I’m quite fond of eating fruit in salad form, though it usually ends up a soupy mess. Jicama, like apple, stays firm no matter how much juice is splashed on it and makes a nice bar snack as cubes when just drizzled with lime and sprinkled with chile powder. Also called yam bean or Mexican turnip, the sweet and starchy vine ripened jicima is often used in Mexican cooking.
Ají de Gallina is one of the first Peruvian recipes that picky North American eaters fall in love with. To put it simply, it is shredded chicken served in a mildly spicy, nutty sauce with a side of white rice. The dish’s origins date back to the Vice Royalty, around the time of the French Revolution. Some historians have stated that French chefs who lost their positions as private chefs with aristocratic families in France during the revolution traveled to the new world to work for wealthy criollo families in newly rich Lima and helped develop Ají de Gallina using the local ingredients they encountered. Apart from oral legend there’s no actual record of this occurring, though the story sounds nice and plausible. Today the dish is one of the most widely served in the country.
October is called El Mes Morada, or the purple month, in Lima because this is when El Señor de Milagros, or the Lord of Miracles, a massive religious procession, is held in the historic center. El Señor de los Milagros is the most revered image of Christ on the Peruvian coast. The image was painted on a wall by an West African slave in the Las Nazarenas Church in the district of Pachacamilla in what is now downtown Lima. In 1655, a massive earthquake struck Lima and much of the center was in rubble. Miraculously, the wall of Las Nazarenas where the image of Christ sat was left untouched, though the rest of the church crumbled around it.
Ceviche can take on many forms, not just the Peruvian style. Every Latin country has some variation and a growing number of fusion restaurants are incorporating Asian flavors. This simple Asian influenced salmon ceviche recipe takes only minutes to prepare and taste great.
Yucca sticks, Yucca fries, yuquitas, or whatever you want to call them, are a great bar snack and found often in Peru and throughout Latin America. It’s often an alternative to French fries.
Few realize that Cochinita Pibil is actually a Mayan dish. It’s quite common now all over Mexico, especially in the Yucatan where it originated, and I see it often at Mexican restaurants and Taquerias in New York and around the States. Traditionally, cochinita refers to a slow roasted baby pig, though pork shoulder (which is actually pork butt) is more common now. The signature spice in the seasoning is achiote, the orangish-red seeds that give off a deep, earthy flavor and are used habitually in Mayan cooking. Cochinita Pibil is the dish that Rick Bayless won Top Chef Masters with (and his recipe from Mexico One Plate At A Time was very influential in this one).
Playa del Carmen, Mexico is a city that didn’t really even exist 15 years ago. It’s surrounded by jungle, now the city has been infiltrated by hundreds of hotels and even more restaurants, many of which serve stylish, contemporry food. Being that there was nothing here before and Cancun was never exactly a gastronomic hotspot, where do the chefs come from?
In Barrio Chino (Lima, Peru) restaurants such as Wa Lok and Salon Capon Lomo Saltado simply means stir-fried beef. It is a direct translation from Spanish and the dish is the same as the stir-fried beef that’s on any Chinese menu in New York or Jamaica. Thin slices of stir-fried beef and onions (usually red onions in Peru, though) are served family style on a big plate. Scoop a pile of rice on your dish from a bowl served on the side and spoon the beef and juices on top of it.
A tweetpic from Chicago chef & Top Chef Master Rick Bayless roasting a tray of tomatillos gave me this salsa idea for the leftover tomatillos I had in my fridge. I’m not a fan of canned tomoatillos, so try to get fresh if you can.
Calabaza is the West Indian pumpkin and its often used in Caribbean cooking. It’s an old Spanish term that can be applied to a variety of squashes and melons. In North America, calabaza generally refers to any species of tropical gourds of the genus Cucurbita such as C. moschata and C. maxima. In Latin America calabaza goes by several names such as auyama (Venezuela), ayote (Central America), abóbora (Brazil), and zapallo (most of South America).