Guatemalan fare–the first installment

One of the best parts of making a career from your passion is that work and play become the same thing. When my friend, Traci, asked if I would lead a class on Guatemalan cuisine for her students at an area high school, it was an automatic “yes.” This sounded like tons of fun.

The irony of it all is that I have not a drop of Latino blood and have not (yet) been to Mexico. Still, the Internet is a fine research tool and I enjoyed learning about authentic Guatemalan cuisine. My first step was to write up a “report” so Traci and her class could decide what they wanted to make when I stopped by.

The final verdict was a menu of elote (roasted corn with various toppings), crispy corn tortillas, black bean paste (essentially refried black beans), and Bocado de Reina–a Guatemalan bread pudding. These were easy recipes to work through and the experience went amazingly well. The six students were fun to work with and turned out a mouthwatering spread.

the Guatemalan feast

I’ll use each of this week’s posts to highlight a recipe. Today, we talk tortillas. I brought in white corn tortillas from a Mexican market as 1) they’re extremely inexpensive compared to mainstream grocers and 2) quality is so much better when food is made by authentic small-batch manufacturers.

The crispy tortilla “recipe” was as simple as heating about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a skillet. We didn’t measure temps, but I’d imagine we were looking for 350-360°F. To test for the right temp, we tossed in a small piece of tortilla to see if it sizzled without immediately shriveling and turning dark. I put two students in charge of the tortillas and they did a bang-up job. The final tortillas were perfectly crisped without being brittle or burnt. These young women have a future as Mexican street food vendors if they so choose.

On Wednesday, we’ll circle back to the black bean paste that we used to top the tortillas. Until then, ¡Buen provecho!

frying up

stacked up

tortillas on the cheap

A local grocery store has a markdown shelf I love to check out as I never know what I’ll find. Often, there’s nothing of interest, but on occasion I find great deals. Sometimes the discounted items are things I need (handiwipes and baking chocolate are two recent finds). Other times I find something I didn’t know I needed until I found it. Case in point: tortilla flour.

just add water for tortillas

For a mere $2.00, this 4-pound bag of “flour tortilla mix” beckoned. Its ingredient list named flour, shortening, sweetener, salt, and leavening. According to the recipe on the bag (written in Spanish as well as English), I’d only need to add 1/2 cup water to 2 cups of the mix to make eight tortillas. For two bucks, I couldn’t go wrong.

I made the tortillas last night and loved the process and results. It was easy enough and so satisfying to end up with tortillas that far surpassed those sold in supermarket plastic bags. Fresh is definitely best.

After mixing in water, I kneaded the dough briefly, then covered it to rise much like bread dough. After 15 minutes of rise time, the dough was divided into eight sections which were rolled into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. My “rounds” are always approximate (you should see my pie crusts–yikes), but I rolled my eight tortillas and “fried” them on a dry griddle for the recommended 1 1/2 minutes on each side.

ready to roll

rolled flat

on the griddle

The tortillas were so very good, especially warm off the griddle. Although I think of this experiment as making tortillas from scratch, you could argue that I used a shortcut as I started with a mix (just add water!). All the same, it was a fun–and easy–project and the results were fresh and delicious. My $2.00 was well spent.

finished tortillas