Published in Revue Magazine, April 2014 -by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard. Lent (Cuaresma), the time leading up to Holy Week and Easter, is celebrated by about 1.2 billion Christians worldwide. In Guatemala around 60 percent of the population, or 8.2 million Roman Catholics, observe it in a very solemn manner. This is especially so in La Antigua Guatemala, where you’ll find the largest celebration of Semana Santa in the world.
Here, celebrations of the life of Christ up to his death and resurrection are taken to a high level with dramatic processions carried by cucuruchos—devotees dressed in purple or black and shouldering huge andas (heavy wooden floats)—who walk over elaborately colorful sawdust carpets that are made, especially on Good Friday, by local neighborhoods. Churches and streets come alive with the scent of incense and corozo (a type of aromatic palm flower from the tropical Americas).
Lent and spring have a close relationship. “Lencten” in Anglo-Saxon terms means spring, a time of rebirth and renewal of all living things. Spring is also the subtle transition from winter to summer and as such gives us the opportunity to cleanse our homes and spirits. Birds chirping and mating, budding trees and shrubs, vibrant green foliage and grass, and colorful flowers come back to life like magic as we are awakened to new life and, through prayer, a new spiritual beginning.
Renewal can also be a time of introspection or self-analysis. From time to time, it can be healthy and wise to examine our hearts and souls to determine what needs change in our lives. As we grow older, we change and so do our tastes and habits. Replacing unproductive ways with energizing ones can help us get a fresh perspective on life. We can also pay it forward and help others in our own way. The needs out there are endless. We can be mentors, volunteers or support good causes.
Along with Cuaresma comes fasting and observing tradition through food. Fish and seafood take precedence over meat, and abstinence from favorite treats challenges us in unique ways. Creativity in the kitchen evolved as a need to abide by the rules of the church. The Guatemalan kitchen offers a delicious range of flavors during Cuaresma, from savory and tart to sweet and spicy. Favorites include: pescado en escabeche, pan-seared fish topped with a pan sauce made with onions, garlic, bell peppers and spices and finished with a splash of vinegar (recipe below); empanadas de sardina, sardine-stuffed pastries; batido, a fruit, wine and spice hot drink; and street foods such as corbatas, fried sugared pastries shaped like large bow ties, and many more.
With this recipe I invite you to savor the season in a quick, easy and delicious way. ¡Buen provecho!
Pescado en Escabeche
Pescado en escabeche came to Guatemala and Latin America from Spain. Escabeche is of Arab origin and can have varying ingredients depending on each country and recipe. It is a quick and easy pan sauce finished with vinegar. The crusty fish contrasts deliciously with the vinegary sauce and is perfect during Lent.
For 4-6 people 4-6 (4-5oz.) cod or Atlantic salmon filets Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 tbsp. olive oil
Escabeche (chunky pan sauce) 3 tbsp. olive oil 1 cup onion (julienne) 1 cup green and red bell peppers (cut in strips) 1 tbsp. garlic (minced) ¼ cup sliced olives stuffed with pimentos 1 bay leaf, ½ tsp. thyme, ½ tsp. oregano Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp. white wine or champagne vinegar
Rub the cod or salmon with the oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Sear the fish 3 minutes on one side to form a light brown crust and 1 minute on the other side. Transfer the fish to a platter and keep warm.
In the same skillet make the escabeche. In the oil, fry the onion, bell peppers, garlic, olives and spices for 2 minutes. Season and taste. Add the vinegar and fry for 1 more minute.
Top the fish with the chunky pan sauce.