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Subanik, Guatemalan Stew

Subanik Stew

Subanik Stew a beef, pork and chicken dish that has been vapor-cooked with a spicy sauce,  is traditional Kaqchiquel Mayan Indian ceremonial dish. This is a great dish that I just love to eat when I am in Guatemala. This dish is favorite around the time of Semana Santa or Holy Week. Farther down this post I will share one of the recipes that I came across while researching this meal to share. I personally have had this Kaqchiquel ceremonial dish several times on my trips to Guatemala. There are many ways to prepare this dish but for some reason it always taste the same to me. Subanik stew is just one of many variates of stews prepared in Guatemala. This recipe I am sharing is done in English so people in the U.S. can try and make it for themselves.


Serve with white rice or tamales.
8 servings
For the sauce
  • 5 medium red bell peppers, cut in half from top to bottom, then stemmed and seeded
  • 12 roma tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 white onion, cut into quarters
  • 5 tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1 dried ancho chili pepper, washed inside and out, seeds and stem removed
  • 1 dried red chili pepper, such as chili de arbol
  • 1 to 2 Thai red chili peppers
For the beef and chicken
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed of excess fat, then cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
For assembly
  • 6 to 8 banana or plantain leaves, for presentation (optional)


For the sauce: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Place the red bell peppers on a baking sheet (no foil or oil); roast for 20 to 25 minutes, turning them once or twice, until their skins are blistered with black spots all around.

Lightly grease a separate baking sheet, preferably nonstick, with nonstick cooking oil spray. Place the tomatoes and onion cut side down on the sheet, along with the whole tomatillos, dried chili peppers and Thai red chili pepper(s). Roast for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are quite tender, with blistered skins.
(Alternatively, the vegetables can be roasted on a hot griddle.)

Working in several batches, transfer the roasted peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and Thai red chili pepper(s) to a blender; pulse for 1 to 2 minutes for each batch, until a fairly smooth sauce forms. (Do not use a food processor, which can overprocess the mixture). Break off pieces of the dried chili peppers and add them through the top of the blender while the motor is running. Stop to taste, and add more of the dried chili peppers to achieve the desired level of spiciness.

Meanwhile, cook the beef and chicken: Have a large bowl ready.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.

Working in 2 batches, add the beef and start to brown it; season each batch with about 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste. Sear the meat for about 2 minutes; it will not be cooked through. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the meat to the bowl as you work.

Add the water to deglaze the skillet, using a spatula to scrape up the browned bits, then pour the contents of the skillet over the meat.

Use paper towels to lightly wipe out the skillet, then return it to medium-high heat. Add 1/2 tablespoon of oil. When it is hot enough to shimmer, add the chicken in 2 batches, seasoning each with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Sear for about 1 minute on one side, then turn the chicken over and sear for about 1 minute; the chicken will not be cooked through. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the chicken to the bowl with the beef as you work.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium to medium-low heat. Add the bay leaves and thyme; cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, to flavor the oil. Add the pureed sauce, then the sugar, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt and black pepper to taste; cook for 2 minutes, stirring once or twice, then discard the bay leaves and thyme.

Add the beef and chicken. Increase the heat to medium or medium-high to slowly bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the flavors have blended and the beef and chicken are quite tender.

To assemble: When ready to serve, line a large serving dish with the banana or plantain leaves. Transfer the subanik from the Dutch oven to the dish and place at the table. (At this point, subanik cooked the traditional way, in a bundle of mashan leaves, is brought to the table in the pot, untied and served.)

Ladle the subanik from the dish into individual bowls, making sure to include equal amounts of chicken and beef. Serve hot.

Recipe Source:

Adapted from a recipe of the Antigua Cooking School in Antigua, Guatemala.