An Expert Lesson in Guatemalan Cuisine

Published by Foodservice NewsFoodservice news, Twin Cities, March 2015, article by Nancy Weingartner.   Guatemalans claim ceviche is the perfect cure for a hangover. Peruvians honor ceviche with its own national holiday. But in the Twin Cities, one of the best ways to enjoy raw fish “cooked” in lime juice was from a back-row seat at Byerly’s St. Louis Park Cooking Studio on a snowy night in February.

Amalia Moreno-Damgaard, author of the award-winning “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen: Gourmet Cuisine with a Cultural Flair,” demonstrated to her fellow Les Dames d’Escoffier members the many charms of Mayan-inspired dishes, from Jocón (chicken, tomatillos and cilantro stew) to guacamole seasoned with oregano to minute steak served with mashed potatoes moistened with olive oil instead of cream and butter.

Food-centric women like the ones you’ll find in the Twin Cities chapter of Les Dames always appreciate good cooking, but what kicked the class up a notch were the cultural notes from Moreno-Damgaard’s experiences growing up in Guatemala City, along with the floral notes of the wine accompanying each course.

Guatemalans get their fresh fish fix at cevicherias, little restaurants where after ordering your protein—shrimp, white fish, black clams—servers bring all the prepped fresh ingredients to the table so diners can concoct their own ceviche to taste. Common ingredients include tomatoes, onion, mint, cilantro, lots of quartered limes, coarse salt and various chilies. Accompaniments are tamalitos (mini tamales) and Saltine crackers. Plus, don’t forget to add the national drink, Guatemalan beer. 

Guatemalan Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche, Amalia Moreno-DamgaardGuacamole is also the perfect side dish. Moreno-Damgaard made hers with avocados squeezed from the skins into a glass bowl, fresh lime juice, salt, diced onion, a small bit of finely chopped chilies for heat and dried oregano. The avocados in Guatemala, she said, are different from the varieties we get. In addition to having a buttery consistency, they don’t turn black after sitting out awhile. The more lime you use in the recipe the more you avoid the lovely green shade of the guacamole turning darker, she added.

And even though it’s extremely important that only sushi-grade, fresh fish be used for safety reasons, ceviche is also a street food in Guatemala and it’s not unusual to see it being sold from the back of a pick-up truck or a pop-up stand. “In economically challenged countries, people find a way to survive,” Moreno-Damgaard said. “They set up shop wherever they can.”

Moreno-Damgaard learned to cook from her maternal grandmother, but she spent nearly 20 years as an executive in international business before attending Le Cordon Bleu. As her bio puts it: “…she earned a master’s degree, married a Dane, became a mother, left the banking world, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, started cooking professionally, became an entrepreneur and launched Amalia, LLC.” She teaches at various cooking schools around town, as well as teaching corporate groups about the food and culture of Latin America. She combines healthy ethnic food with storytelling. She also writes culinary columns for three online publications, including Latino American Today; Revue Magazine, out of Guatemala; and Siglio21, a national newspaper written in Spanish.

She’s currently working on her second cookbook. 

Ceviche De Camaron Y Conchas De Vierira

Spicy Shrimp and Scallops in Lime-Orange Sauce

Single serving

6 medium shrimp, deveined and tails removed

Salted water

1/3 cup fresh baby or large (halved) scallops

5 roughly chopped cilantro stems1 Tbsp roughly chopped onion

1 bird’s eye (Thai) chili, stem removed

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tsp ketchup (optional)

¾ tsp kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

3 finely chopped vine-ripened tomatoes

1 Tbsp chopped cilantro leaves

 Adorno (Garnish)

1 Tbsp thinly sliced red onion

1 lime slice (optional)

Cilantro leaves

Blanch the shrimp in salted hot water until opaque (about 2 minutes). Remove from the water and chill immediately in the refrigerator to keep shrimp from cooking further. Blanch scallops for 1 minute, chill.

Puree the onion, cilantro and chili to a fine paste. Add lime and orange juices, ketchup and seasonings to form a saucy mixture. 

In a medium nonreactive bowl, combine the seafood, sauce, tomatoes and cilantro leaves. Mix gently with folding strokes. Adjust seasonings if needed. 

Spoon into a decorative glass and garnish.