Latin American Cuisine – Incredible Ingredients (24.01.15)

One of the most exciting aspects behind any trip to or through South and Central America is the discovery of a multitude of mouth-watering local culinary wonders.

Recently re-discovered indigenous foods are combined with newer ingredients to make the most delightfully memorable meals – from the Caribbean coast in the north to the windswept Patagonian south.

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As international chefs embrace South American cooking styles, local chefs and their recipes have begun to make an impact across the world. So impressive has the recent success of modern day South American cuisine been, that local cooking methods have been adopted and expanded upon to bring a swathe of indigenous recipes to Europeans, Africans, Asians, Antipodeans as well as fellow Americans in the North.

Just as chocolate, arriving from South America, was embraced by the outside world (as fervently as tobacco), today’s recipes from countries such as Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia are making equally impressive international gains.

Five thousand year old strains of corn, potatoes, chili peppers, peanuts, avocados, lime beans and chocolate (all previously used with local meat such as llama and guinea pig) are now blended with a long list of European imports such as chicken, pork, beef and goat meat as well as citrus fruit, almonds and wheat. Moreover, alpaca meat and traditional crops such as quinoa, kiwicha, maca and yucca (cassava/manioc) are today some of the most sought-after ingredients in some of the most sought-after eating establishments around the world.

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Although as seasoned South America travellers we have been very aware of the huge variety of flavours and dishes available, what continues to surprise us at Nomadic Thoughts is the accessibility of so many different ingredients and recipes along the way. For example I have eaten some of the best seafood high in the Andes many miles from the coast, and likewise experienced some of the tastiest Andean cook-ups on the coast.

The best place to get an understanding of South America’s incredible range of ingredients is the local market. Any local market in just about any country will offer a colourful and sometimes bizarre display of traditional produce. While enjoying the buzz of market day, I have often challenged my travel partner (more often than not my wife Nicki and children), to find the newest and most strangely shaped vegetable, fruit, bean or boil up.

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For example, corn, arguably South America’s major source of food, comes in all colours, shapes and sizes. It is the key ingredient of many home-based dishes including cornbread (arepas), pasteles, empanadas, chichi and tamales.

Potatoes, as well as sweet potatoes, (both as old as corn) have for millennia been boiled, stewed, smoked, roasted, baked, smashed, flattened, dried and fried. Along with the all-important South American seasoning of peppers and tropical fruits, a combination of dishes from salads to delicate deserts offer an altogether fiery South American experience.

The photos I have chosen for this blog I took in local markets across the continent. They show staple ingredients, many of which are used in my favourite recipes, all sold by people living in vastly differing landscapes.

After all, cultivating the right plants has been an integral part of indigenous South American’s existence for thousands of years. Extensive and elaborate irrigation systems, high mountain terracing and a variety of farming and fishing methods have helped develop one of the world’s most delicious local cuisines.

Moray - the Inca's Andean agricultural laboritory.

Moray – the Inca’s Andean agricultural laboritory.

Whether you crave fresh ceviche, spicy soups, piping hot appetizers, sizzling steaks, succulent seafood, decadent desserts or fresco queso it all starts with the basic, yet incredible, array of market ingredients.

My advice – enjoy exploring the local South American markets – unless you’ve been there, you have no idea of the delights awaiting you.

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Andean seafood.

Andean seafood.

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