Virgilio Martinez, Nicholas Gill and Mater Iniciativa's new cookbook is a snapshot of Latin American food.
Throughout The Latin American Cookbook, they aim to be faithful to the roots of the dishes researched. Although this doesn't necessarily mean they should be prepared in the same way as the first time they were created, or that they will taste exactly the way they do in their place of origin.
The truth is that Latin Americans often don't follow strict recipes. They like to improvise while cooking and be spontaneous.
So these recipes are just a starting point for your Latin American culinary journey.
The flat-bottomed saltea, with its stewed interior, is like the soup dumpling of empanadas. Despite its name, which refers to the Argentine city of Salta, this baked empanada actually has its origins in Bolivia. During the dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas in the 19th century, a writer named Juana Manuela Gorriti, from Salta, was exiled to Potos just over the border in Bolivia and came up with the recipe as a way to make a living. People in Potos would often say go and pick up an empanada from "la Saltea", the woman from Salta. The nickname stuck and eventually the form left Potos and spread around Bolivia, with many regions creating their own versions. To add to the confusion, the city of Salta is also known for its empanadas, which in Argentina are generally referred to as empanadas salteas. The fillings are more similar to the Bolivian version than they are to other empanadas in Argentina and it's served with a spicy sauce similar to the Bolivian hot sauce llajua, though the dough is quite different and the repulgue (seam) is usually on the side rather than the top like those in Bolivia.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
For the dough
- 5C (650g) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1C (250ml) melted butter
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 1/2C/ (120ml) warm water with 1/2 tbsp salt added
- 1 whole egg, beaten, to glaze
For the filling
- 1/2 C (120ml) melted lard
- 2 white onions chopped
- 1 fresh aji amarillo chopped
- 450g minced beef (or use shredded chicken)
- 5 C (1.2L) beef stock
- 1 gelatin leaf, soaked in ice-cold water
- 3 tbsp parsley chopped
- 6 peeled and boiled potatoes, cut in small cubes
- 1 C (130g) cooked peas
- 1 tbsp aji amarillo paste
- salt and ground pepper
- Heat the lard for the filling in a large frying pan until very hot. Sauté the onions and fresh chili for eight minutes or until soft and brown.
- Add the beef, cook for four minutes then pour in the stock with the squeezed-out gelatin and let it simmer for about 35 minutes.
- Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat.
- Add the potatoes and peas and place in the refrigerator until needed.
- For the dough, mix the flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the melted butter and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough is broken.
- Add the egg yolks and slowly stir in the warm, salted water. Knead into a soft and uniform dough with your hands, then place on a floured surface and roll it out with a rolling pin to a thin sheet, about 3mm thick.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Using a 11cm round cutter, stamp out discs from the dough and place on a lined baking sheet.
- Place a full tablespoon of the filling in the middle of each disc. Using your finger, wet the edges of the disc with water, and fold the empanadas in half to seal.
- Brush with beaten egg and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Potato and peanut empanadas
These tiny fried empanadas come from the colonial town of Popayan, one of the hubs of Colombian gastronomy, and are common throughout the department of Cauca. They are filled with pipian, a mixture of papas coloradas, a local creole potato, with roasted and ground peanuts and other seasonings. The same filling can also be used to flavour tamales. They are usually served with aji de mani, a spicy, peanut-based sauce.
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
For the dough
- 1 C (250ml) warm water
- 1/2 tbsp panela sugar (or use light muscovado)
- 1 C (120g) masarepa (precooked corn flour/maize flour) or corn (maize) flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp annatto paste
- 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
For the filling
- 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 C (30g) chopped white onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 C (30g) cored, seeded and chopped red bell pepper
- 1 spring onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp coriander, chopped
- 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
- 1/2 C (50g) finely chopped roasted peanuts
- vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- salt and ground pepper
- Put the water for the dough in a large bowl, add the sugar, and stir until it dissolves. Slowly sift in the corn flour and baking powder while stirring with a whisk.
