Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Guatemalan Cuisine: Eggs and Tomatoes

The drama of Guatemalan Cuisine is like an ensemble cast miniseries. The story is mostly about the ongoing chattering and even bickering of the characters, but it's nice to have a little romance on the sidelines to keep things interesting. Eggs and Tomatoes might be considered the B plot romance. They often come as a pair, and add substance and flavor to any episode/meal in which they appear. They can each take on many forms, and can push a meal over from being a bit ho hum and into pretty satisfying territory.

Tomatoes here aren't really eaten fresh (well, almost nothing is, actually).  They usually make their appearance in chirmol, a tomato based salsa that is made and consumed for each meal -- it's not purchased, and it's not stored.  The process begins by roasting a handful of tomatoes, sometimes on the comal where tortillas are cooked, sometimes in the coals of a fire.  They are peeled and then mashed.  Lime and Cilantro are pretty obligatory ingredients, and sometimes a bit of onion or garlic sneaks its way in as well (although Guatemalans don't seem to care for garlic all that much).  It's not a spicy dish, it just adds some moisture and tang to whatever it's served over.  Which, can be most anything.  Eggs, dobladas or empanadas, beans, rice, potatoes, any of the staples.

These tomatoes went into the coals after cooking on an open fire out in the courtyard.

Here's my machucador for mashing tomatoes, and other sauces.

Eggs make an appearance on Guatemalan tables far more frequently than does meat.  In eating with my host families during training and the first few months at site, I probably ate at least one egg a day.  Sometimes it was an egg cooked in soup for dinner.  Sometimes a scrambled egg with tomatoes and onions thrown in for breakfast.  Sometimes a fried egg with chirmol on top, accompanied by black beans and tortillas.

My favorite egg dish quickly became verduras envueltas (wrapped veggies).  My training host mother would whip this out for a lunch or dinner probably once a week, and I always had to hold back from taking a third helping.  It's more or less like a vegetable tempura, and she did it with green beans, cauliflower, and broccoli.  She separated the egg yolk from the whites, and used her electric beater to whip the whites until they were stiff.  Then she added the yolk back in and kept whipping it, so it was still fluffy but had the whole egg there.  Each hunk of cauliflower (or handful of greenbeans) was dipped in the eggy froth and fried in the slightly greased pan.  Once cooked, it was served with (you guessed it), chirmol on top, and on lucky days, a bit of queso fresco crumbled and sprinkled on top.

My site host family has "huevo de comal" in which they beat an egg, add cornflour, and then cook it on the comal as they would a tortilla.  It comes out somewhere between a pancake and a tortilla, and they serve it with chirmol as well.  And, of course, tortillas.

I get my eggs from the cooperative shop nearby;
sometimes brown, sometimes white, always loose in a bag.  

Now that I'm cooking for myself, I still use an egg or two a day.  I'd be concerned about cholesterol, but since I don't really eat dairy or meat in my site, I figure I'm probably not in too bad of shape.  I do a lot of eggs, beans, and tortillas meals, just like I had with my host families.  I haven't mastered how to make chirmol well, but I'm getting there.  I also have been breaking out some recipes from home as well.  I make corn crepes/tortillas about once a week, french toast when I decide to splurge on some bread, and I'm thinking about some egg salad sandwiches soon, too.

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