AMALIA’S KITCHEN: Wholesome Resolutions (recipes included)

Guatemala award-winning chef and author Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

Award-winning chef and author Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

New Year’s resolutions come in many ways and forms. Mine usually include sticking to healthy cooking and eating habits for health and well being.

Cooking healthy doesn’t have to be bland, difficult, or boring. Guatemalan cuisine, like other cuisines, has its own distinct cooking techniques. Today people are more aware about food than ever as the sharing of information has been facilitated by the Internet. Savvy cooks are realizing that a new approach to cooking can produce faster and healthier results.

When I attended Le Cordon Bleu, cooking techniques was one of the most important things that I learned. After having taken healthy cooking courses with a nutritionist instructor, I absorbed more about food, nutrition, and healthy cooking than I ever imagined. After I graduated, I started blending the healthy cooking tips that I learned from my grandmother with the techniques that I acquired at chef school.

Mise en place is not a technique but rather an important concept and a French culinary expression that means, roughly, “put everything in place,” or “organize all ingredients and equipment for a recipe before you start cooking.” Organization is essential in any kitchen. It makes the cooking process easier, smoother, and more fun. Reading, understanding and anticipating the steps of a recipe are as important as having the right ingredients and equipment.

In Guatemalan and Latin cooking, sazón refers to the proper seasoning of foods. An outstanding recipe can produce poor results without proper seasoning. Basic seasoning such as salt and freshly ground black pepper can make the difference between a bland dish and a delicious one. Tasting goes hand in hand with seasoning. You cannot possibly know how much seasoning you need without tasting.

Carryover heat is an important element of the cooking process. It refers to the fact that food retains heat and continues to cook after you remove it from the heat source. The temperature will continue to rise by about 10° F while sitting on your kitchen counter. So it’s best to slightly undercook vegetables, meats, and seafood (by about 8 to 10°F). Planning for carryover heat can make a difference between properly cooked food and an overcooked one.

Oven roasting has become one of techniques that I use the most in my kitchen because it allows me to cook healthy and fast. Oven roasting is baking at a high temperature, usually 400F or higher. This method gives the effect of frying without adding much—or any—fat. It is a delicious and healthy way of preparing potatoes, meats, and poultry. Oven roasting is a good alternative to pan roasting pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds – just keep a close eye on them, so the seeds don’t burn.

I am also a fan of simple grilling. Guatemalans usually grill food on grates over natural charcoal or carbón that they buy in small quantities at the market. I also cook this way because I don’t like using charcoal fluid or the commercial briquettes that leave an unpleasant aftertaste. This healthy grilling technique provides the best flavor and aroma. Before grilling, meats may be marinated with a little oil to prevent sticking. Churrasco is the Guatemalan term for barbecue. Churrasco also refers to the grilled dish, such as grilled meats, or to a barbecue party.

Now that you have learned a few tips and healthy cooking techniques, you are on your way to cooking healthier. Below are a couple of recipes to get you started.

Happy New Year and Buen Provecho!


Grilled burgers with guacamole, spicy chile ketchup and butter lettuce with roasted herbed fries.

Wholesome burger with friesThis burger and fries is a healthier alternative to fast food. I discovered bison while living in Minnesota. Grass-fed bison is delicious and not at all gamy. It’s leaner, lower in calories, and more nutritious than beef. You can purchase or order bison through the meat department of your local grocery store. It is also available online.

Recipe serves 2 to 4

Tortitas (Patties)

1 pound ground round bison or beef

1 cup finely diced yellow onion

1 cup finely diced Roma tomatoes

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup cornflake crumbs or herbed bread crumbs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Adorno (Toppings)

2 to 4 butter lettuce leaves, washed and spun dry

2 to 4 slices salad tomatoes

2 to 3 slices red onions

4 to 6 cilantro sprigs

1 batch Guacamol Chapín (see below)

1/2 cup crumbled queso (Cotija cheese or queso fresco)

Spicy Chile Ketchup

3/4 to 1 cup Heinz ketchup

2 to 3 minced bird’s eye (Thai), or Serrano chiles

2 teaspoons lime juice

Freshly ground black pepper

2 to 4 Latino buns, sliced and grilled (or whole-wheat buns)

In a bowl, combine the meat with the rest of the patty ingredients. Form four equal-size patties (or size them according to taste). Set the patties aside. Prepare all the toppings and arrange them attractively on a platter. Set them aside. 

Mix all the ketchup ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

Heat the grill (or griddle) and cook the patties over medium-high heat to desired doneness. Slice and grill the buns.

Assemble the burgers. Spread some guacamole and sprinkle some cheese on the bottom side of the bun. Add 1 slice of lettuce, then a patty, followed by the spicy chile ketchup, tomatoes and onions, and cilantro sprigs. Serve.

PAPITAS (Oven-Roasted Herbed Fries)

Serves 2 to 4 people

2 to 4 unpeeled russet potatoes, soaked, scrubbed, cut into eighths lengthwise

Olive oil

1 tablespoon pimentón (Spanish paprika)

1 tablespoon dried cilantro, thyme, oregano, and parsley (combined)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Prepare the potatoes. After cutting the potatoes, pat them dry with paper towels or the seasonings will not stick. Place them in a medium bowl and drizzle them with enough olive oil to coat them thinly and thoroughly. Sprinkle the paprika and herbs and season generously with salt and pepper. Use your hands to toss the potatoes and coat them well with oil and spices.

Lay the potatoes face-up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Roast them in 10-minute intervals, turning the baking sheet around after each interval to roast the potatoes evenly. Roast until the potatoes are medium brown and puffy. Total roasting time should be 20 to 25 minutes.

GUACAMOL CHAPÍN (Guatemalan Guacamole)

Makes about 1 3/4 cups

3 ripe avocados, mashed to a chunky texture

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon shredded onion

1/2 teaspoon crumbled oregano

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix them well. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

Revue’s “AMALIA’S KITCHEN” by award-winning chef and author Amalia Moreno-Damgaard (

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