Spice of Life
Taste your way through Latin America

This Cinco de Mayo, any bar worth its salt will be commemorating Mexican independence the same old way: chips and salsa; Corona and margaritas.

But why stop there?

Explore flavors below the border. Savor Mexico…and beyond.

From the clear-blue Caribbean seas to the Columbian Andes to the hot Havana nights, Latin America offers up tastes of sun-scorched locales, earthy ingredients and bursts of spice.

Hit your local Latin market, roll up your sleeves and get ready to tour by taste.

The following five recent cookbooks feature intricate recipes that let you experience Central and South America in your own kitchen:
Chicken Yucatan
Peruvian Nopalito Rice Web Extra!
Pescado de Habana, Grilled Fish Havana-Style
Huevos a la Flamenco, Flamenco-Style Eggs Web Extra!
Bahamian Peas ‘n’ Rice
Plantain Spiders Web Extra!
Arroz de Camarón
Pechugas de Pollo as Coco, Chicken Breasts With Coconut Sauce Web Extra!
Pork in Oaxacan Mole Verde
São Paulo Churrasco Web Extra!

“The Prickly Pear Cookbook”
By Carolyn Niethammer
Published by Rio Nuevo

Chicken Yucatan

2 or 3 raw, cleaned prickly-pear pads
3-1/2 pounds chicken breasts and thighs
1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small can frozen orange-juice concentrate
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup chopped green chiles
1/3 cup pine nuts (optional)
2 to 3 cups hot cooked rice
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro or parsley
2 more limes, cut in slices or wedges

Cut prickly-pear pads into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Cook according to directions of your choice (below).

Wipe the chicken sections dry and dust lightly with seasoned flour.

Heat the oil and butter together in one large skillet or two smaller ones. Add the chicken pieces, browning quickly on both sides. Add the onion and garlic, and continue cooking 5 minutes.

Add the orange-juice concentrate and lime juice, turning chicken to distribute the sauce.

Reduce heat, cover the pan and simmer gently 10 minutes, adding a little water if sauce becomes dry.

Remove the cover, add the green chiles, pine nuts and prickly pear strips.

Re-cover and continue cooking until the chicken is done. Serve over hot, cooked rice and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro or parsley. Place lime pieces around the edges.

Makes 4 to 5 servings.


Prickly-Pear Cooking Methods

Rick Bayless Method — Clan the pads, dice them into 3/4-inch chunks and toss with olive oil to coat.
Spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and roast in a 375-degree oven about 20 minutes.

Diana Kennedy Method — Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, add cleaned and diced cactus pieces and a little water. Cover and steam over medium heat about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook about another 10 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking until the liquid is evaporated.

Davila Grill Method — Cook cleaned, oiled prickly-pear pads on a hot grill 2 or 3 minutes per side, until they take on an olive-green hue and brown slightly.

Patricia Quintana Method — Put fresh corn husks and the papery husks of tomatillos in water and boil the prickly-pear pads.

David Eppele’s Grandmother’s Method — Put prickly-pear pads in a skillet in a cold oven and bring the temperature slowly up to 350 degrees over 15 minutes. Then, transfer the pads to a colander and wash them in very cold water to drain off as much of the slippery juice as possible. Then, return them to the skillet and cook on top of the stove with bacon and onions.


Peruvian Nopalito Rice

1 pound brown rice
1 tablespoon oil
4 cups water
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups nopalitos, cleaned, and cut into 1/4-inch dice (chopped or sliced prickly pear pads)
Pinch of oregano
Sprinkle of garlic salt
1 tablespoon chopped pimiento

In a large, heavy saucepan, sauté rice in oil until coated.

Add water, onion, nopalitos, oregano and garlic salt. Cook over very low heat about 40 minutes, or until rice is tender.

Stir in pimiento.

Makes 8 side-dish servings.


“Three Guys From Miami Cook Cuban”
By Glenn Lindren, Raul Musibay and Jorge Castillo
Published by Gibbs Smith

Pescado de Habana
Grilled Fish Havana-Style

1/4 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves
1 cup onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Juice of one lime
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
2 to 3 pound fish fillets (grouper, salmon, kingfish, tuna), skin on (allow 3/4 pound of fish per person)
Salt and pepper to taste

Run all ingredients except the fish fillets through the blender until the onions are finely chopped.

Place the fillets in a shallow dish and pour marinade on top. Cover and marinate 2 to 4 hours in the refrigerator — no longer. (Otherwise, you’ll have pickled fish.)

Make sure your grill is well oiled, the coals are hot and ready or the gas grill is flamed and sizzling.

