Latin American Month...
by Kate Heyhoe
In this final installment of Latin American month, I go south again, this time to the coastal regions of Mexico, Central America and to the island neighbors, Cuba and Puerto Rico. These cuisines share Spanish and Indian influences, and the traditional dishes rely on the natural bounty of land and sea to create fresh, crisp flavors. Typical of these cuisines are mango and other fruit salsas and sauces, shrimp and fish in escabeche or as ceviche, and simple salads of cucumber or crunchy jicama dressed solely with powdered red chiles and lime.
Mangoes not only come in numerous varieties, they can also have different personalities within the same batch. The mangoes we usually find in the markets here ripen to produce very sweet, juicy orange flesh. But there are other mangoes such as the manila mango (imported from Mexico) that carry a firmer, less fibrous flesh that's yellow and naturally tart—as if it had been dressed with lime juice. I love the texture and taste of the manila mango, simply diced and served as a flavor contrast to grilled dishes, enchiladas or in salsas. If you like mangoes with less sweetness to them but can't find manila mangoes, use mature but underripe ones. How can you tell if a mango is ripe? Smell it. It should have a fragrance and the skin should give slightly when pressed. Some books say a mango is ripe when it has a pink blush to it, but that depends on the variety. Manila mangoes are a banana-colored yellow when underripe and ripe both. Smell and touch are the key. (To ripen, place mangoes in a paper bag and check daily until slightly soft and aromatic.)
The coastal areas of Latin countries specialize in preparing seafood as ceviche or "en escabeche." In ceviche, the acids in lime or other citrus juice "cook" raw seafood, which should be very fresh, and the mixture usually contains cilantro, green chiles, bell pepper, tomatoes, onions and other seasonings. When seafood or poultry is served "en escabeche," the food is cooked first, then marinated in an acidic dressing using vinegar, citrus juices or both, and layered with thin slices of onions, bell peppers, and sometimes oranges or other fruits and vegetables.
Salsas in most parts of Mexico predominantly include tomatoes. But the Yucatan, Central America, and the island countries typically combine such local ingredients as fruits, black beans, avocado, and jicama—the bulbous root vegetable that is slightly sweet and very crunchy, like a water chestnut. While salsas are usually chunky and served with both cooked and raw foods, Cubans serve a variation influenced by the Spanish known as a mojo. Mojo's are more liquid and blend together olive oil, citrus juice, garlic and herbs, and endless mojo variations exist.
This summer, get creative with your salsas and salads by following a coastal Latin beat. Think pineapple, coconut, papaya, mango, grapefruit, orange, lime and banana. Think salads of black beans and white rice, multi-colored bell peppers, avocado, cilantro, parsley and lots of garlic. Think shrimp, swordfish, snapper, pompano, mussels, clams and octopus. In short, think...Viva variety!
Kate's Latin American Month...
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created June 1999
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