Whether it’s by airport, by road or by train, I think crossing the border can be hectic. Standing in long lines surrounded by large crows just to deal with the customs and immigration officers is exhausting. There is, however, one place I actually look forward to crossing the border. That’s on the Usumacinta River which divides Mexico and Guatemala. Many years ago, I hired a small boat and a guide and entered Guatemala from Mexico while floating down the peaceful Usumacinta River. Surrounded by trees and listening to the water streaming down the boat’s sides felt like “being in the deep jungle”. I kept thinking, “Wow. Is there anyone else on this river to enjoy this beautiful ride?” Suddenly, in the middle of the river, my guide pulled the boat over to a “hut”, and I got a Guatemalan visa stamped on my passport there with no hassles. Then, we continued our boat journey to Guatemala.
Guatemala, the heart of Mayan culture, is a fascinating and mystical place. Getting to know that country is as exciting as unwrapping the green “parchment paper-like” husk of the tomatillo for the first time and finding a sticky green coating and tart flavors of lemon with herb notes. In fact, the first meal I had in Guatemala was a chicken with green sauce made with tomatillos. The tangyness of the tomatillos balanced out the rich chicken meats so beautifully that I’ve been hooked on it ever since that first meal. Today, to warm up the Northern Californian cold Autumn night, I’m making a Guatemalan-style beef stew with tomatillos in my California kitchen.
To start, first I heat the extra virgin olive oil in a casserole to medium heat and sauté 4 garlic cloves (crushed), 2 onions (chopped), and 1 lb carrots (cut into chunks) for 5 minutes. Then I add 2 lbs flank steak and cook until golden brown. Then I add 1 whole big ancho chile (ground in the food processor), 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 Tablespoon sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Lastly, I add 1 lb tomatillos (chopped), 1 lb vine ripe tomatoes (chopped) & a 15 oz can of black beans and simmer until the meat turns tender. Before serving, I shred the flank steak meats with forks and garnish with some fresh cilantro leaves.
I am pairing this delicious Guatemalan style beef stew with a 2009 Tre Gatti Baldo Rosso “estate grown” Syrah from the San Antonio Valley in Monterey County, California. Packed with blackberry, tart cherries, and notes of herbs, this “weighty” wine has smooth texture and pairs extremely well with the thick Guatemalan beef stew. The acid of the wine draws out the tartness of the tomatillos and makes the bite of the tender beef soaked in the tomato broth absolutely delicious. And, how nicely this Syrah cleans the palate without overpowering the flavors of the beef stew. Yum.
Hope you enjoy the flavor of Guatemala and a pairing with Californian Syrah on a cold Fall evening. Happy cooking.