Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Guatemalan Foods; Heathy and Delicious

In general, the typical foods from Guatemala are quite healthy, and certainly full of fiber. I learned a lot about  foods in Guatemala when I lived there in the 1970s and early 1980s. They use a lot of vegetables and beans in very creative ways, with the addition of tomatoes, tomatillos, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds in the most unlikely places. And the food is so good. Even now, so very many years later, I crave some of these foods. The fact that it takes a fair amount of time to create some of these dishes is the only deterrence from making them all the time. I am going to make Rellenitos de Platano today, and some time this week I am making Guatemalan Enchiladas. Guatemalan enchiladas are nothing at all like Mexican enchiladas, and I cannot wait to taste them again.
Rellenitos ready to eat

I have been eating black beans regularly for the last 4 weeks, just because I got in the mood, suddenly. I love them made "volteados" or pureed and cooked down to nearly dry  consistency, where they hold the shape of the pan, when flipped back and forth. But just pureed is easy and really good, and that is how I have made the last batch. But there are dishes using black beans that make one wonder. One of these is Rellenitos de Platano. Relleno means filled. Any word with the addition of the letters "ito" or "ita" afterwards is a diminutive. Rellenito (rrray-yen-EE-toe) means something small and filled. Platano is the Spanish word for Plantains, so we come to "small fried filled plantains".  Somehow that doesn't sound quite as lyrical as Rellenitos de Platano, but I will go on to wax lyrical about how good these little things can be! 

So, okay, what are these little things? And, how are they made?

Rellenitos de Platano are cooked, very ripe plantains, which are then pureed. A little sugar is added, with some cinnamon. For this recipe, only true cinnamon will taste right, so if you are unsure what this is, look in the Mexican section of your grocery, or go to a Mexican grocery. They always have true cinnamon. True cinnamon, cinnamomum verum, is distinguished by its very thin quills, making it very easy to break into bits. With the thick-quilled cassia we are so accustomed to, this is not an easy taks. Cassia tastes very different.
Once you have your plantains ready, you need to have some black beans made into volteados, or very cooked down and dry and paste-like. You take a small ball of the plantain puree, probably about an ice cream scoop size. Oil your hands well and take the plantain mixture in one hand and pat it out a little. Place about 2 teaspoons or so of the black beans and place in the center, and then form the plantain mixture to encase the black beans, making it into an oval. Now you have the relleno, or filled part of the recipe. At this point, though it is not authentic, I always dredge the filled plantain lightly in flour. This helps when frying so they do not stick to the pan. If you leave off the dredge in flour, or use maybe a rice flour instead, these are naturally gluten free.

The little ovals are fried in oil in a skillet to brown. The ingredients are all cooked already (except if they are dredged in flour), so they do not need a long cooking period. In Guatemala, they generally fry them in a little oil, but I have also filled the pan with oil to about an inch or so, so that when they are frying, they partially float, ensuring that they are not sticking to the pan. If the plantains are very soft, they can stick. Once fried, they are rolled in white sugar, to coat. These are good hot or cold and oh, so delicious.

If all of this does not sound good, it is just as I said. Guatemalan foods use lots of ingredients in unlikely places, but you really have to try the foods to believe how good they can be. It may be less likely that someone just tries this out without any prior knowledge, but I do so hope that someday you all may find a good Chapina to make them for you, or lacking that, someone like me who lived there long enough to become enchanted with the foods. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.