Take a Bite out of Latin America
By Courtney Buchanan
When the metal lids were removed from the Latin American dishes, the room filled with an aroma of decadence and indulgence. Everyone’s heads turned to stare at the food. Remember being lured in by the smell of the caramelized nuts or the soft pretzels that the street vendors sell? It was that same sensation.
As I took my first bite of an empanada, I entered the Latin American culture through cuisine. Almost everything was fried, a typical method of preparing Latin American cuisine. The Global Union’s cultural event called the Latin Food Taste-Off featured four countries including Peru, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Julie Rosas, a Global Union intern who hosted the Latin Food Taste-Off, said, “Spanish food isn’t just tacos and burritos.” As a Colombian, she wanted to expose students to the varieties of Spanish foods that aren’t typically thought of.
All of the dishes served are typically snacks eaten around 4 p.m. or in a BBQ-type setting, said Rosas.
Peruvian cuisine takes its influences from Spain, France and China. Many of the foods contain potatoes since the potato was first cultivated in Peru. Peruvian foods at the event included causa rellena and papa a la huancaína, both served cold. Causa rellena is a layered dish of chicken salad and potato, stacked and topped with an ornate decoration. Papa a la huancaína is one of the most famous dishes of Peruvian cuisine, according to the international recipe Web site whats4eats.com. It consists of boiled potatoes in a mild yellow sauce.
If you ask for Mexican food, more often than not you’ll get something cheesy. Steak quesadillas and chicken flautas were the Mexican items on the menu. The steak quesadilla was a tortilla filled with cheese and steak. Chicken flautas are the same as what many people call chicken taquitos, which are tortillas filled with chicken rolled up into a neat cylinder.
African influences are infused into Dominican food, giving it a spicy kick. However, none of the foods at the Latin Food Taste-Off were spicy. Plantains were presented in two different manners: tostones are pounded, twice-fried plantains with a hard texture, whereas fried plantains melt in your mouth with a delectable sweet factor. The cheese, chicken and steak empanadas are semicircles of fried dough stuffed with ingredients. The name for empanadas comes from the Spanish verb “empanar,” meaning to wrap in bread.
The empanada originally came from Spain. Countries throughout Latin America, the Phillipines and Indonesia have the empanada as a significant part of their cuisine, each containing distinct characteristics. The main differences lie in the filling, the dough and the spices, said Rosas. Puerto Rican empanadas differ from Dominican empanadas. Puerto Rican ones, which are called pastelillos, are made with cassava flour dough, according to whats4eats.com. Whereas Dominican empanadas usually contain the filling of cheese or meat, pastelillos can contain seafood, meat, chicken, cheese or guava paste.
A student indulging in the foods commented, “It all just tastes the same,” when she was trying to decipher which foods were from which countries.
Whereas some students appreciated the satisfying nature of the food, I took each bite as another step further into Latin America. Each food had a distinct taste with various flavors and spices. Even though many of the foods had the same ingredients and were prepared in the same manner, the slight variations could be noted with close attention.
Want to try some of the foods described above? They’re in our backyard on East 4th Street. The Peruvian food was from Machu Picchu; the Mexican from La Lupita; the Dominican from Rico Pico; and the Puerto Rican from Borinquen.
Or whip out some cooking instruments and make some of the dishes at home with this recipe.
Recipe for Papa a la Huancaina
- 8 potatoes
- 1 cup queso casero, queso fresco, feta or Muenster-style cheese, grated
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 2 tablespoons ají amarillo paste, or minced jalapeño
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 4 to 8 saltines or soda crackers, crumbled
- 3 tablespoons oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 12 lettuce leaves
- 4 eggs, hard-boiled and quartered
- 2 tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
- 8 black olives, pitted
- Place whole potatoes in large pot with cold, salted water and boil until cooked through. Remove from heat, drain and cool. Peel the potatoes and cut into round slices.
- Puree the cheese, evaporated milk, paste (or jalapeño) and turmeric in blender or food processor until smooth. With the motor running, thicken the sauce by adding the crackers one at a time. Add the oil. If the sauce is too thin, add more crackers. If the sauce is too thick, add milk or water. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Line serving platter with lettuce leaves. Place potatoes on top of lettuce leaves. Pour chile-cheese sauce over potatoes.
- Place egg quarters and tomatoes around the edge. Sprinkle olives over potatoes. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Please note: This recipe was adapted from www.whats4eats.com.