Making garnachas: A family tradition, an enduring bond

Spinal cord stroke survivor gets back to her roots: cooking garnachas with mom.  
May 27, 2022
Garnachas are a traditional Guatemalan dish made with small, thick masa tortillas filled with marinated meat and tomatoes and topped with cabbage, salsa and queso fresco..
Garnachas are a traditional Guatemalan dish made with small, thick masa tortillas filled with marinated meat and tomatoes and topped with cabbage, salsa and queso fresco. Photo: Getty Images.

Marleni Ochoa was just 19 when she had a spinal cord stroke that left her unable to move her head or body and she was told she might never walk again. With determination and the unwavering support of her family, she’s back on her feet and once again is making garnachas with her mom.

Garnachas are a traditional Guatemalan dish made with small, thick masa tortillas filled with marinated meat and tomatoes and topped with cabbage, salsa and queso fresco.

Marleni grew up making them with her mother. After Marleni’s spinal cord stroke, she worried she might never be able to cook with her mom again. Getting back into the kitchen to continue this treasured tradition with her family is one of Marleni’s biggest accomplishments after her stroke. Read more about her story here.

“When I cook, I cook with love. Whatever I do, whatever I make, you know I make it with love,” Marleni said.

Follow this recipe to make garnachas:

Marleni’s Guatemalan Garnachas

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds beef stew meat
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ large purple onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound prepared masa (corn dough) for tortillas
  • Oil for frying
  • 1 bunch of green onions, sliced
  • 2 jalapeños (optional), diced
  • Thyme
  • 2 cups purple cabbage, shredded
  • 2 cups of carrots, shredded
  • 5 ounces queso fresco or cotija, crumbled
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, minced
  • 1½ cup sour cream
  • Lime, cut into wedges

To prepare the shredded beef:

Season meat with salt and pepper. Place stew meat in a large stock pot. Fill pot with water to cover over 2 inches above the meat. Bring to a boil, add onion, garlic, 1 bay leaf and salt, and boil meat uncovered until fork-tender, about 1½ hours, skimming off foam continuously. Add water, as necessary, to keep the meat covered. Remove from water, cool slightly and shred by using two forks to pull apart meat. Set aside. Use cooking liquid with onion and garlic as the base for a separate soup, or discard.

Masa patties:

Form masa balls and shape them into approximate 4-inch patties with a clapping motion, pinching the edges up and shaping them to have a ½-inch trim.

Heat a deep-frying pan over medium-low heat and pour enough oil to sink in the masa patties. When the oil has reached 325°F, carefully place masa patties in the hot oil. Fry on each side until the patty is golden (approximately 90 seconds on each side). Remove from the hot oil and place in a paper-towel-lined dish to remove excess oil.

Escabeche (toppings):

In a hot pan, add a tablespoon of oil, then place the green onions and jalapeños and the other bay leaf, thyme and salt to taste. Once these ingredients are sautéed, add the vinegar, then shredded carrots and cabbage. Let it rest and allow the mix to cook in the vinegar.

Assembly:

Place 3 tablespoons of the shredded-beef mixture onto each fried masa patty. Top with shredded cabbage, tomato, cilantro, a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of queso fresco or cotija and a squeeze of fresh lime. Serve warm, and buen provecho!

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