- Add the annatto paste and vegetable oil while kneading with your hands until it becomes a soft dough. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, for the filling, simmer the potatoes in a pan of salted water for 10 minutes or until soft, then drain, and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the white onion and garlic, and sauté for five minutes or until soft. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, and spring onion, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for a further five minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
- Add the coriander, and season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked potatoes, hard-boiled egg, and peanuts, and stir until well mixed. To shape the empanadas, divide the dough into 10 equal pieces and shape into balls. Flatten each ball with a tortilla press or place them between two layers of plastic wrap and flatten them with the bottom of a pan.
- Place 1 tbsp of the filling in the middle of each disc. Fold the dough in half and gently press the edges together to seal, using a fork or your fingertips. Pour enough vegetable oil for deep-frying into a large, heavy pan, making sure it is no more than two-thirds full, and heat to 182°C.
- Fry the empanadas a few at a time for three minutes each side or until golden brown with a crispy exterior. Remove with a skimmer and place on a plate lined with paper towels, to absorb excess oil.
- Serve hot with aji de mani.
Nicaraguan chicken and rice stew
Some call arroz aguado Nicaraguan risotto. Translating as "watery rice," it's soul food for all walks of life, livened up with herbs and peppers, served for family lunches.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- 3 carrots, cut into 1cm slices
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 chicken breasts, cut in half
- 4 chicken thighs
- 4 C (950ml) chicken stock
- 3 C (750ml) water
- 1 C (180g) long-grain white rice
- 10-12 stems fresh cilantro (coriander)
- 2 sprigs fresh yerba buena (or mint)
- 3 potatoes, diced
- 2 ripe bananas, sliced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- Juice of 1 bitter orange
- 1/2 tsp ground achiote (annatto)
- salt and ground pepper
- 1 C (40g) chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 1/4 C (5g) chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced
- 1/2 C (125g) pickled jalapenos
- Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, and some salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent, about five to seven minutes.
- Season all the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Add the stock, water, rice, coriander and yerba buena (or mint).
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, skimming the surface from time to time, until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
- With tongs, remove the chicken and place in a bowl. Remove and discard the herbs.
- Stir the potatoes, bananas, and zucchini (courgette) into the pan and cook until tender, about 15 minutes, then add the sour orange juice and achiote (annatto).
- Meanwhile, carefully remove and discard the chicken skin and debone. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and return to the pan. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
- Serve in bowls, garnished with coriander and mint, with lime wedges, avocado, and jalapenos on the side.
Dulce de leche thousand-layer cake
Dozens of cultures around the planet make some form of multi-layered cake or pastry based on a French millefeuille. Within Latin America there are differing versions, though most use some form of thin, flaky pastry layered with dulce de leche, also called manjaror arequipe.
Preparation time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus 2 hours 30 minutes resting
Cooking time: 10 minutes
- 1 1/3 C (175g) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 C (170g) cold butter, cut into small cubes
- 6 tbsp iced water
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 3 C (690g) dulce de leche
- 1 C (140g) icing sugar
- Sprig mint, to decorate, optional
- In a large bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Using a whisk, mix the butter into the flour to combine as much as possible. Add the water and lime juice and mix into a rough dough, using a wooden spoon.
- Sprinkle some flour on a clean surface and knead the dough with your hands, for no more than five minutes to prevent warming it. Shape into a square, cover in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Flour the surface and roll the dough into a large rectangle, 5mm thick. Bring one side to the middle of the dough and repeat with the other side, folding the dough into three layers. Cover again with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Place the dough with a folded end facing you and roll again into a rectangle. Fold over into three again, cover and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Repeat the process, always turning a folded end in front of you, two more times, then cover and rest it the refrigerator for one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Roll out the dough one more time and cut into 10-12 rectangles 12.5 x 25.5 cm. Place the rectangles on the lined baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.
- Once cooled, spread dulce de leche on one of the rectangles and cover it with another pastry rectangle. Repeat the layers until the dough and dulce de leche are used up.
- Sift the icing sugar on top through a fine sieve and decorate with a sprig of mint, if preferred.
- Serve at room temperature.
- The Latin American Cookbook, by Virgilio Martinez, Nicholas Gill and Mater Iniciativa. Phaidon. $65.