My mission as a food writer has always been to dispel the many stereotypes that surround Latin cuisines. There are many and I'm sure you've heard some of them, if not all. Put simply: we don't all eat tacos, we don't all eat heavily spiced-up food, and we don't share the same cuisines throughout. Surprised?
As I talk to more people both in and outside of my industry, I am still surprised to see how little is truly known about the differences in Latin cuisines. Furthermore, as of late, I've asked myself what happened? How is it possible that American palates have embraced most of the ethnic flavors from faraway places even before discovering those that thrive within their own side of the hemisphere?
It may very well be part of "the grass is always greener" effect. Perhaps it's just a belief that if something comes from very far away in the distance, it's therefore automatically exotic and much more exciting than a neighboring cuisine. Ask yourself why this is the case. Let me know your thoughts about why you think this is so.
Now don't misunderstand me. I love Thai and Italian foods as much as I love Chilean cuisine--which is very much--but still, one does have to wonder why so many distinct culinary traditions remain undiscovered by the general palate.
My solution--albeit a very small drop in a bucket--is to begin here, on this blog and in order to do so, I'm inviting you on a virtual culinary journey. Here, I will write about the different regions, our diverse ingredients, and about the interesting flavors that make up our many cuisines--more than two dozen of them. My aim is to make these cuisines accessible to your everyday cooking.
Sometimes, I will give you examples of very traditional dishes; others, we'll explore simple recipes that you can prepare with a Latin flair. Nothing complicated. All will reflect my practical and easy style of cooking at home. So pack up virtual bags and passports, practice your Spanish, and join me!
Our first port of entrance will be Peru, where potatoes abound and chiles take on the vibrant colors of a sunset. Let me introduce you to the aji amarillo, the bright yellow-orange chile that is the quintessential ingredient featured in Peruvian cookery. Although you'll find other important chiles in this cuisine, this one, with its golden accent and gutsy heat, stands among the others. It's often transformed into pastes, cooked down to blend into sauces, and sliced into ceviches; they lend color and heat to potato salads, and a pungent kick to sashimi-style dishes, called tiraditos.
If you're lucky, you'll find aji amarillos sold fresh in Latin stores but you can also get them preserved in jars--both whole or transformed into paste--and dried. As with all chiles, you should seed and devein them when you're using them, if you desire less heat in your dishes;the veins are hubs for capsaicin , the spicy oils in chiles and most recipes in Peru call for you to do this. This chile is very fruity, and many recipes that use it take advantage of this fruitiness and of the fact that the heat it imparts is milder than the spiciness of other chiles. You will always use aji amarillo for its flavor, as much as for its heat. The key word here is: balance.
Today's recipe showcases this exotic chile; it's easy to make and exquisitely delicious. Cooks often run out of ideas on how to prepare chicken and here, I offer you an everyday solution that yields exciting flavor without the fanfare of hours spent in the kitchen.
The longer you marinate the chicken, the deeper its flavor will be--but don't marinate it over 24 hours or the lime will destroy the texture of the flesh--. The aji colors it brightly but will not make it too spicy for you. I serve mine over mounds of steamed white rice--abundant in Peruvian cuisine--and simply sauteed vegetables. I leave you with the recipe and with the hope that you'll join me as we continue our journey.
4 chicken leg quarters
1/4 cup aji amarillo paste (available in Latin stores)
1/3 cup sour orange juice (or half lemon and orange juices)
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves (loosely measured)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
In large, non-reactive bowl, place the chicken. In a small bowl, combine the aji and sour orange juice; pour the marinade over the chicken and cover; chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Transfer the chicken to a 13 by 9 by 2-inch oven-safe dish; sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper.
Copyright Sandra A. Gutierrez, 2011; All Rights Reserved. No part or whole of this post or any of its photographs may be distributed, or copied without the express written consent of the author.