Flavorful Latin Food – More than just Tacos and Jamaican Jerk Seasoning!
But to find a truly unique infusion of the flavor of Latin American, we have to look to South America including Bolivia, Columbia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil where the food is not one unified cuisine but a mix of many different cultures. South America is made up of twelve countries, which can be divided into 4 major areas.
The Northwestern area of South America includes Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Many exotic foods come from this area including over 100 varieties of potatoes. Peru is known for the blue potato which is actually lavender and continues to become a popular choice of many chefs in the US. The Peruvian Yellow Chili Pepper or aji Amarillo – a fiery yellow chili used in many potato dishes makes this region home to some of the spiciest Latin American foods.
North Central South America took on more of a Spanish influence when early settlers from Spain introduced such spices as Cumin, Oregano, Cinnamon and Anise. Tamales and Empanadas became part of the Latin American cuisine from this region. Paella is a multicultural dish that includes the fresh seafood of Venezuela and Spanish rice.
Argentina, Chili, Paraguay and Uruguay make up the southern most area of South America. The long coastline of Chile along with the fertile farmlands of Argentina make for a unique blend of flavors and foods ranging from grilled meats or parrilla from grass fed beef cattle to flavorful fish stews and Chilean Sea Bass. Many salsas come from this region including the French Creole inspired salsa criolla and the Argentina chimichurri, a mix of parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, oregano and red pepper flakes. Merquen is an intense, smoky flavored blend with mild heat from Chile, which is a combination of dried, smoked aji cacho de cabra chilies, coriander and cumin. Merquen is used in many soups and salsas as well as fish, pork and chicken. This Latin American culture is a combination of Spanish cuisine and traditional ingredients with later European influences of Germany, Italy, France and the Middle East.
Perhaps the most ethnically diverse area of South America would be the country of Brazil. While considered part of Latin America, the language spoken is Portuguese. Made up originally of Native Indians and later Portuguese settlers who then brought slaves from West Africa to work in the sugar cane fields, this area has a unique mix of flavors and cuisine. The Portuguese were responsible for the Mediterranean infusion of olives, onions, wine, garlic and bacalhau (salt cod) while the African slaves brought okra, yams, peanuts, dried shrimp, dende (palm oil). The malagueta chili peppers used in many sauces and Latin American cooking comes from this area. The Brazilian rainforests produce exotic tropical fruits and vegetables including passion fruit and cashew fruit used in many of the dishes from this area. A popular recipe from Brazil is Moqueca de Peixe, a traditional fish stew cooked in coconut milk.
South America is rich in diversity which lends its’ many influences to the intense flavors of this region’s cuisine. From the superb seafood choices and grilled meats of Argentina to the lush fruits and vegetables of the Brazilian Rainforest, this area is a melting pot for the infusion of cultures that make up the tastes of Latin America.