a classic taco from a Mexican restaurant. With a perfect balance of crunch, spice, salt, and a hint of gooey, melted cheese, tacos are an incredibly popular dish that many enjoy—how could you not? Tacos are iconic pockets of bold, authentic flavor that are undeniably loved by all. 

But, what about a rolled taco? One that is even crispier and crunchier, fried to golden perfection? I’m not talking about the taquitos in your freezer (although those are a guilty pleasure!), but rather my family’s favorite recipe—Guatemalan tacos. Yes, Guatemala has its own version of tacos, and they are actually quite different from the Mexican ones that you know and love. Simple but always satisfying, these tacos require just a few staple ingredients from Guatemalan culture. Tasty corn tortillas are filled with savory meat and rolled into a flavorful food vessel. The experience is comforting and familiar, yet captivating; each crunchy bite becomes more and more irresistible. It is no wonder that this favorite is both a great appetizer and a rich, satiating meal. 

Traditional Guatemalan cuisine is derived from the Mayans, with influence from the Spanish. The diverse gastronomy usually involves some of Guatemala’s most famous native crops: corn, chiles, beans, and avocados. In name, the dishes are similar to those of Mexico, but the resemblance stops there; the recipes are unique to each region and vary from town to town. 

Guatemalan tacos are typically eaten at the refacción time, which is a short break in the day for workers to enjoy a snack, or refaccionar. This meal in particular was practically my introduction to my Guatemalan heritage, as it is one of the first traditional plates I had and loved as a child. It was a way to connect me with my family’s home country from miles away in our own kitchen. So, though this dish may sound a little unfamiliar, I promise you it will still be a crowd-pleaser. 

Moreover, this recipe is dynamic and easy to adapt. I followed the traditional route, a recipe that is tried-and-true in my family, using beef and a spicy tomato salsa. Other variations can be made using different dipping sauces, such as guacamole and tomato or chile sauce, and different fillings can be used as well, such as chicken or potato. The possibilities are endless and delicious!

Ingredients: 

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 20-25 corn tortillas
  • 2 large Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup Spanish onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • About 1 cup Canola oil (approximately ½ cup per 10 tortillas)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional Salsa Picante:

  • 3 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup Spanish onions, chopped finely
  • 2 green onions, chopped finely
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ Chile Guajillo
  • ½ Chile de Árbol
  • ¼ cup of water

Instructions: 

Start by cooking the ground beef in a pan. In a separate pan, sauté the garlic, onions, green bell pepper, and tomatoes in butter until all the water is absorbed, forming a paste. Then, add this paste to the beef. Mix the ingredients all together and cook over medium heat until the meat is fully cooked. This step should take approximately 15 minutes. 

In another pan, begin heating the oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, warm up your tortillas over low heat, 2 at a time, with one on top of the other. Traditionally in Guatemalan culture, a comal is used, but a pan works as well. Flip the tortillas so that both sides are evenly cooked. Add 1-1 ½ heaping spoonfuls of the meat mixture to the edge of the tortilla. This is the key to the rolling process. Once you put the meat at this one edge, tightly roll the tortilla around the meat, going to the other end, like a wrap. It usually helps to use toothpicks to keep it tight. The folded side of the tortilla then goes into the hot oil to prevent unraveling and keep the roll intact. Fry each taco for about 4-5 minutes in medium heat. Be sure to evenly coat and fry every side of the tortilla by carefully rotating it during the frying process, making sure the roll is held together. It will become easier as the tortilla crisps up.

Traditionally, the tacos are served with steamed cabbage, tomato salsa, chile sauce, guacamole, onions, Guatemalan cheese, and chopped parsley. However, in my family, we garnish them with cilantro, fresh cheese, and most importantly, the salsa picante. Salsa picante is made with tomatoes, garlic, onions, green pepper, and two kinds of chile peppers: Chile Guajillo and Chile de Árbol. Simmer the ingredients over medium heat for 30 minutes until very little water remains. After cooling, blend everything to a smooth, liquid consistency, thus forming the classic red sauce. 

This recipe makes about 20-25 rolled Guatemalan tacos. Enjoy!

3 replies on “Maya’s Guatemalan Tacos”

Great job Maya, how wonderful of you to share our family and Guatemalan tradition and educate those who read your receipts. Great writing! So very proud of you!

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