By: Angela Johnson | From the issue: October 2012 .
A new cookbook can help home cooks to step out of the ordinary and inspire flavorful meals suggestive of a chef who has traveled miles tasting exotic foods and perfecting a distinguished palate.
Amalia Moreno-Damgaard’s new cookbook, Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen: Gourmet Cuisine with Cultural Flair, is exactly this type of cookbook. This book serves up beautiful photography and 170 recipes inspired by 1,000 years of Guatemalan history and culture.
Moreno-Damgaard lives in Eden Prairie. But during the 30 years she’s resided in the United States, she’s traveled home to Guatemala 2-3 times per year and has also toted her suitcase around the globe to cook with family and friends and to get close to distant food cultures.
You don’t really see Guatemalan restaurants around town or Guatemalan kitchen techniques demonstrated on television cooking shows. “Guatemalan cuisine is not well known outside of that country,” Moreno-Damgaard says. “But my passion for cooking and the local demand for fresh and innovative recipes have inspired me to write this cookbook. A cookbook that gives Guatemalan cooking the attention it deserves.”
Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen has been four years in the making. It draws on the traditional cooking of Moreno-Damgaard’s homeland, as well as her personal experience in the kitchen. She says, “I used to cook with my grandmother, shop at Mayan markets and visit coffee plantations while growing up in Guatemala,” she says. “Both coffee and chocolate are integral parts of Guatemalan cooking. I’ve learned this and much more through my travels. These things have informed my cooking and eating philosophy.”
Unlike the flavors and styles of some other South American cooking that North American cooks may be more familiar with, Moreno-Damgaard says that Guatemalan cuisine is affected by that country’s landscape, climate, history and culture, which are heavily influenced by the ancient Mayan civilization. Moreno-Damgaard points out that the Maya are as distinct from the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru, just as the Italians differ from the French. It follows that cuisines of each region are as distinct as the cultures that they’ve been developed in.
In Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen, Moreno-Damgaard manages to mingle old world flavors with the new world techniques to create dishes that incorporate a wide array of delicious fruits, vegetables, roots and edible flowers. The cookbook is divided into 15 chapters that provide a cultural snapshot of Guatemala, including Guatemalan expressions and some history that describes what Guatemalan cuisine is all about.
Because the book is for home use, Moreno-Damgaard created a comprehensive menu to include cooking at home and entertaining. She chose categories based on what she thinks are important for readers to know about Guatemala. Then she chose her favorite recipes, some of which are her own creations, within each category.
For example, one chapter details a Guatemalan pantry and teaches cooks about specific ingredients. “We make tamales, which are common to American cooks,” Moreno-Damgaard says. “But we also use chatate, wild aromatic leaves that look like spinach, commonly used in soups; achiote seeds used by Guatemalan cooks to create color; and zamat, a wild herb similar to cilantro, which is not available in the United States.”
Not to worry. Moreno-Damgaard’s cookbook includes reliable ingredient sources and substitutes. “Many hard-to-find items can be found online or in the grocery store if you know where to look,” Moreno-Damgaard says. “But I’ve made sure to provide acceptable substitutions for my recipes to get dishes as close as possible to authentic Guatemalan cuisine.”
Damgaard says that her recipes are gourmet but are easy to follow and emphasize healthy cooking. Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen is a fun and easy way to get a grasp of Guatemalan culture while enjoying new, fresh, simple, healthy, and delicious foods.
For more information about Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen, visit amaliasguatemalankitchen.com