Garbanzo Carbonara


I love Carbonara, but have a real problem making it my dinner. I find it extremely heavy an unbalanced. It’s all fat and starch, with low protein content (bacon, although delicious, doesn’t count as nutritious in my book). Even trying it with whole wheat pasta doesn’t justify the ratio of bacon cheese and egg. But I love the stuff.

One day it occurred to me I could substitute garbanzos in for the pasta. While still a bit starchy, in my mind and belly they feel more acceptable.  Served with broccoli, I can handle it every other month or so.

Garbanzo Carbonara
Ingredients:
3 cups cooked garbanzos (I like mine with a bit of a crunch)
3 strips bacon
3 eggs
1/2 cup shredded pecorino
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Its essentially the same as carbonara: Slice the bacon to desired size. i prefer to have nice chunks of it…if I’m gonna eat it I wanna feel it. I do inch-long strips. Cook it in your skillet until its done how you like it (I like mine crunchy). Remove and set aside.

2. Heat a bit of oilve oil in the same pan on high eat. Add your garbanzos and sautee until beginning to brown up nicely. Remove from heat and let cool just a minute, no longer.

3. Break eggs into the pan over hot beans, and stir constantly not allowing the egg to curdle. The heat should cook the egg enough, but the constant movement will give it a nice a creamy texture. Once the mixture thickens up beautifully, add in the bacon and cheese And stir to combine well. The cheese should melt just a little bit, adding another element of texture and flavor. Season with salt and pepper.

Quesadilla de Zacapa

We American’s know quesadilla to be tortillas filled with melted cheese among number of other ingredients. In Guatemala, while you do find this Mexican dish in many locations, the quesadilla is a sweet cake found primarily in the eastern part of the country, specifically the state of Zacapa. It uses a very salty crumbly cheese, queso seco (literally, dry cheese) that turns into a powder when you rub a chunk of it between your fingers. I suppose something like parmesean could be used as a substitute in recipes calling for queso seco, although it’s flavor is sharp like a cheddar or even blue cheese.

Recipes vary. Some use rice flour, others all purpose. Most of them contain a lot of butter, lard, cream, ect. My version is much healthier, if not too close to tradition. I was very pleased with the outcome, although it wasn’t a replica of the original treat.

Ingredients:
1 egg
1/2 cup fat free milk
1/2 cup plain greek style yogurt
3 T butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup queso seco or parmesean cheese
1 cup whole wheat flour, or rice flour
1 t baking powder

Directions:
1)Preheat oven to 350F
2)Beat egg. Mix together milk, yogurt, butter, and sugar.
3) Add the cheese. Combine thoroughly.
4) Mix in flour and baking powder until just combined.
5) Bake until toothpick comes clean, about 45 minutes.

Baked Goat Cheese

Baked Goat Cheese - Breaded

Goat cheese always reminds me of my friend Peggy. It would be her way of treating herself after a great accomplishment, or perhaps just a long hard week. She would bake it in the oven in a bed of marinara sauce, and sco0p it up with fresh bread from a local bakery. I was always impressed with how decadent it appeared, yet how simple it was to prepare. It’s been a year or so since I’ve watch her make her creation, yet I’d never made it myself. But what better way to unwind with something rich and indulgent (yet surprisingly healthy) and so simple to prepare?

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When I saw this recipe I was reminded of my friend — and so, nostalgic, we went to the store and bought some to prepare. It was simple, yet you can make it more involved if you like. I chose to marinated it, as David recommended, in a little olive oil and herbs. When we were ready to eat I quickly dredged the slices in some homemade breadcrumbs (although store-bought pre-seasoned works just as well if you’re in a rush) and stuck it in the oven for a matter of minutes. Served with a warm tomato sauce and on some nice toasty bread or homemade crackers, a delicate bed of greens — it is a simple, decadent meal on its own, or it can be an appetizer or accompaniment to your main course. Now that I’m working and much too busy to spend hours on recipes, this will become a semi-frequent staple for those nights we want something special.

Baked Goat Cheese

Ingredients:
6 oz Soft Fresh Goat Cheese

Marinade (optional):
2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
2 teaspoons fresh chopped sage
Fresh ground pepper
Dash of Salt

Bread Crumbs:
2 slices day old bread, crumbled (should make 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (minced)
1 teaspoon fresh sage (minced)

Directions:
1. Prepare the marinade. Mix salt, pepper, rosemary, sage, and olive oil in a dish to marinate. Slice goat cheese in 1/2 thick disks and place in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.

2. Toast bread crumbs. Crumble the bread finely. Mix with 1 teaspoon olive oil until just coated. Season with salt and pepper. Toast in oven at 400ºF for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix with chopped herbs.

3. Bake. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Remove cheese from marinade, allowing excess oil to drip off. Dredge in bread crumbs and place in oiled baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes, or until cheese starts to ooze out a bit. Serve on fresh toasted bread or crackers.

