Healthy Typical Guatemalan Foods

Chris Rawstern

I recently wrote an article on Guatemalan enchiladas and how they are not at all like the Mexican enchiladas we know in the US. While a Guatemalan enchilada may be served on a fried tortilla, it is also piled high with wonderful vegetables, meat and egg. The use of vegetables like beets and cabbage, along with green beans and carrots give them a variety of vitamins. The tomato sauce used in the enchilada is homemade from tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic. The meat is cooked and fried and offers protein, along with a slice of egg. The enchilada is served with a sprinkling of cheese and parsley. It is a delicious, nutritious salad on a plate.

Enchiladas are not the only typical Guatemalan food to be high in nutrition. Black beans are a staple food, eaten one to three times a day, offering lots of protein and fiber. The addition of rice and corn tortillas to that meal makes a complete protein. Plantains are also eaten at any meal, and used as a vegetable if green. When green, plantains are not very sweet or soft, so cooking them in water gives a slight sweetness, making an excellent side dish to any main course. A serving of plantain is higher in fiber, vitamin C and potassium than a serving of bananas. They are also used as a dessert, simply cooked when very ripe, or made into various dessert dishes.

One dessert made with plantains is frying slices and serving them in a mole sauce. Guatemalan mole sauce is made from tomatoes, tomatillos, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and cinnamon, with the addition of chocolate at the end. Using all the vegetables and seeds give a great addition of fiber to the diet, along with vitamins and minerals.
A common Guatemalan salad of minced radishes mixed with some chopped tomato, mint, onion and lime juice makes an extremely high flavor and low calorie dish, rich in fiber and vitamin C. Corn tortillas made from cooked field corn with the germ left in are high in fiber and vitamins and these are eaten up to three times a day.

Most any soup or thickened dish made in Guatemala is thickened with the use of shredded tortillas, bread, ground nuts or seeds, instead of flour. The various kinds of tamale eaten in Guatemala have their basis in either hominy or rice or a combination. As stated, the hominy, or cooked whole field corn, contains the whole kernel, with more nutritional value than a can of hominy without the germ. Any sauces added to the tamales are made by grinding together tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, dried chiles, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon and sometimes chocolate. These particular flavors are a common theme throughout Guatemalan foods.

Another type of tamale that is used as a treat for breakfast, dessert or any time of day is called tamalitos de helote. We all understand a tamale is usually corn, ground and wrapped into a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed. Helote is young corn not the sweet corn we know here in the US for corn on the cob, but field corn that has not matured to complete dryness. The kernels are removed from the cobs and ground, with sugar and cinnamon added for flavor. The green corn husks are used to wrap these little tamales, imparting a particular flavor and goodness. The use of the whole corn kernels in this dish is a healthier way of eating that a milled corn flour with the germ removed. My husband questioned, why not just slice the kernels from the cob and make the whole process easier? My answer is that the flavor and look would be different, and most of the nutrition would be left behind.

Guatemalan typical dishes may take time to prepare properly, but the end result with all the nutrition packed in is invaluable. I value highly all the complex and flavorful typical recipes I learned there over 30 years ago, and I use them to this day.

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