In my first blog I talked about he origins of the Latin American Creole cuisine. There you can see that the basic ingredients of our cuisine are the same of the Mediterranean cuisine with the addition of other native, highly nutritious ingredients that never made the Exchange, such as quinoa, amaranth, Brazil nuts, açai and many other fruits and vegetables that scientist are discovering throughout the Americas.
Latin cooks have always used a variety of fresh vegetables, grains, beans and fresh fruits in our daily meals. Obesity was never a problem because the portions of our meals were small, as compared to todays. Our way of life in general was what experts tell us to do to achieve good health. We did a lot of walking to go to school, shopping or visiting friends and relatives. Our dinners were happy occasions to be shared with family and friends. We rarely went to doctors because there was an assortment of herbs to cure all kinds of minor ailments.
I cannot think of any other cuisine that, on the whole, fulfills today’s needs better than that of Latin America. Fresh and flavorful, simple and intriguing, earthy and versatile, as well as inexpensive, it is traditional cooking at its best for contemporary needs and tastes and can be proudly shared with guests. It is my hope that you will start cooking more often these Latin American specialties that are also family friendly - and very well balanced.
I’m introducing a new feature that I hope will prove the benefits of eating a Latin American diet – the nutritional analysis. Please keep in mind these analysis are going to be only guidelines; if you have a need for a special diet, you need to consult a professional nutritionist.
We have always eaten with the seasons. I remember when I was visiting my friends in Chile, the beautiful cherimoyas we had every morning for breakfast. The long bright green asparagus as well as the fresh artichokes that were prepared in different ways to enjoy them as often as possible while they were in season. For us in Quito, big trays of corn on the cob and fava beans, with wedges of fresh cheese were served as often as possible while in season. And of course, the farmer’s markets were brimming with the seasonal foods.
I try to do the same here and look forward to the spring, when I can enjoy the best green beans and asparagus and ripe papayas, mangoes and avocados that I include in various salad combinations that will please the eye and the palate and provide awesome amounts of vitamins and minerals. Following is one of my favorite salads.
WATERCRESS, AVOCADO, AND PAPAYA SALAD
This is one of my favorite salads, with a superb combination of flavors, textures and colors, the best that our cuisine can offer. When I eat this salad I feel I’ve gotten all the vitamins I need for the day. For a main course salad add shrimp, lobster or cooked chicken breast. The amount of dressing you use depends on personal taste. I use very little dressing, just enough to enhance the flavor of the ingredients. The classic vinaigrette is one of the best dressings to have handy because it goes with so many combinations of greens and vegetables. It was one of the most popular dressings of my book Cooking with a Latin Beat.
This salad is very rich in antioxidants such as Vitamins C, A, and Beta Carotene. You can increase the amount of antioxidants by using Brazil nuts instead of walnuts and goji berries instead of cranberries.
CLASSIC VINAIGRETTE DRESSING
1/2 cup safflower or canola oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Per Serving: 244 Calories; 27g Fat (98.5% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 251mg Sodium
4-6 cups packed watercress tops (or a mixture of watercress and baby spinach)
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves, or chives
1 small Mexican papaya or 2 ripe but firm mangoes
2 ripe, firm Hass avocadoes
4 tablespoons dried cranberries or goji berries
4 tablespoons walnut halves or chopped Brazil nuts
1. To make dressing put all ingredients through black pepper in a jar fitted with a lid and shake until emulsified. Or for a creamier version put all ingredients in the blender and process for a few seconds. Chill until needed.
2. Rinse watercress (or mixture of watercress and spinach), drain and spin in a salad spinner until dry. This can be done ahead and refrigerated in a covered plastic container or zip-lock bag.
3. Cut papaya across, peel and cut into 16 wedges, or dice into 3/4-inch cubes. Can be done a couple of hours ahead and kept in covered plastic container. Peel avocadoes, remove pit and cut into 16 wedges, or dice into 3/4-inch cubes. It is better if this is done just before serving.
4. To finish salad bring the dressing to room temperature. Toss watercress with cilantro or chives and 1-2 tablespoons of dressing. Place one cup of watercress (or more) on salad plate, top with papaya and avocado wedges, alternating in a spoke fashion. Sprinkle some cranberries and walnuts on top, and drizzle each plate with a little salad dressing to taste. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 244 Calories; 20g Fat (67.5% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 29mg Sodium (garnishes included)
1. If I need a main course salad I add some peeled and cooked shrimp, lobster or chicken breast cut in small cubes, which should be marinated in some of the dressing before adding to the salad.
2. Be aware that Brazil nuts have a high amount of selenium, which can be toxic if eaten in large quantities. My brazilian friends eat only 2 a day for good health.
3. Leftover dressing can be refrigerated for a few days.