La Cocina Latina

Taking a look at recipes far south of the border!


I recently spent a day in Miami and had hoped to pair some wines with the enticing selection of Cuban foods on offer at many of the top restaurants there. That did not end up happening, though I did manage to enjoy too much coffee that sunny day. That did however get me to thinking about the variety of South American and Nuevo Latino cuisines that are becoming increasingly popular across the US.

Sadly, much of what we think of Latino cuisine is glorified Mexican food peppered with Chorizo and chilies, and doesn't represent the true bounty of South and Central America. Now don't get me wrong, I love mexican food as much as the next guy. My point here is simply to point out  that there is so much fabulous food that lays to our south that to ignore all of it in favor of recipes that are more familiar, and frankly well tuned to our palates, does us all a disservice.

As the weather warms up our thoughts should turn to lighter cuisines, and being folks who like to learn about food and wine, and experience something new i thought this would be the ideal time to take a look to our neighbors down south for a little inspiracion!!

Peruvian Ceviche

Let’s kick things off with what may be one of the most iconic dishes to be found in South America. Peruvian ceviche. Ceviche of course is the cooking of fish through the use of acid, which doesn’t actually ‘cook’ the fish but converts the proteins in much the same way as heat does, changing the texture of the fish used. The Peruvians have developed ceviche into an art form, blending in textural and savory complexity in the form of sweet potatoes and corn to help highlight the delicate flavors and texture of the fish.
This style of ceviche is actually a bit of a tough match when it comes to wine. Assertively tart with citrus juice, and then vaguely sweetened from the corn, sweet potato, and even red onion typically used in these recipes. That would tend to call for a wine with big acids, a touch of sweetness, and enough body to pair with this mouthful of flavors. That sounds like the job for fabulous Vouvray to me.  Chenin Blanc with powerful fruit flavors, zesty acids and enough sweetness to help bring everything into harmony is making my mouth water already!
Two to try:

Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

It could certainly be argued that Argentine’s steaks are also an iconic dish from South America, though in truth the Chimichurri sauce that typically accompanies the dish might be more of what we think of when we think of Argentine steak! And when we think of Argentine steak we might also be thinking of a NY strip or ribeye, though more typically one might encounter flank or my favorite, skirt steak in Argentina.
While our thoughts might go immediately to Malbec when we think of Argentina, malbec isn’t the only thing worth trying when it comes to Argentine wine. In fact, while malbec works fabulously with beef, I often find myself looking for something fruitier and with less nuance when it comes to Chimichurri sauced dishes. the exuberant fruit of Bonarda, AKA Charbono is the perfect solution. Plump, juicy and full of fruit it’s often bottled on it’s own but also adds character to many great Argentine red blends. 
Two to try:

Brazilian Chicken & Shrimp Stew

Brazil is such a huge country that it’s hard to think of a single iconic dish. The nation’s cuisine varies so much from north to south that it’s like you’re looking at two, or even three distinct countries. One feature that is shared by much of the country is the coast and its rich bounty of seafood. Fish stewed with spices and coconut milk is a common recipe, particularly in the north of the country. While there are many permutations of this dish, i like this recipe which mixes the textures and flavors of shrimp, chicken and cashews.
Very lightly spicy, as is typical with most brazilian dishes, this recipe is full and rich with the subtle flavors of coconut and cashew. Served over fragrant white rice, it makes for a fabulous meal but you’ll need a pretty rich wine to pair here, lest the wine appear shrill and thin. This is a great time to break out a rhone blend. The flavors of Roussanne or Marsanne, and maybe a dash of Viognier for spice will pair so well with this dish. 
Two to try:

Llapingachos Ecuatorianos

This has to be one of the greatest dishes I have ever added to a restaurant menu. Fairly simple potato pancakes, I used a blend of sweet and white potato to better approximate the potatoes of Ecuador, that are deep fried and in my case served with a simple yet delicious peanut sauce.They made for a great appetizer but also work as an intriguing side dish, especially with simply grilled meats which also have an affinity for the peanut sauce. 
The peanut sauce I prepared was a pourable blend of tomato juice, onions, garlic and chunky peanut butter liberally seasoned with white pepper. It may sound a little weird but it makes for an irresistible treat when paired with the llapingachos!  What wine can you pair with this? It’s a touch call, peanut sauce is not a wines friend. The best route, as far as I can tell is to seek out an off-dry sparkling wine, which of course pairs well with fried food. Prosecco is my first thought though a good Moscato might also make for a worthy pairing here.
Two to try:

Latin-Style Chicken and Rice

While it’s fun to point out dishes that can identified with a specific regional or national origin the cuisine of Central and South America is united by some overarching cultural influences. While a version of chicken and rice may not be found in every corner of the region, it is a pretty widely adopted dish. Of course there are endless permutations that make it instantly identifiable as coming from this region or that city, but in general all the recipes follow a similar basic form.
This recipe is in fact so widely adopted throughout the world that I intend to include a set of recipes on just chicken and rice in an upcoming article but for today a simple, pan-latino example will have to suffice. This is a very simple, straightforward recipe that could be made your own with a few simple additions. coconut milk, shrimp, chilies, corn, and bacon are just a few ingredient that spring to mind as ways to add something special here. It’s a fine recipe on it’s own, soul soothing and satisfying, but like all of the cuisines of South and Central America have done , it could happily adopt another cultural influence to make it something new and exciting. As it is this is a lovely dish to pair with a light, earthy Pinot Noir.
Two to try:
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