Greek Salad, Guatemalan Style

Greek Salad

I eat lots of salads these days, and they are continually changing and evolving depending on the ingredients we happen to have, how productive my herbs have been, and where my cravings may be leading me. In general, my “Salad” entries will probably be quite short (although this one is not), because there are plenty of them. And in all honestly they’re not that complicated, and perhaps not anything too out of the ordinary. But I love salads, and I am quite particular about the way I have my salads (I rarely order a salad as-is on the menu, and always ask for the dressing on the side because I abhor soaked salads). Besides, this is a blog about everything I love foodwise, so I’m gonna write about them anyway. Also, its often an exploration into ingredients that are new to me that I discovered in Guatemala. Perhaps you are already very familiar with them, or perhaps they will be ingredients that are difficult to find outside of Guatemala or Central America, and maybe sometimes they will be ingredients I am longing for (like sweet wide-leaf basil).

This is a Greek-style salad. I say this mainly because it has olives (yes, we found a shop with high-quality Kalamata olives with pits in the brine – I also abhor canned olives), tomato, and a white crumbly cheese — all things that remind me of a good Greek salad. Also, I don’t care for cucumber unless peeled and seeded, so that will always be left out of my Greek Salad. This salad is different, however, because the cheese is not feta. Feta you can find here in Guate, and its not all that expensive (1/2 lb for 3USD, does that sound reasonable? I really don’t remember). Nonetheless, queso seco, a crumbly salty dry (seco means dry) is much more common, less expensive, and very Guatemalan. Despite my love of international cuisine and goods, I really enjoy keeping with Guatemalan goods and produce wherever possible. After all, when I eventually move away, it will be difficult to find some of these things. So I used queso seco.

Additionally, I added to my salad some toasted pepita, or pumpkin seeds. I was not very familiar with pepita before coming to Guatemala, although have seen them used in a few bloggers’ recipes. Here in Guate they use it on everything. They put toasted and ground pepita on unripe mangos with lime and salt, on oranges, and they even make a fresco, or juice, from it. I use pepita in a lot of my recipes, both whole and ground, especially lately. They are very inexpensive, when toasted they offer a wonderfully crisp pop to in your mouth, when ground they add a nutty flavor and crumbly texture. I especially love the sound they make when toasting — in just a few seconds in a hot pan or in the oven they pop very much like popcorn. I like to prepare everything in my salad and then toast them, and throw them on top still warm and making popping noises. I know people say to let everything cool before putting them onto greens, however I love the effect the hot seeds have on the rest of the textures and flavors.

Greek Salad Guatemalan Style (for one):

Ingredients:
3 Leaves Red Escarole, or two handfuls of any other green you prefer
1 roma tomato, diced (seeded if you prefer, but I like the juice)
5 olives, pitted and sliced
Red onion, slivered (use as much as you like)
2 Tablespoons queso seco (alternatively, finely grated romano)
2 Tablespoons toasted pepitas (perhpas sunflower seeds as an alternative)
A dash of red wine vinegar or juice of 1/2 a lime (both are lovely)
A dash of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (the cheese is salty, so you may not need any)Directions:
Start with the greens finely torn. Add the diced tomato and sliced olives, and cheese. Salt and pepper a pinch and few turns. Vinegar and Olive oil last, tossing with your fork.

Cheese Fondue

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Although we have been trying to eat out less and less lately, occationally we just can’t help ourselves. Say, on a Friday evening after a long week when we both want to say to ourselves “well done, you earned this one.” Perhaps the second most frequented place would be Klosters, a German-style pub/fondue joint. What we like most about the joint are the pitchers of mixtas – a mixture of Gallo, a lager style beer, and Moza, a sweet dark beer (and the closest thing to Guinness you can find in the country). Sometimes we go just to have a pitcher on a Saturday evening, but often find ourselves unable to overcome the desire to share a small pot of oozing cheese.

Once — while shopping at a local specialty store which carries nice cured meats, fancy cheeses, and delightful wines — we happened to notice that a block of Gruyere was about a third of the price we pay for fondue at Kloser. We picked up half a pound, along with a selection of others to experiment with flavors, and added fondue to the queue for the weeks meals.

It was a lot simpler than I expected, and the cheese was not fussy at all. Now, we don’t have a fondue pot, because, to be honest, we don’t have space or the money to own an appliance with such limited use. And until we become weekly-fondue makers (and I hope for my waistline’s sake we don’t), I don’t ever plan on having a fondue set. We simply prepared it on our ever faithful electric stove and, once it reached the consistency desired, transfered it to our kitchen table, turned it to barely on (below the “off” and “zero” on the dial), and dug in.

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Heidi Swanson lists many wonderful ideas for dipping, but we served it with what we had: broccoli (blanched), roasted whole green onions (cebollines, a delicacy in Guatemala), fresh baked bread beautifully molded by Héc (pictured right), and sliced apple. We both agreed that apple was our dipper of choice. I’m looking forward to pears going on sale as well. Those will clearly be delicious with a variety of cheeses.

