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This is What Guatemala Tastes Like

Guatemalan Cooking 101 with Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

By Amy Melin

Guatemalan-born chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard uses the universal language of food to help educate others about the cultures of Latin America. The idea for her work was sparked years ago. She recalls, “When I [first] came from Guatemala to the United States, when someone asked me ‘Where are you from?’ I said ‘I am from Guatemala’ and they said ‘Where in Mexico is Guatemala?’ So, I said to myself, 'I have to do something about this.'”

With her background in business and international banking, Amalia turned her passion for cooking into a successful enterprise. “I began to explore opportunities to speak to professional groups, and spread the good word about Latin American cooking and culture. My mission is to help individuals and companies develop a better understanding and appreciation of Latin cultural nuances through healthy, gourmet cuisine and to help bridge the knowledge gap of Latin culture in the U.S. through education.”

Her award-winning cookbook, Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen, is also helping to further her mission. “Guatemalan cuisine is not yet known very well outside Guatemala. I thought that would be a good opportunity for me to write about my country. A country that has so many beautiful things to offer, and the cuisine is one of them.”

The Mayan stew Amalia is preparing in our video is called Jocón. She’s provided the recipe here if you’d like to try it in your own kitchen. Buen provecho!

Recipe: From Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen
Jocón (pronounced ho-CON) is a dish from Huehuetenango, a department located in western Guatemala, and the surrounding region. The recipe varies slightly from family to family. This is my simplified version. It is not only easy to make, but also hearty and delicious. The sauce has a vibrant green color. You can also use it for other grilled meats such as beef, pork, or chorizo, or as a vegetarian option using vegetable stock instead and adding legumes such as lima or garbanzo beans, or others of your choosing.

Serves 4 to 6 people

4 to 6 skinless chicken thighs, visible fat removed

1 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock

1 small whole onion, peeled and t-scored

1/2 cup cilantro (unchopped, stems and leaves included)

1 cup trimmed green onions cut into 1-inch pieces

2 large garlic cloves, peeled

1 1/2 cups tomatillos (about 10 tomatillos), husked and quartered

1/2 cup seeded, chopped green bell pepper

1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped (3/4 to 1 cup)

1 cup roughly chopped cilantro (stems and leaves)

1 whole Serrano pepper, seeds and veins included (optional)

2 corn tortillas, torn into small pieces

1 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Adorno (Garnish)

Fresh cilantro sprigs

1. Cook the chicken in the stock with the onion and cilantro in a medium saucepan until the chicken is tender (20 to 30 minutes).

2. While the chicken is cooking, cook the rest of the ingredients (except the seasonings and garnish) in a separate saucepan. Bring to a quick boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered until the vegetables are soft (5 to 8 minutes).

3. When the chicken is done, transfer it to a dish and set it aside. Reserve the onion, cilantro, and stock.

4. Combine the vegetable mixture with the onion, cilantro, and stock. In a blender or food processor, purée the mixture until it’s smooth. Pour the purée back into the pot and add the chicken. Stir and cook for 5 minutes longer. The sauce should look smooth, velvety, and bright green.

5. Season the stew with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

6. Serve the stew garnished with cilantro sprigs.

Want more from Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen? Check out her website.

Amy Melin Read More
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