Churrasco! A Guatemalan Barbecue Experience

Published on Revue Magazine, September 2014, -article and recipes by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard.   Churrasco is a special Guatemalan experience that refers to cooking meats and other foods outdoors on a parrilla (grill) during gatherings where friends and family get together to celebrate special events or simply share good times.

My dad’s very large family (12 brothers and sisters) had many such churrasco celebrations, and between my dad’s and mom’s relatives we had barbecue parties galore all year long! As a little girl growing up in Guatemala I remember Sunday afternoons at Aunt Lidia’s home at Lake Amatitlán, then later at her granja (farm) in the countryside. Her cozy home had the best ranchito (thatched roof BBQ gazebo) equipped with a parrilla and picnic tables for entertaining.

During business-related churrascos, a company may elect a park or resort as the place for this special gathering. In Guatemala, many outdoor public places offer amenities for barbecuing. A churrasco gathering is an opportunity to get to know people better by participating in the preparation of food and activities like games and dancing to the beat of salsa or merengue music.

A home meal can be quite simple and nice. I cannot think of a better way to relax at my sister’s house than to enjoy a special time with her and her family while we cook together. Many Guatemalans cook with natural charcoal for optimum flavor, which is readily available in bolsitas (small bags) at many public mercados (markets). The taste of grilled grass-fed beef and my sister’s delicious onion, oregano and lime guacamol, along with homemade, warm corn tortillas, is the flavor of home to me.

Here is a simple, delicious and healthy barbecue recipe. Guatemala is the Land of the Eternal Spring, so churrasco time is any time!

Carne Asada con Chirmol (Orange and Onion-Marinated Flank Steak with Charred Tomato and Mint Salsa)

Carne asada con chirmol is a Guatemalan barbecue basic. It is one of my favorite dishes because it is not only delicious and healthy, it is also easy to prepare. The sauce elevates the steak to a five-star status. For another dimension of flavor, serve the steak on top of two soft corn tortillas with refried black beans in between and finish with the chirmol. Grilled fish, chorizo or longaniza sausages are often on the barbecue plate complemented with side dishes like guacamol (guacamole), grilled corn rubbed with lime and salt and other sauces like tomatillo and chilito (chiltepe chili home-made hot sauce). Chimichurri sauce is also popular, as there are many Argentine and Uruguayan steak houses in Guatemala.

Serves 4 to 6 people Salmuera (marinade) 2 unpeeled oranges, sliced thinly ½ cup julienned yellow onion 1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano 2 tablespoons canola oil ½ teaspoon kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper

1½ to 2 pounds flank steak (or 4 to 6 top sirloin steaks), seasoned generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 batch chirmol (charred tomato and mint salsa, recipe below)

Preheat the grill.

To make the marinade, combine the orange slices, onion, oregano, oil, salt and pepper in a large Ziploc bag. Seal the bag and squeeze the ingredients with your hands to mix them and to force the juice out of the orange slices. Add the steak, seal the bag, and work the marinade into the steak with your hands, making sure it is well coated. Marinate the steak for 1 to 3 hours or overnight.

Take the steak out of the bag. Discard the orange and onion. Grill the steak over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes on one side and 2 to 3 minutes on the other side for medium-rare. Or cook more or less according to taste. Prior to slicing, rest the steak for 5 to 10 minutes tented with foil. Slice the steak on the diagonal and top it with chirmol.

CHIRMOL  (Charred Tomato and Mint Salsa)

Chirmol de tomate is so simple, yet so delicious. Chirmol is to Guatemalans what chimichurri is to Argentineans. Chirmol is always served with grilled meats. It is the delicious accompaniment to any Guatemalan churrasco. For a flavor twist, use tomatillos instead of tomatoes—or use both—and follow the same steps.

Makes about 2¼ cups

3 Roma tomatoes 2 tablespoons finely diced onion 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (optional) 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice ½ teaspoon minced chiltepe or other hot chile (optional) ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Grill the tomatoes or dry pan roast until they’re charred all over and soft and mushy (12 to 15 minutes). Chop them coarsely, but do not peel them. Combine the tomatoes with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.