Digitized by the Internet Archive
'Round the world cooking library
Latin American Cooking
A treasury of recipes from the South American
countries, Mexico and the Caribbean
Recipe contributions by
on Latin American Cooking
'Round theWorld Books InoNewYork Toronto
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The food of Latin America,
Mexico and the Caribbean
Who can think of Latin Americaand not immediately envisionbright flowers and flags: hearsoft-strummed guitars and deep,musical voices: see dark-eyedsenoritas in bright swirling skirts
dancing in the plaza or walkingsedately through a paseo? Yetcolor and romance are not theonly qualities of life in LatinAmerica. Look south ofourborders and you will discover awhole world ofcooking which,through the centuries, hasdeveloped the idea that even thesimplest foods can bestimulating and satisfying aswell as basically nutritious andeconomical. Here, the Indians ofthe ancient Mayan and Azteccivilizations perfected asophisticated cuisine thousandsof years before the arrival of thefirst Europeans on their shores.The natural plenty ofthe landswas skillfully enhanced andcultivated to provide a rich,spicy, sound diet for the peoplewho lived in the vast areasextending through Mexico andCentral America manythousands of miles to thesouthernmost tip of thepeninsula of South America.Corn, beans, tomatoes,potatoes, squash, peppers,
chocolate, bananas andavocados, as well as exotic fishand fruits, were the basis of thegreat Indian cuisines, and theirintensive cultivation helpeddevelop new and better strainsof all the native vegetables. Incertain areas wild game was
plentiful. And in themountainous countries aprocess of freeze-drying was inuse from the very origins of lifeon the continent.
When the first Spaniards arrivedin Mexico, they were treated tothe sight, and taste, of royalbanquets literally "fit for thegods.' They soon discoveredthat one of the great riches ofthe New World was its naturalbounty.There exist, today, descriptionsof the feasts prepared for theInca. the head of that great stateon the West Coast of SouthAmerica, where as many as fivehundred different dishes wereprepared for his choice ! This iseven more incredible when oneconsiders that there were almostno fresh meats as we knowthem, nor any fats or dairyproducts, since domesticatedanimals were such a rarity.Most of the food was boiled,steamed or basted - frying wasvirtually unknown. For greatfiestas, the barbecue wasdeveloped. The clam-bakewhich we associate so much withNew England is actually anadaptation of this most ancientIndian form of cooking. A largehole is dug in the ground and afire built in it. When the fire hasdiminished to a huge bed of hotcoals, the pit is lined with leaves.then food is set in it - a wholeanimal in its own hide is added.( Barbecue means, quite literally,from 'beard to tail.")Vegetables and pots of stews etc.
Fish is dried in the sun and soldin the open market at Tempicowhere it is made into suchdelk ions dishes as the salt codmold on page 46.
An infinite variety ofgroundchilies. dried heans and cornmealform the foundation ofmanyLatin American dishes.
are placed around, then all iscovered with more leaves, moremud and more fire and left tobake for the required time. Thepit is broken open and thedeliciously steamed food servedto all. This method is still usedtoday, not only for the NewEngland clam bake, but theHawaiian luau and the famedbig barbecues ofour ownsouthwest. There is much we canadapt from the cooking of theancient Indians.With the coming of theEuropeans, notably the Spanishand the Portuguese, new foodsentered the daily diet. TheSpanish brought beef, lambs,pigs, goats and chickens.And the Indians adopted themand quickly learned to husbandthem, until a hundred head ofcattle soon became a thousand,to populate the Argentinegrasslands. A handful of horses,abandoned during some of theinterminable battles forconquest were left to roam the
pampas and became great herdsofw ild horses in a very shorttime.
