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With temperatures dropping, the Latin American chef’s comforting stew recipes are just the thing to warm you up.
While many of us are dedicated fans of Mexico’s cuisine – tacos, quesadillas, mole, street corn – anyone else salivating? – most are fairly unfamiliar with the foods of wider Latin America, despite its diverse food culture. Spanning much of Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico and South America, the expansive area is defined by territories that were once part of the Spanish, Portuguese and French empires – three countries that definitely know their way around delicious food.
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Feel like you’ve been missing out? Just the person to introduce you to Latin American cuisine is acclaimed chef Virgilio Martínez. His restaurant Central in Peru’s capital city of Lima has been included in the World’s 50 Best list since 2013, with the restaurant also named as the number one restaurant in Latin America multiple times. And now he’s sharing his expansive knowledge via a new cookbook. Spanning 22 countries and featuring 600 recipes, The Latin American Cookbook pays homage to the vibrant food and culture of the vast area. Drawing on inspiration and insights from village elders, home cooks, anthropologists and old-world cookbooks, Martínez brings to life the food, recipes and their myriad influences, from indigenous to European, Asian, and beyond.
While the book does include tempting versions of well-known favourites such as empanadas, ceviche and even guacamole, with winter incoming, we’re putting the focus on warming Latin American stews. Often referred to as the “world’s pantry”, Latin America yields an almost endless stream of ingredients, so you can be sure these hearty dishes go beyond your standard meat and potatoes.
Martínez’s recipe for Nicaraguan chicken and rice stew – also known as arroz aguado – promises to provide all the comfort you need when the nights draw in. Chicken breasts and white rice are enlivened with coriander, mint and achiote, with the stew garnished with yet more herbs, avocado, lime and pickled jalapeños.
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Next, his red hominy stew is made by slow-cooking pork shoulders and ribs until the meat is tender and irresistibly falling off the bone. The meat is then further cooked with hominy – dried maize kernels – along with aromatic flavours of Mexican oregano, ancho chillis and guajillo chillis.
And finally, if you’re after even more spice to keep you toasty this winter, look no further than Martínez’s spicy potato, pork and beet stew. The vibrant hue alone will pull you out of any mid-week slump, with warming flavours of panca paste, cumin and hearty pork belly sure to sate even the biggest of appetites. And just like that, Latin American just shot to the top of our favourite cuisines…
Nicaraguan Chicken and Rice Stew
Virgilio says: “Some call arroz aguado Nicaraguan risotto. Translating as “watery rice,” it’s soul food for all walks of life, livened up with herbs and peppers, served for family lunches.”
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- 3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch (1-cm) slices
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 chicken breasts, cut in half
- 4 chicken thighs
- 950 ml chicken stock
- 750 ml water
- 180g long-grain white rice
- 10–12 stems fresh coriander
- 2 sprigs fresh yerba buena (or mint)
- 3 potatoes, diced
- 2 ripe bananas, sliced
- 1 courgette, diced
- juice of 1 bitter orange
- 1 /2 teaspoon ground achiote (annatto)
- salt and ground pepper
- 40g chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 5g chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced
- 125g pickled jalapeños
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, and some salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent, about five to seven minutes.
Season all the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Add the stock, water, rice, coriander and yerba buena (or mint). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, skimming the surface from time to time, until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes. With tongs, remove the chicken and place in a bowl. Remove and discard the herbs.
Stir the potatoes, bananas, and courgette into the pan and cook until tender, about 15 minutes, then add the sour orange juice and achiote (annatto).
Meanwhile, carefully remove and discard the chicken skin and debone. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and return to the pan. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
Serve in bowls, garnished with coriander and mint, with lime wedges, avocado, and jalapeños on the side.
Red hominy stew
Virgilio says: “While vegetarian versions exist, traditional preparations of pozole rojo, especially in the state of Jalisco, include pork bones in some form to give the stew its rich texture and flavor. We use pork ribs, though bones from the head, neck, shank, or even feet are commonly used.”
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus 25 minutes soaking
Cooking time: 3 hours 45 minutes
- 900g pork shoulder, diced
- 450g pork ribs, cut into pieces
- 1 /2 white onions, quartered
- 12 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 litres water
- 5 ancho chillis, seeded and veins removed
- 5 guajillo chillis, seeded and veins removed
- 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1.4 litres canned hominy, rinsed and drained (or 475 ml dried hominy, soaked for at least 6 hours)
- salt and ground pepper
- sliced radishes
- sliced white onion
- lettuce leaves
- lime wedges
Place the pork shoulder, pork ribs, one onion, six garlic cloves, and some salt in a large pan. Pour over the measured water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cook for about two hours 30 minutes, or until the meat comes off the bone. Remove the surface layer of foam and grease that forms on the broth as it cooks. If necessary, add more hot water to keep the level of broth in the pot. Remove the cooked meat and set aside, reserving the stock.
To prepare the sauce, soak all the chillis in enough water to cover for 25 minutes. Once soft, drain and place in a blender, with the remaining garlic, onion, and the oregano. Add a little of the stock to blend until smooth. became the preferred meat in the stew.
Heat the oil in a small pan over medium-high heat, then add the sauce, and season with salt. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, then strain and mix in with the reserved cooking stock. Bring to a boil, then add the meat and lower the heat, letting it simmer for 10 minutes. Add the hominy and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until the hominy is completely cooked, about 40 minutes.
Serve warm in a deep dish and garnished with radish, onion, lettuce, and lime wedges.
Spicy potato, pork and beet stew
Virgilio says: “A favorite dish in the Andean region of Ayacucho, Peru, the name puca picante is a combination of the Quechua word for red and Spanish word for spicy. Originally, it was made to nourish communal activities like harvests, or the building of houses and roads.”
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
- 900g pork belly, cut into 5cm chunks
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 white onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 120ml ají panca paste (a hotter alternative is chipotle paste)
- 1 medium tomato, peeled and diced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 70g toasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 beetroot, peeled, cooked, and chopped
- 120 ml water
- 450g small potatoes, washed
- 475ml beef stock
- salt and ground pepper
In two batches, sear the pork belly in its own fat in a medium pan over high heat for 4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove the meat from the pan, and set aside.
In the same pan, heat 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for
7 minutes, then add the ají panca paste with the tomato, stirring continuously. Add the cumin, and season with salt and pepper.
Blend the peanuts with the beet (beetroot) and water to a purée, then add to the onion pan with the browned meat, the potatoes, and stock. Stir well and cook for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Serve hot, with white rice and a side salad.
The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martínez with Nichola Gill (Phaidon, £35) is out now
Photography: Jimena Agois