The word garnacha has several uses in the Spanish language; some of them are: 1) a vestment similar to a judge’s gown; 2) a red grape variety (from the Italian vernaccia), popular in South America; or 3) an old car, in Central America. In food terms, in Mexico it has become a generic name for any sort of street food, especially if it is fried, and usually corn dough based; however, the original garnacha, still very traditional in Southern states and along the Gulf of Mexico, is a fried corn dough disc topped with different ingredients, depending on the region.
When I was an undergraduate student in Mexico, a friend invited a group of us to stay at his parents’ house in the Southern state of Chiapas; living with a local family for a week, we had an opportunity to try regional ingredients, such as their famous cheese, uniquely creamy and crumbly at the same time (queso de Chiapas.) One rainy afternoon, the wayward weather kept us in, and I learned how to make garnachitas, taught by my friend’s sisters, all skilful cooks. These garnachitas are named in diminutive because they are much smaller than other fried corn dough disc garnachas; another unique invention of the Chiapas style garnachitas, is that the corn dough patties are sliced horizontally in half before frying, resulting in a crispier base for the toppings. the most common toppings in Chiapas are a seasoned tomato sauce, chopped beef, and special pickled cabbage, finished with a sprinkle of crumbly queso de Chiapas. The closest substitutions for this local cheese would be a mixture of grated parmesan and Gouda cheeses, or Cotija cheese, or a crumbly, very light, feta cheese.
Chiapas Style Small Corn Dough Fried Discs with Toppings – Garnachitas
Ingredients (for 16 pieces)
1 cup nixtamalized corn flour (masa harina, such as Maseca™ or Bob’s Red Mill™)
¾ cup warm water
2 cups stewing beef chunks, cooked in water (save broth for another recipe)
1 cup crumbled cheese; Chiapas, Cotija, or light feta
½ white onion; peeled, and cut into two pieces
½ small cabbage; hard bottom removed, shredded, washed, and drained
4 tomatoes; washed
2 sprigs cilantro; washed
1 clove garlic; peeled
½ cup pickled jalapeños and carrots, with their liquid (click here for homemade, or from can); sliced
1 lime; washed, juice only
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil, as needed
Mix nixtamalized corn flour with warm water, to form a soft dough; cover and allow to rest for half an hour. Divide into eight equal parts (about 38 g – 1.3 oz each); form each portion into a ball, then flatten to form discs, approximately 2.25 inches (6 cm) in diameter (photo below, left). Warm up a comal (Mexican flat grill) or an iron skillet over medium heat, and cook discs, flipping two or three times, until just slightly brown and cooked through (photo below, right):
Remove from heat and allow to cool down.
Meanwhile, prepare meat from cooked stewing beef chunks (photo below, left). Remove excess fat, slice each chunk across the grain, and then shred (photo below, right):
Chop one piece of onion (makes approximately half a cup) and add to the chopped meat (photo below, left). Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and mix all together (photo below, right):
Mix the shredded cabbage with the sliced pickled jalapeños and carrots with their liquid, and the lime juice, seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste:
Cover and reserve until serving time.
Place tomatoes and garlic in a pot with hot water, and cook just until the tomato skins start to burst. Remove and discard skin from tomatoes, as well as their stem spot, then transfer to a blender jar, along with the garlic. Add the other piece of onion, the cilantro, and half a teaspoon of salt, or to taste (photo below, left). Process until smooth (photo below, right):
Transfer to a bowl or jar, and reserve.
Once the corn patties have cooled down, slice in half horizontally with a serrated knife (photo below, left), to make sixteen thinner discs (photo below, right):
Just before serving time, fry and assemble the garnachitas. The traditional method is to top each disc, cut side up, with the prepared tomato sauce, chopped meat and onions, and then fry in enough oil to crisp the bottom and toppings. I prefer to use just a couple of tablespoons of oil, and crisp the discs and meat separately, then assemble. For my method, warm up two tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add about one cup of the meat and onion mix to one side, and place five to six corn discs, cut side down next to the meat:
Stir the meat and onion to crisp evenly, and flip discs after one minute, then top with prepared tomato sauce:
Continue cooking until the meat and onions are nicely crisped, then divide and place on top of the discs:
The garnachitas are crispy, and ready to serve:
Transfer to a plate, top with a generous amount of the pickled cabbage, sprinkle with crumbled cheese, and serve immediately, with more tomato sauce on the side:
Repeat to crisp the rest of the meat and discs; makes three very generous plates, as the one shown above, or four to six appetizer-size portions.
The crispy corn discs, topped with fried meat and onions, and finished with tangy cabbage offer a deliciously crunchy bite, complemented by the flavours of the seasoned tomato sauce and crumbly cheese:
A few of these tasty garnachitas sure recharged our energy during that stormy day in Chiapas and now, prepared in Canada decades later, I enjoyed reminiscing on my visit to that beautiful state. In spite of having a rich cuisine, this is my first recipe from Chiapas on the blog, but I hope to come back and share more of its wonderful dishes soon, and promote this amazing corner in Southern Mexico.
One of my daughters has just relocated to the Greater Toronto Area to begin a new job (so proud of her!) but she was still home when I made these garnachitas, so I prepared a special portion with refried beans instead of meat, since she is a vegetarian. To crisp them, after frying the cut side of the discs, spread a layer of refried beans on them and return to the pan with the bean side down, just for half a minute or so, then flip to crisp the outer side (photo below, left). Transfer to a plate and top with seasoned tomato sauce, tangy cabbage and crumbly cheese (photo below, right):
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