Stock up your cupboard with the right ingredients and you will be able to prepare any Latin American recipe that takes your fancy.
Flavor of Latin America in your kitchen
Apart from Mexican cuisine, which many of us have at least heard of, Central and South American cuisines are largely unknown, a pity, because they have really interesting dishes. Their cuisines evolved from the indigenous dishes and ingredients, influenced by European tastes, African slaves with their own cooking traditions, and immigration -the source of yet more European impact, but also of Chinese and other Eastern inspiration. In this sense, an American pantry should contain all the food in the world.
Some of the ingredients required to cook South American belong to the international pantry, but there are a few specialties to stock and some others to know about, in case you need a substitution.
Allspice – pimienta de Jamaica or pimienta gorda – or Jamaican pepper. Widely used in Latin American cooking, allspice are the brown dried berries of an evergreen tree of the myrtle family the Spaniards found growing wild in Jamaica, whole or ground. Allspice combines the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Annatto oil or annatto lard– aceite o manteca de achiote – Annato lard is a deep orange-gold oil or lard made by steeping annatto seeds in hot oil or lard for a short time, then straining and cooling the fat. Used for both color and flavor in Latin America and some non-Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean. Jamaicans color codfish cakes with annatto.
Avocado – aguacate, palta – It spread from Mexico to all South American countries.
Beans – judias, habichuelas – Beans are omnipresent in Latin American cooking and a great variety of beans are used. Stock all colors: black beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans white and red, white navy beans. Pinto, red or black beans feature mostly in Mexican dishes. Lima beans star in Peruvian cuisine.
Chili peppers – chiles – Fresh or dried, chili peppers are very important in Central and South American cooking, Mexican cooks, in particular, make wide use of them. Stock a variety of dried chili peppers, especially chipotle and ancho, and, get fresh ones from your market, surely there will be a great variety.
Coriander – cilantro or culantro – The leaves of fresh coriander are often used to garnish Latin American dishes and widely available everywhere. Coriander seeds, which are toasted, ground or whole, are added to many dishes. Buy preferably whole seeds as they are easy to pound, ground coriander is passable but not as fragrant.
Cumin – comino – Cumin is an important spice in Latin America, usually toasted before grinding. Whole seeds are best as ground cumin rapidly loses flavor and aroma.
Creole style seasoning powder - aliño criollo - from Venezuela, a seasoning mix made of herbs and spices, used with meat and poultry, in stews.
Lime – lima – Limes are an essential ingredient in many dishes, drinks and as garnish.
Oregano – orégano – For Latin American cooking, use Mexican oregano.
Pumpkin seeds – pepitas – Usually hulled and sold salted -for a snack- or unsalted -for cooking. Pumpkin seeds also come hull on toasted or raw -still easy enough to toast yourself. They are sometimes ground and used as a thickening and flavoring agent or even as a coating, as you would bread crumbs. Raw hulled pumpkin seeds will keep in your pantry but can get rancid, keep them best in your freezer.
Salted cod – bacalao, bacalhau – Dried and salted cod is very popular.