Just before cooking, remove the fillets from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub a little olive oil on the flesh side of the fish and place the fillets on the grill, skin-side up, just long enough to put some nice grill marks on the flesh.

Then, carefully use a steel spatula to flip the fillets skin-side down.

Flip the fillets once only.

Cover your grill and continue cooking until fish flakes with a fork. Keep an eye out for any flare-ups so the fish doesn’t burn.

Salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Makes about 2 to 4 servings.


Huevos a la Flamenco
Flamenco-Style Eggs

1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup diced carrots
Olive oil for sautéing
3 cloves garlic, mashed
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup green peas
1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices of ham, cut to fit custard cups
4 chorizo sausage links, sliced
8 eggs
Spanish sweet paprika for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Saute the onion and carrots in olive oil on medium heat until the onions are limp.

Add the mashed garlic. Continue to sauté a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomato sauce, peas and garbanzo beans and simmer on low 15 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly butter the bottom and sides of four custard cups. Spoon some of the vegetable mixture into each % divided equally. Top with one slice of ham and several slices of chorizo.

Gently break 2 eggs into each dish so that the eggs float on top. (Be careful to not break the yolks.)

Place the dishes in the oven, on a baking sheet or jelly-roll pan) and bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until the whites are white.

Traditionally the yolks are served slightly runny. However, you may cook this dish a little longer if you like hard-cooked yolks.

Dust each cup with a little sweet paprika and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.


“An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude”
By Ann Vanderhoof
Published by Broadway Books

Bahamian Peas ‘n’ Rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 to 1/2 small, hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped (or to taste)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup cooked pigeon peas or black-eyed peas
1 teaspoon chopped, fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup uncooked rice
Hot sauce

Heat the oil in a heavy pot. Cook onion, celery and hot pepper a few minutes until softened but not browned.

Add tomato paste and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in pigeon peas, thyme, salt and pepper. Add water and bring the mixture to a boil.

Stir in the rice, reduce heat and cook, covered, over low heat until water is absorbed and rice is done to taste, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove from the heat and allow to stand, covered, about 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork and serve with hot sauce.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Note: Many peas ‘n’ rice recipes include some diced salt pork, which is fried until crisp. The onion, celery and pepper are then cooked in the fat rendered from the pork.

Plantain Spiders

2 large plantains, 1 green and 1 semi-ripe
2 tablespoons very thin slivers fresh ginger
2 tablespoons very thin slivers garlic
2 cups vegetable oil for deep frying
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel the plantains and shred coarsely using the largest holes on a hand grater. (You should wind up with 1-1/3 cups.)

Combine the plantain, ginger and garlic in a mixing bowl with a little salt and toss well to combine.

Heat oil to 350 degrees in a deep, heavy pot, wok or deep fryer.

Using 2 forks or spoons, carefully drop tablespoons of the plantain mixture into the hot oil. (Don't compress the plantain shreds tightly. They should look "spidery" when they emerge from the pot.)

Fry until golden on all sides, about 2 minutes total.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve at once.

Makes 4 snacks.


“Secrets of Colombian Cooking”
By Patricia McCausland-Gallo
Published by Hippocrene Books

Arroz de Camarón

2 pounds fresh shrimp in the shell
1 shrimp or seafood bouillon cube
2-1/2 cups rice
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup minced green onion
1-1/2 tablespoons mashed garlic
1/2 cup minced red bell pepper
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced tomato
3 tablespoons minced aji dulce (sweet green pepper)
4 tablespoons minced parsley
3 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional)

Wash and peel the shrimp and set aside in the refrigerator.

Place the shells in a large pot with 6 cups of water and the bouillon cube; simmer 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

When the mixture cools, puree in a blender 1-1/2 minutes and pass it through a very fine sieve.

Discard the shells and set the stock aside.

Wash the rice and drain thoroughly.

Place the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the green onion and sauté 2 minutes.

Continue with the garlic, red pepper and carrot and sauté 3 minutes more.

Add the tomatoes, aji dulce, parsley, salt and black pepper and sauté 10 minutes more.

Add the shrimp and Tabasco if desired. Stir and sauté 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir.

Pour the stock into the vegetable-shrimp mixture and simmer until you see the rice very close to the surface of the liquid.

Cover, lower the heat to minimum and cook 20 minutes.

Uncover and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

Pechugas de Pollo as Coco
Chicken Breasts With Coconut Sauce

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 teaspoon, garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 whole chicken breasts, cut in 2, skin and bones included
2 cups sliced white onion
1 cup julienned red bell pepper
1/2 chicken bouillon cube
1 teaspoon color or turmeric
2-1/2 cups coconut milk
2 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons minced parsley
Cooked white rice, for serving

Combine 4 tablespoons of the oil, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic paste and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper.