It is difficult to imagine howquickly the interchange offoodstuffs was affected betweenthe Old World and the New.Who can think of Italiancooking without tomatoes? Yet,tomatoes were actually
unknown in Europe until thefirst explorers brought themback in the fifteenth andsixteenth centuries. Potatoes,
too. that great staple of Central
Europe, had their origins inSouth America. Conversely, it ishard to imagine the Argentinewithout cattle. Spices, too,became an important exchange.The Indians had learned to usethe marvellous spices- thepeppers, the herbs and the barks- in a way hitherto unknown tothe Europeans, and they foundthe subtle blendings a greatdelight to their palates.
(Cinnamon is the secretingredient ofmany a SouthAmerican specialty.) Thedevelopment of spices became ahighly profitable part of thewhole European-LatinAmerican trade system andremains so today.We have mentioned that theIndians in the mountaincountries had perfected a systemof freeze-drying that was reallyunique. They would takepotatoes, for example, to thehigh mountains where the dry,freezing temperatures wouldquite literally Treeze-dry' themfor future use. Preserving in
spices was also common. Andwhen the Spanish added onionsand garlic to the Indianfoodlore, many new ways ofpreparing and preserving foodcame into everyday use.One of the greatest additions tothe basic Indian diet was that offats and dairy products. Withfat, it was now possible to fry.
Though the ancient methodsstill dominate most Latincooking, fats broadened notonly the diet, but methods of
Families from Mexico City gettogether to enjoy a riverboattit nic on l lie Homing gardens of\ochinilco. ' lop
Shoppers stroll through the street
markets in Mexico, (below.
In every village there is a street
vendor selling tortilleas to be
filledwith hot and coldstuffings top right i
A tourist slops in buy a small gillfrom the children in Mexico.
Exoticfruits Jill the streets with
fresh sweetness and color.
(. hildren cam water tram the
communal well in a village idMexico (right below I.
cooking as well.When the Portuguese broughtslaves from Africa, a new notewas added to the cuisines. TheAfricans, finding thetemperature and climate ofBrazil much like their own.quickly brought such thingsfrom the old world as palms,which thrived in Brazil, givingoil or 'dende' as it is calledtoday. Coconuts, too. becamean important factor. But, mostimportant was the African skillat preparing and presentingfood in an attractive manner.Since few of the Portuguesewomen who lived on the bigestates to which the blacks werebrought knew much at all aboutcooking, the Africans quicklytook charge. There is a saying,still popular in Brazil, 'theblacker the cook, the better thecooking", and we find exoticAfrican interpretations of thebasic Indian-with-Portuguesecuisine throughout Brazil. In allthe best restaurants, black menand women still run thekitchens.
As other Europeans came toexplore and conquer the richNew World, the cuisines becameeven more diverse andcosmopolitan. Thus, we find theFrench touch in Haiti and partsof the West Indies. The Dutchdid much to develop the 'SpiceIslands'; even the British, not
generally known for theirinterest in cookery, added a bit.In later history, the Germansbrought beer; the Italians,
pasta ; vineyards were plantedfor the development of wines -each country has made itscontribution until today. LatinAmerica boasts an amazingamalgam of the cuisines of theworld - and offers the NorthAmerican homemaker a richsource of ideas for brighteningher own daily fare. In these
times of soaring food costs, it iswell to look south of the borderfor interesting and economicalways to extend the family foodbudget.
Latin American cooking doesnot require a long list of exoticand expensive spices andfoodstuffs. Most of it is basedon foods readily available in thegreat supermarkets all over theUnited States. The few rareingredients which might beincluded in a particular recipeare generally available from alocal specialty or gourmet shop.And as interest in LatinAmerican cooking increases,more and more of the basicsappear on our market shelves.The huge number of NorthAmericans who visit Mexicoeach year have brought back suchan interest in the somewhat fieryMexican cooking, that severalstores now carry a complete lineof Mexican chiles, pepper,'moles' (sauces). Tortillas arereadily available in cans or fromthe deep freeze.It is interesting to note, that as
one travels through LatinAmerica, the native cooking stillrelies heavily on the ancient
techniques and uses the mostreadily available foods. Fromthe centuries of invasions,
attempted conquests and trades,the Latin Americans have takenonly those foods and techniq