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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!

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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Arroz a la Valenciana

This is the twenty-ninth 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!

Loud party music plays as a plethora of voices pass through the open air. My family and I are all sitting outside at the patio table in my backyard, enjoying the fresh summer breeze and sipping on homemade lemonade. Everyone cheers as my grandma brings out the large skillet of rice filled with vibrant colors, reminiscent of the famous Spanish paella. For a moment, everything is quiet—save for the occasional clang of dishes and utensils—as we eagerly dig in. The first bite is silent bliss. Then, the sounds of the festivities boom once again, and the graduation celebration resumes. This is Arroz a la Valenciana, a dish that brings people together around a table to pause, sit back, and enjoy delicious food among good company. 

Rice is a staple food in many cultures, and the Latin American culture is no exception. In my experience with the Guatemalan culture, rice is not just a simple, traditional dish. It can be complex and requires hard work, love, and dedication; it has heart. It is a delicious, hot, satiating meal that carries with it fond memories of good people and family history in every bite. So, while chicken noodle soup is the satisfying, feel-better food for many, this rice is my go-to comfort food—a cozy, warm, filling dish that reminds me of home and loved ones. Today, I am sharing with you my grandmother’s legacy and most sought-after recipe, her beloved Spanish rice, which she first learned to cook from her own mother back in their home in Guatemala. Salty and savory, with hints of sweet caramelization, this Spanish-derived dish is packed with fresh vegetables and fiercely-flavored seasonings that harmonize to form a bold, but balanced meal. Smokey, savory meat and sautéed onions, tomatoes, and peppers compliment the star of the dish, saffron spice, creating this rich, golden-colored cultural classic. I guarantee that this traditional dish will be a hit at your next party, family dinner, or even your relaxing night in. 

Time: 1 ½ – 2 hours total

Ingredient & Supply List:

You will need… 

1 medium pot

1 large pan

4 cups of water

2 green onions, chopped into medium-sized pieces

1 ½ tomatoes total, chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and whole

1-2 dashes of salt, to taste

1 handful of cilantro, chopped

1 heaping tablespoon of Caldo de Pollo chicken broth flavoring

½  pound of chicken, chopped, preferably with the bones for enhanced flavor (other proteins such as sausage, tuna, or chickpeas can also be substituted)

½ stick of butter

1 ½ Spanish onions, sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 large eggs, hard-boiled

2 cups of rice, preferably white rice for the traditional recipe

2 heaping tablespoons of capers 

2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely into slaw-like pieces

1- 1 1/2 heaping tablespoons of saffron (Sazón seasoning with added saffron can also be used)

½ cup of peas

1 handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 handful of olives, chopped in halves (optional)

Recipe:

This dish has two major parts: First, the broth, which is the base for the rice, and second, the cooking of the rice itself.

To make the broth, start with a pot filled with water over medium heat. Next, add the green onions to the water, followed by half a chopped tomato. Then, add the garlic and the cilantro to the broth stock with a bit of salt. These aromatic vegetables will boil in the water together and in turn, give off their delicious, hearty flavors, which will eventually be absorbed by the rice. Next, enhance the flavor profile of the broth with the Caldo de Pollo chicken broth flavoring and the chicken. Once all of these ingredients are in the pot, stir the mixture, cover with a lid, and let it simmer. It should stew for about 20-30 minutes.

While the chicken and vegetable broth are cooking, begin preparing the rice. Melt the butter over medium heat until it coats the bottom of the pan. Once the melted butter is bubbling, add and fry the Spanish onions until they begin to brown. This caramelization process creates a rich, savory-sweet base that will add great flavor to the rice. Then, add 1 chopped tomato to the mix. Stir it in so that it blends with the rest of the flavors. Add the red pepper, but be sure to save some for the final product. Together, the ingredients in the pan will form a bubbly sauce that is a deep and vibrant orange-red color. 

While the onions, tomatoes, and peppers are cooking, hard-boil the eggs. These will be used at the end of the recipe. 

Return your attention to the pan. Slowly incorporate the rice into the sauce and lower the heat. The rice should be evenly coated and take on some color. 

Now, it’s time to marry the tasty chicken broth with the rice! Remove the chicken from the broth pot and cut it into small, shredded pieces. After stirring the chicken in, add the homemade broth to the rice pan, using a strainer. You just want the broth at this point, and everything should be cooked down into it for the most part.

Next, add a heaping tablespoon of capers into the rice pan, followed by the carrots. The next step is crucial to this recipe: the addition of the magical secret spice, saffron. This is the iconic, staple seasoning that gives the dish its flavor, aroma, and signature yellow color. Then add in some peas. The pan should be colorful and well-mixed at this point. If needed, more water can be added. At this point, cover the pan and let the rice mixture simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat. Stir occasionally to promote even cooking and to prevent the bottom of the rice from burning. The rice should be fluffy and dry, but not mushy or sticky. 

While waiting for the dish to finish cooking, prepare the final toppings for the rice. Chop parsley for garnish and peel and slice the hard-boiled eggs. 

When the rice is cooked to your satisfaction, top with the parsley, red pepper slices, egg slices, and another heaping tablespoon of capers for the perfect finishing touch. Traditionally, green olives are used in this recipe as a topping as well, but they are not essential. However, I highly recommend adding them, as they really bring out the powerful flavor of the capers and work well with the other ingredients in the dish. For a less traditional approach, you can also top the rice with slices of avocado.

This recipe makes about 8 servings. Share and enjoy it with your loved ones!