Rub onto the chicken breasts. Set aside in the refrigerator to marinate at least an hour or overnight if desired.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, brown the breasts, skin-side down, 3 to 5 minutes or until golden.

Turn and brown the bone side 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, place the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion, red pepper, remaining garlic paste, bouillon cube, color and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt ad pepper. Sauté 5 minutes.

Place the coconut milk and flour in a bowl and mix until free of lumps. Pour into the pot.

Add the chicken breasts, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

Check to see if the chicken is cooked through, and remove from the heat.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve over white rice.


“Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions”
By Fernando and Marlene Divina and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Published by Ten Speed Press

Pork in Oaxacan Mole Verde

2 pounds pork shoulder or boneless country-style ribs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bay leaf
1- to 2-inch piece cinnamon
5 whole peppercorns
1 small, white onion, coarsely chopped
4 cups white stock (see recipe below)
1-1/2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano or marjoram
4 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon anise seed
4 allspice berries
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
6 to 8 tomatillos (about 1/2 pound), husked and coarsely chopped
2 jalapeno chiles, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic
1/2 white onion, quartered
3 cups water
1/4 cup corn oil
1/4 cup fresh masa or 2 tablespoons masa harina (Mexican corn flour)
1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped epazote (Mexican herb)
4 green-leaf or romaine lettuce leaves
4 leaves Swiss chard
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup coarsely chopped, flat-leaf parsley

Place the pork, bay leaf, canela, peppercorns, chopped onion and stock in a large saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium-low.

Simmer about 40 minutes, stirring from time to time and skimming the surface of the broth with a slotted spoon to remove impurities as they accumulate.

The pork should yield easily when pierced with a fork.

Transfer the pork to a plate and keep warm. Pass the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve.

Combine the oregano, cloves, cumin, anise and allspice in a dry sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly toasted. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the pumpkin seeds to the sauté pan and cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes, or until the seeds swell but don’t brown. Add the pumpkin seeds to the spices in the bowl.

Add the sesame seeds to the sauté pan; swirl and toss 3 to 5 minutes, until the seeds are golden brown. Add the sesame seeds to the spices and pumpkin seeds and toss to combine.

Transfer the seeds and spices to a blender and add about 1 cup of the reserved pork broth. Process until smooth, scraping the sides and adding additional broth if necessary.

Place the tomatillos, chiles, garlic, quartered onion and 1-1/2 cups of water in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add the pureed tomatillo mixture and cook, stirring often, 6 to 7 minutes, until slightly reduced.

Add the spice and seed mixture and simmer, stirring, about 15 minutes.

In a bowl, blend the masa with 1 cup of the reserved pork broth.
Add the masa mixture, 1 cup of the pork broth and the salt to the tomatillo sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.

Combine the epazote, lettuce, chard, cilantro, parsley and the remaining 1-1/2 cups water in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Add the pork and vegetable puree to the sauce. Simmer about 7 minutes, until warmed through, thinning the sauce with additional pork broth if too thick. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

White Stock

2 pounds veal bones and trimmings
2 pounds chicken, rabbit, duck or partridge bones and trimmings
1/2 pound chicken giblets
1 gallon (16 cups) cold water
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/2 small, white onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 small carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1/2 small leek, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
1 sprig thyme
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, with stems

Place the bones, trimmings, giblets, water and salt in a large pot over high heat.

Bring just to a simmer and then decrease the heat as necessary to maintain a slow simmer.

Skim off the impurities with a slotted spoon as they accumulate.

Add the onion, carrot, celery, leek bay leaf, clove, thyme and parsley. Continue cooking at a low simmer, skimming as necessary, for 4 to 5 hours.

As the liquid evaporates, maintain the water level by adding boiling water.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Pass through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids and capturing the liquid.

This stock will keep 1 week in the refrigerator and 2 to 3 months in the freezer.

Makes about 16 cups.


São Paulo Churrasco

Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 (6- to 8-ounce) rib or New York sirloin steaks

Dipping sauce

Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon crushed red peppers
1 large, white onion, minced
2 tablespoons chopped, flat-leaf parsley

Place the zest in a small saucepan with water to cover. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Drain and repeat the process 2 more times.

Rinse the zest with cold water, pat dry, and chop.

Place the olive oil in a shallow baking dish. Stir in the zest, salt, pepper, garlic and red peppers.

Roll the steaks in the marinade, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to high.

To prepare the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Place the meat on the grill rack and cook, turning once, 7 to 10 minutes on each side, until cooked to your liking.

Remove from the heat and allow the meat to rest 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with the dipping sauce on the side.

Makes 4 servings.