Monday, November 11, 2013

Guatemala Dreaming: Trying out some typical recipes

Page from the cookbook for my daughter - note the
very stained page from my notebook.
Tomatillos (Miltomates)
Lately I have been thinking about Guatemala, talking about Guatemala and making Guatemalan dishes that I had not made in a while, as well as some I had never made. I really enjoyed my time in Guatemala. I was 20 years young and willing to learn so many things that so vastly diverged from anything I had previously known in my upper Midwest upbringing. I made a "cookbook" of a sort for my oldest daughter when she turned 40, with all sorts of recipes and photos. Unfortunately, though I had made many of these recipes, I had not been so photography-mad back then. Nowadays I take photos of almost anything I make, to have a record of it in case I may need it some day. With a blog, website and Pinterest, I do use a lot of photos. I do have a couple of notebooks and a handful of recipe cards I wrote out, with lots of typical Guatemalan dishes, some of which I had made often and others I have yet to try. My sister gave me the idea to make this cookbook, mainly because some of my recipes are so terribly stained you can really see how well they have been used. The result is one I am quite proud of - and yet - the pictures and the recipes are for the most part, not "mine." I "Swiped from the best with pride," as they say, filling the pages with photos I took from the internet, since it was meant only for my daughter's eyes.

At this point in time, I could nearly fill the book with food photos of my own. I have been consistently making dishes and getting photos where possible. I wish that I had photos of all the places I visited back in the 1970s; sadly, I do not. Short of a nice long photography trip back to Guatemala, I have little hope of ever having those type of photos for a book. It was a most interesting time in my life and one I will always treasure. One of the many spices I learned about while there was Annatto:

Annatto - Bixa orellana

Annatto Seeds (Achiote)
Annatto seeds, called achiote (a-CHO-tay) in Guatemala, are a spice from the pods of the Bixa orellana tree. The tree produces fruits that are vaguely heart-shaped, with thick, spiky hairs all over them. When the fruit matures, the pod opens to reveal the orangey seeds inside. The seeds are orange to red in color, and the outer, powdery orange coating on the seeds is what is used for flavor and color in so many of the dishes in Guatemala as well as many of the other central, South American and Caribbean cuisines. It will make rice a lovely yellow color similar to saffron, though with a different flavor component. Depending on how much annatto is used, more flavor can come through, lending a signature flavor to things such as Hilachas, the recado that goes on top of tamales or chuchitos and Arroz con Pollo. This is by far an incomplete list, as these seeds are use widely and extensively. 

I was cautioned, while in Guatemala, to avoid ever grinding the whole seed, as the inner seed is bitter and will ruin the flavor of a dish. I have never substantiated this admonition. 

While I mainly write of these seeds as a spice, the reddish color they lend is also used in other varied ways. In some of the native cultures of these countries the red color, which rubs off of the seeds easily, is used "cosmetically" as a lip or cheek color. Many American processed cheeses, as well as some Cheddar or Colby cheeses are given their appetizing yellow orange color with annatto seeds. 

"Pollo en Jocon" or Chicken in Green Sauce
So that brings me back to the present. I love the flavor of Green Sauce or "Salsa Verde". It uses tomatillos as the green base, along with all other green things, such as green pepper, celery, parsley and cilantro. I have been making it recently and using it to braise pork, which is heavenly, but not Guatemalan so far as I know. What I had never really made was Carne or Pollo en Jocon. This is a stewed dish with either beef or chicken, and a green sauce thickened with corn tortillas or corn masa (a substitute can be using corn masa flour as the thickening agent). It is served over Guatemalan Style Rice, usually made as the Guatemalans do, with the addition of onion, carrot, peas, celery and/or green pepper. Sometimes annatto seed is cooked in oil and this colored oil is also added. Since my son and his wife were coming to visit this past weekend, I decided sort of last-minute to make the Carne (Beef) en Jocon. It was a real hit; so much so that the kids were arguing over the leftovers later. I decided to make it again, since they obviously had not had their fill, and this time with chicken.

Today, for whatever reason, I started thinking about Pepian, another very typically Guatemalan dish, and one I have never made. It is another stew type dish, made with beef or chicken usually, but this sauce is more red, and made with tomatoes, toasted sesame and pumpkin seeds, dried chili peppers such as ancho and guaque and possibly some annatto seeds for color. It is also served over rice, but may have the addition of vegetables such as carrot, potato or chayote squash. There are so many wonderful flavors in Guatemalan cooking and sometimes I become nostalgic. I am so grateful both for the time I spent in that country and for my ability to cook all these wonderful dishes.

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 and Marketplace, 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.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

What to do with Green Tomatoes?

What with moving to a new house this past Spring, I didn't get around to planting any tomatoes. My sister-in-law did, and she was supplying me with tomatoes all season. But as anyone who plants tomatoes in the north knows, once we get a couple of cold snaps, the tomatoes just give up on any idea of ripening. And so we come to the question: "What to do with green tomatoes?"

I had never even tasted green tomatoes before, so I am unfamiliar with the knowledge of what flavor they might blend with. I have the idea to try making my Guatemalan Green Sauce (Salsa Verde) with them and see what differences come out in the flavor. Meanwhile, I saw many pies out on the web that were either green tomatoes with apples, or alone. I prefer to make larger pies, so I used my 9 1/2-inch plate, which has a very deep dish. I set down what I thought would be a good start for a recipe, and got down to business. This is what I wrote:

Green Tomato Apple Streusel Pie

2 1/2 cups green tomatoes, peeled, sliced thinly
4 cups baking apples, peeled, cored, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Green Tomato Apple Streusel Pie
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter for dotting pie

1 single pie pastry, fitted into a 9 1/2 or 10-inch pie plate, crimped high

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

I proceeded to make the pie, combining in a large bowl the tomato and apple slices, then the lime zest and juice with the salt. In a small bowl I combined the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, sugar and flour. This was poured over the apples and tomatoes and tossed well, then left to macerate while I prepared the pie pastry and made the streusel. The streusel was made by combining all ingredients except the nuts and mixing well with fingers until it started to make large clumps. The nuts were added last, and I set that aside. I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. I poured the tomatoes and apple mixture into the pie shell and topped with the streusel. The pie baked for 1 hour.

I had no idea what to expect for flavor. There was a slight different flavor, but not enough to jump out and make one wonder about it. I did add way too much sugar. The pie is terrific, but awfully sweet. I would cut back the amount of sugar in the apple and tomato mixture to either 1 cup or 1 1/4 cup. Certainly 1 1/2 cups was overdoing a good thing. The other thing is to possibly use 1 1/4 cups of sugar, and then top with a second crust or a lattice crust and omit the streusel.

Other than that, I love the pie. I am planning to make another one and see how my changes make it come out. Meanwhile, there is nothing a sweet tooth wouldn't enjoy. It was a very good first experiment with green tomatoes.

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 and Marketplace, 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.