Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, originated in Mexico, but the Halloween-adjacent holiday is celebrated widely across Latin America.
“It’s a time to remember those who have died and feast in their honor,” said Minnesota chef and cookbook author Amalia Moreno-Damgaard, a native of Guatemala. “We go to the cemetery to decorate their graves, and then come back to the house and eat a feast in their honor. And we believe that they are around us.”
Many Minnesotans are familiar with the sugar skulls that are part of the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition. In Guatemala, she said, the focus is on a giant feast called fiambre.
“It is a one-meal salad that can contain 30 or more ingredients, depending on who makes it,” she said.
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The colorful dish may include shrimp, sausage, red peppers, asparagus, eggs — it all depends on who is contributing. The dicing, chopping, and preparation are all part of the celebration.
“It is fun to make, because it allows the whole family and friends to participate,” she said. “But it is a salad basically.”
A beautiful salad that contains all the food groups, dressed with a simple vinaigrette, may be the star of the show, but sweets are also part of the festivities.
Listen to the entire conversation to hear what Moreno-Damgaard has to say about sugar skulls and the healing powers of chocolate. Also check out the recipe for Fiambre Rojo below.
By Amalia Moreno-Damgaard
2 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups julienned green beans
2 cups quartered cauliflower florets
2 cups julienned beets
2 cups julienned carrots
8 asparagus spears
2 ounces (1/4 cup) baby peas
1/4 cup Guatemalan Sharp brand vinegar,
champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
3/4 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup water from cooked vegetables
1 tablespoon Spanish capers
1/2 cup olive oil or to taste
1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon mustard seed
3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon crumbled oregano
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
Enlatados/Botes (Canned/jarred ingredients)
1/4 cup thinly sliced palmito (hearts of palm)
8 to 10 pickled baby onions
1 ounce (1/8 to 1/4 cup) thinly sliced baby
10 Spanish olives stuffed with pimentos, sliced
1 tablespoon Spanish capers
1 ounce (1/8 to 1/4 cup) jarred roasted red bell
4 pacaya flowers in brine
Pollo, Mariscos y Carnes Frías (Chicken, Seafood, and Cold Cuts
1/2 cup shredded store-bought rotisserie
1/2 cup ham strips
1/2 cup thinly sliced Spanish chorizo
1/2 cup Serrano ham strips
1/2 cup cooked Latino chorizo slices
1/2 cup cooked shrimp, tuna, or sardines (or
Proteínas Vegetales (Vegetable Proteins)
1 ounce (1/8 to 1/4 cup) fava beans (optional)
1 ounce (1/8 to 1/4 cup) garbanzo beans
1 cup crumbled queso fresco (fresh
1 ounce (1/8 to 1/4 cup) American or mild
cheddar cheese cut into strips
Leaf or butter lettuce
2-ounce jar baby corn
2 hard-boiled eggs, cut in wedges
3 radishes, cut into flowers
1 ounce (1/8 to 1/4 cup) thinly sliced yellow
1 ounce (1/8 to 1/4 cup) sliced sautéed
2 ounces (1/8 to 1/4 cup) crumbled dried
Chamborote chile (or manzano chile, or cut a
Fresno chile into a flower)
1. Cook all the vegetables (except the beets) in 4 cups of salted boiling water. Cook them al dente one at a time in the same water, in the order listed, and reserve 1/2 cup of the water. Cook the beets separately, submerged in water, for 40 minutes. Peel the beets under cold running water, then julienne them. Combine all the vegetables except the asparagus and let them cool. Set the asparagus aside for use as a garnish.
2. Combine all the caldillo (vinaigrette) ingredients (except the chicken stock) in a blender and process until very creamy. Add the chicken stock and process again to combine. The caldillo will have a strong taste. This is necessary to marinate all the cooked vegetables.
3. In a large nonreactive bowl, combine all the cooked vegetables with the caldillo and the parsley and red onion. Let the vegetables marinate overnight. For even marinating, mix vegetables gently with a soft spatula occasionally. Taste the next day and adjust seasonings, if needed.
4. Open all the canned and jarred ingredients. Combine a little of each of the juices to make 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Add the juices to the marinated vegetables and mix well. Prepare all the animal and vegetable proteins and cheeses. Prepare all the garnishes. Put all the ingredients in individual bowls.
5. Assembly: In attractive salad plates or bowls, layer all ingredients starting with the lettuce, followed by some marinated vegetables, some canned/jarred ingredients, some chicken, some seafood, some cold cuts, some vegetable proteins, and some of the cheeses. Repeat these layers until you’ve used up all the ingredients. Make sure the last layer shows a little of every ingredient used.
6. Finish the servings with the garnishes. Start with the baby corn, then use the egg wedges, radishes, yellow onion, mushrooms, asparagus spears, the cheese, and the chile.