Latin Cooking Basics: Kitchen Staples and Things to Know
Beginners and veterans, alike, should have a fundamental understanding of Latin cooking basics. Keen awareness of techniques, flavors and tools makes all the difference; and is what helps to make an exceptional and sensational Latin cooking experience, as opposed to a mediocre, Taco Bell-caliber one. The right ingredients and techniques will liven up and give an ethnic-twist to routine American dishes, and it will introduce the Latin palate to anyone open to a zesty and mouthwatering experience.
There must be more colors cut in the shape of vegetables, herbs, seasonings and meat, than the number of nationalities representing the whole of the Latino ethnic group. The colors are not only esthetically-pleasing, but representative of diverse flavors. And, for Latin dishes to be authentic, they must welcome the flavors, the cultures, and essential ingredients of the culinary styles in which they mean to mimic. Ingredients must be fresh, crisp, fragrant and savory.
"Prepared Latin style, fresh vegetables can be the star of a meal, not an afterthought," said Edmund Tijerina, contributor to mysanantonio.com. He also noted that Latin cooks take "as much care with a vegetable dish as most cooks will with meat dishes, creating layers of flavor."
Fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available throughout many Latin American countries, which accounts for much of the clean and robust flavors. Of course, due to difficult the economic times and convenience, the purchase of frozen and canned vegetables tends to trump fresh choices. However, if one was interested in maintaining the integrity of Latin dishes, they'd opt for the fresh vegetables and fruits. Plantains, onions, pepper, corn, cilantro, garlic, beans, culantro, and tomatoes are all essential when attempting to capture Latin soulfulness, and when preparing sofrito, which is used as a base in many Latin meals, and used to condition meats.
"In my house, sofrito makes its way into everything from yellow rice, black bean soup, sauce for spaghetti and meatballs to braised chicken and sautéed shrimp. Not only that, it freezes beautifully, so in about In 10 minutes you can make enough sofrito to flavor a dozen dishes. I'm telling you, this stuff does everything but make the beds," said a contributor on the website that offers advice about international cuisine.
Beyond the veggies and sofrito, other integral items need to be kept on hand when preparing Latin food. There's the recaito, pico de gallo, salsa, adobo, sazon, annatto oil and rice; and there are a number of tools and appliances that make for a more successful preparation of food. Basics such as a caldero (cauldron; to cook rice and braise meat), pilón (mortar and pestle; necessary when crushing and grinding ingredients) and a deep fryer (a choice item when preparing empanadas or other fried Latin foods) are all key items when cooking Latin food.
In Brazil, Moqueca de Peixe (Fish Stew) is traditionally prepared and served in a handmade cauldron, a bulbous black clay pot that's called a panela de barro. Though, heavy-bottomed stock pot will suffice.
The most important thing about Latin food is to have fun with the bold and fresh flavors. Experiment with different dishes, seasonings and devices, and review recipes that change depending on the coast and dish. Make the dish your own.
For recipes, check out: thelatinkitchen.com, hispanickitchen.com, and cheflala.com.
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