Latin American Month...
by Kate Heyhoe
Pack your bags, sunscreen, and shades and let's go South of the Border! Mexican food seems to be America's new favorite cuisine—right up there with pizza—and sunny months like this beckon for the warm spices, tangy salsas, and savory snacks of old Mexico and its brethren, the Southwestern states north of the border.
But there's a new rage sweeping the United States, one that takes the palate way, way, way south of the border—into Latin American countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Specialty restaurants featuring sausages, steaks and other meats grilled gaucho-style are popping up coast to coast, while recipes for pungent Argentine chimichurri sauce, Cuban picadillo, and Puerto Rican papayas are popping up in mainstream cooking magazines.
This month, I'm, feeling playful—get me out of the kitchen and into the great outdoors! But not without a few excellent Latin meals served alfresco. Summer to me means salsas and salads, grilling sauces, and crunchy late-afternoon snacks. Come with me to the open air and see how well the sunny flavors from Santa Fe to Santiago whip up into easy outdoor meals.
Throughout June I'll explore more Latin specialties—including special breakfasts for Dad's Day— but first, let's tango over to the main event: savory sauces designed to contrast and complement the smoky flavors of the Latin American grill.
In Argentina, beef rules. Not just steaks, but every part of the beast. The parillada mixta, or mixed grill, is Argentina's almost ritualistic meal event and not a place for dedicated vegetarians. Sides of beef rotate slowly on vertical spits around a fire pit, waiting to be hacked off in pieces by asadores (grill chefs) and finished to the diner's delight. Platters swish through the parrillada restaurants heaped with mounds of grilled roasts, sausages, steaks, ribs, sweetbreads, intestines, and more. The average customer consumes 2 pounds of beef at a single setting, men and women alike, teaming these cuts with nothing more than with a splash of the pungent parsley-vinegar condiment known as Chimichurri Sauce, and sides of fried potatoes and salad.
Brazil's even grander version of this carnivore's carnival is the churrascaria rodizio, where diners are expected to consume mass quantities of not just beef, but grilled lamb, pork, chicken and sometimes goat—all paraded to table on industrial-strength skewers. This ceremony of sizzling meats is enhanced by weighty carving knives brandished by expert waiters, and groans of over-gorging by patrons who slowly, eventually turn over the traditional table tokens indicating "More, please" to the side that will put them out of their misery: "No, thank you."
Gluttonous consumption has its devotees in South America, and apparently here in the United States as well. Argentine and Brazilian grill houses are making successful debuts with all-you-can-eat menus in such major cities as Washington, DC, Dallas, New York, Miami, Denver and various locales in California.
You can, of course, create a more tame version of the South American grill house simply by firing up your outdoor barbecue and blending up a batch of Chimichurri Sauce. Traditional South American meats may be grilled naked—that is, without a sauce or marinade—although some cuts profit from a few hours in a Basic Grilling Marinade. Don't feel restricted to plating up slabs of beef or sausages only, as the tangy Chimichurri Sauce complements any grilled meat, fowl or vegetable. And for variation, I include here a Fire-Roasted Green Chile Sauce that I first tasted in Taos, New Mexico, slathered over a perfectly charred rare steak. For the occasional carnivore like me, if you're gonna eat your beef, you might as well enjoy it body and soul—though I have to admit I'll be the lightweight when it comes to portion sizes. One platter is enough for me!
Get ready for Father's Day! Coming next week: assorted Mexican Breakfasts for Dad, easy enough for kids and moms to make together!
Kate's Latin American Month...
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created June 1999
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