Our next fondue will probably feature blue cheese,or something with more of a kick just to experiment with all the possibilities. Hopefully we can hold off until next month, for our stomachs’ sake.

Cheese Fondue for Two (and some leftovers, If you can restrain yourselves!):

Ingredients:
1/2 lb grated Edam
1/4 lb grated Gruyere
1 tablespoon corn starch (flour works as well)
4 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
1 cup white wine
Nutmeg, freshly grated
Fresh ground black pepper
Brandy

In a 1 quart saucepan, bring the wine and garlic to a simmer. Meanwhile, toss the grated cheese with the flour to coat. When the wine is simmering, reduce to medium heat. Add the cheese one handful at a time, whisking constantly. Once it has melted and turned to a smooth consistency, grate the pepper and nutmeg on top and gently whisk in. Stir in the brandy. Serve immediately.

Directions:
First, prepare all your dippers: your croutons, blanched or roasted veggies. This is to make sure you don’t accidentally overcook your cheese or let it set up too much. When the cheese is ready, you want to be ready to eat!

Zucchini Fritata

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I love eggs — from a simple egg over-easy on top of a piece of toast, eggs with ketchup or salsa, to scrambled eggs with onion garlic, tomato, and some fresh basil. We tend to eat eggs quite often, and not just for breakfast. A very traditional Guatemalan meal which has become a part of my cooking repitior is huevitos con frijoles: refried beans scrambled with eggs. They are satisfying, healthy, enjoyable meals, but simple enough to throw together at the end of those long days when we haven’t had time to shop or put on our creative thinking caps. This mediterranean meal, too, is just as simple.

This was another recipe developed to consume our overabundance of zucchini. But what a delight it turned out to be. This is a colorful, nutritious dish, and can be adapted to any palate and awaits your creative take. Don’t like dill, don’t have it? IMG_2038Use some fresh mint, cilantro, or parsley instead. No zucchini? How about some spinach. Have some red peppers, capers, sun dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes? Those would work too. Any veggie or even meat that you would put into an omelet would work here. Its somewhere along the lines of a quiche, but with a little bit of flour and baking powder to give it a lighter fluffier texture. It went very well with the zucchini tatziki we had along side. You could serve this as an appetizer, side, or main entrée. It is delicious warm, cold, and at room temperature. You can increase the amount of cheese, decrease the amount of flour. Basically make it how you like. Its hard to mess up.

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Bacon Wrapped Dates

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The first time I tried these I had actually been a vegetarian for a few years. It was at a party catered by the university welcoming incoming graduate students. Fancy waiters dressed in tuxedos carried trays of h’orderves  around. At the beginning I was careful to inquire of the contents of the food, but it turned out to be too complicated. I grabbed one of these guys and the flavor was one I could not identify, but they were addicting. A salty crisp on the outside with a hint of maple, a chewy gooey center – the combination explosive. I fascinated over what they could be. I actually never found out. Until a few months later, at another University sponsored event with the same caterers. I was there with some friends, one a fellow vegetarian. When I saw a tray of my old friends being wielded around I almost dove. And as I was marveling yet again over the salty sweetness, my friend asked me why I was eating the bacon wrapped dates. Huh…thats what that strange flavor is…

Well, these days I am not longer a vegetarian. The first time I came to Guatemala I found myself in awkward situations denying food from Tía Emma, or Abuela Zoila – two lovely women I would never want to offend. So little by little I would try a few bites to show respect, but still considered myself a vegetarian. One day, however, just about two years ago now, we went to Zacapa. There I tried chicharrone, which I would best describe as a bacon on steroids. If I could enjoy that, I could no longer call myself vegetarian. I wasn’t going to lie to myself.

To this day I don’t eat very much meat, however I will indulge every once in a while in chicharron or these bacon wrapped dates. High quality products, a new experience, or simply a sinful craving such as buffalo wings. Those are my excuses.

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I would also like to mention that these are served at Mercat, one of my favorite restaurants as mentioned in a previous post. Mercat’s were simple bacon wrapped dates, but I have come across a number of recipes calling for blue cheese, almonds, and other similar stuffings. I thought I would try a couple different ones. Some carry walnuts, some manchego cheese, some both, some neither. They are very simple to put together and take very little time to bake. An easy way to impress some friends at a dinner party or for drinks some afternoon.

Bacon Wrapped Dates:

Ingredients:
10 strips of bacon
20 dates, pitted and whole
Additional stuffings for the dates: blue cheese, gorgonzala cheese, manchego, or other; almonds, walnuts, ect…

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Fill the walnuts with your desired stuffings. Cut bacon strips in half. Wrap the bacon securely around the date. You may want to use a toothpick to fasten it, but I simply rested the tail of the bacon under the roll. Place on a baking sheet and in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the outsides are crisped to desired texture (I like mine well done) and the insides are soft. Serve warm or at room temperature (and I don’t mind them cold either).