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Hilachas Guatemaltecas

January 24, 2011

(Guatemalan shredded beef in tomato-tomatillo sauce)

A number of years ago, I was approached by one of the local school teachers who was interested in perfecting her Spanish.  She had just spent the summer learning the rudimentary structures in Guatemala and wanted to continue to make progress in the language.  We began working together one-on-one and have since become good friends.  She is now retired from the school district and splits her time between Guatemala and the United States.  She also pens a blog entitled, The Room Beyond, a personal exploration of what comes next in her life.

On a couple of her trips to Guatemala, she asked if there were anything that I would like to have from there.  One time, she brought me a lovely Guatemalan mask—a wooden carving of some animal, painted in earthy greens and oranges.  I have it hanging in my office.  When asked a second time, I boldly encouraged her to find me an authentic recipe book.  This took some doing since Guatemala is not a country of readers, it seems.  Books stores are in short supply and the books one finds aren’t necessarily something that you would want to read.  And which recipe book best represented Guatemala?

According to my friend’s sources, Cocinemos con Recetas de Oro by Olga Pérez Guisasola de Cáceres is the closest Guatemalan cookbook one can get to the American Fanny Farmer.

Hilachas is a popular Guatemalan dish made of cooked and shredded beef that is simmered in a mildly spicy tomatillo-tomato sauce. Pair it with a side of rice and fresh corn tortillas for a full meal.


  • Beef, flank or skirt steak, cubed — 2 pounds
  • Water — 5 cups
  • Onion, chopped — 1 cup
  • Chopped tomatoes — 1 cup (canned is fine)
  • Chopped tomatillos — 1 cup (canned is fine—if you prefer not to use these then double the quantity of tomatoes)
  • (Variation:  Add 2 teaspoon achiote seasoning to the onion-tomato puree for added flavor.  Bricks of achiote seasoning can be found at many Latin markets, and is most often used to give your dish a rich color since the achiote plant is the source for annatto.  Mix with a bit of bitter orange juice or lime juice before use to soften.)
  • Garlic – one or two cloves to taste
  • Oil — 2-3 tablespoons
  • Guajillo chiles, warmed over a flame, deseeded and chopped — 2-3 (If you can’t find guajillo chiles, use anchos or pasillas. Or substitute with 1 tablespoon of paprika and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  The guajillo is the dried mirasol chile.  Some warm the chile by soaking in the broth for just a few moments rather than heating them over an open flame.)
  • Salt and pepper — to taste
  • Potatoes, peeled and chopped — 1 pound
  • Carrots, peeled and chopped — 2-3
  • Breadcrumbs — 1/2 cup
  • Cilantro, chopped — 1 bunch

Making the hilachas:

  1. Place the beef, water, half of the onion and tomato and a big pinch of salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the beef is very tender. Remove the beef to a bowl, reserving the broth, and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the beef with your fingers and set aside.
  2. (If you prefer, you can prepare the meat the night before and put the meat and broth in to the fridge to cool.  Before beginning the salsa preparation, remove any fat that has risen to the surface of the water over night.)

Making the salsa (recado):

  1. While the beef is simmering, place the onion, tomatoes, tomatillos and chiles in a food processor or blender and puree, adding a little water if necessary.  (If you don’t have a food processor, a fine chop would work just as well.  I like the added texture that the chopped veggies give over the blended version.).
  2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium flame. Add the onion-tomato puree and simmer until the puree is cooked down and darkens somewhat in color, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently.  Do not burn.
  3. Add the shredded beef and about 3 cups of the broth to the onion-tomato puree and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in the potatoes, onions and a little more broth or water if necessary. Simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.
  5. Stir in the breadcrumbs to thicken the sauce.  (Use 1 or 2 shredded fresh corn tortillas to thicken the sauce instead of the breadcrumbs if you like. If the sauce has thickened enough while simmering, neither thickener may be necessary.)

Serving Suggestions:

  1.  Then stir in the chopped cilantro, adjust seasoning and serve hot with corn tortillas or rice.
  2. A nice side dish might also be black beans with sour cream.  Others serve this dish with slices of avocado.  If you like heat add Guate’s most widely-used hot pepper, the chiltepe.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Galen permalink
    February 12, 2011 5:51 am

    Thank you so much for the recipe. Can’t wait to make it!

  2. sandra permalink
    November 9, 2011 11:57 pm

    Thanks for the recipe, and there are Guatemalans who like and enjoy reading, unfortunately we don’t have the resources to buy books we prefer to buy food, but we read too.

  3. July 3, 2015 9:09 pm

    buenas tardes quisiera saber donde puedo encontrar o comprar el libro recetas de Oro de Olga Pérez Guisasola de Cáceres. Tengo uno pero es muy viejito y me gustaría comprar o tener recetas nuevas de las ediciones 2,3,y creo q hay 4.
    Agradecería mucho por su tiempo, q haya tomado para leer este presente.

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