Craving pulled pork, tacos, enchiladas? How about slow-roasted, cilantro rubbed pork loin? Toss out those takeout menus – we’re here to show you how to stock (and cook with!) the ultimate Latin pantry, full of items you can find right at your local ShopRite!
With Cinco de Mayo coming up, we often go straight for our favorite takeout options like Tex-Mex. But why stop there? There’s so much more to the region’s cuisine than our favorite burrito bowl! Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and the other countries that make up Central and South America all bring unique cultures, flavors and cooking methods to the table.
Beef does make its appearances in Latin cuisine, but one of the major protein powerhouses is pork. Nearly every cut of the pig is used in Central and South American cuisine, from pork chops and loins to whole bone-in shoulders. Chicken continues to be a staple in Latin cuisine, just as it has in our Mediterranean and Asian blog posts. Chickens can be domesticated easily and can live nearly anywhere (even mountainous areas in parts of South America, for example!) Certain seafood, like tilapia and shrimp, also makes its way into the main course, as much of Central and South America is surrounded by either (or both) the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, not to mention the Gulf of Mexico.
You may have thought to yourself “I know the answer to this one: rice!” But as you may remember from our discussion about stocking your Asian pantry, not all rice is created equal. Typical latin dishes uses the standard long grain white rice we all know and love, but flavor it with the additions of fresh cilantro or annatto seeds (which give yellow rice its distinct color).
The other major grain we will focus on is worth its weight in gold… golden color that is! Corn is the base of tortillas, breads, pastries and more in many Latin American cuisines.
Produce is where these recipes get bright colors and flavors from fresh tomatoes, citrus and more. You may recognize a few from our Mediterranean discussion a few weeks back, as well as a few new items you have yet to try!
Just as your Mediterranean pantry has its canned staples like tomatoes, olives and peppers, so does the typical Latino pantry. The go-to canned spice mixtures that are must-haves in stocking a latin pantry are Recaito and Sofrito. These are similar to the curry pastes we discussed in stocking our Asian pantries a few weeks back, in that they comprise a few of the staple flavor builders in an easy paste that can be added to many dishes. Recaito is comprised of onions, garlic, green peppers and cilantro, while sofrito is a tomato-based version comprised of similar ingredients.
A quick list of starter spices:
Just remember that dried spices are stronger than their fresh counterparts; a good rule of thumb is to use half the amount of dried spices you would for fresh (example: 1 tbsp fresh cilantro = 1 tsp dried)
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Now that you’ve stocked up and learned about the cuisine, it’s time to preheat the oven and get cooking!