Although most large cities in the United States have Caribbean, Central and South American communities, their recipes aren’t as popularized and assimilated as, say, Italian dishes have been.
You may be familiar with some of the classics: rice and beans, empanadas, ceviche and flan. But there’s a wealth of rich flavors, heady spices and unusual, yet available, ingredients to explore.
And Douglas Rodriguez, a first-generation Cuban American and chef at New York’s Patria restaurant, is a willing tour guide.
Rodriguez makes empanadas, an Argentinian favorite, with a crab meat filling and a remoulade sauce accompaniment with pickled garlic. He does a variation of Cuban pork sandwiches with Gouda cheese and papaya-mustard salsa, and his guava-glazed barbecued ribs are a favorite of his customers.
His recipes are inspired by the fine home cooking he sampled in his extensive travels. In his cookbook, “Nuevo Latino: Recipes that Celebrate the New Latin-American Cuisine” (Ten Speed Press, 1995), Rodriguez writes:
“I have been eating and cooking with Latin ingredients - beans, rice, tubers and salsa - my entire life. These ingredient are the basics in most South and Central American countries, and even though they are considered the common man’s foods, I have endeavored to bring new meaning to them, and the age-old dishes they comprise through my cuisine.”
One of my favorite recipes from his cookbook is for Rice Cakes. Rodriguez recommends them as a way to use leftover rice. I prepare these golden, herbed cakes whenever I want something hearty that’s a change from pasta. Since black beans are the usual accompaniment, a Black Bean Salad is the perfect match.
1-1/2 cups cooked rice
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons minced green onion
1/4 teaspoon crushed dried thyme
1 plum tomato, seeded and chopped
1 egg, beaten
1 egg white
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 bacon strips (see note)
2 tablespoons sour cream
Combine rice, flour, green onion, thyme, tomato, egg, egg white, cream, salt and pepper to taste in bowl. Mix well.
Fry bacon in large skillet until crisp. Remove to paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
Reheat bacon fat if necessary. Drop rice batter into skillet in 6 dollops. Press down with back of spoon to create cakes 1/2 inch thick. Fry until golden on underside, about 5 minutes. Turn and fry second side until golden, 3 to 5 minutes longer.
Drain rice cakes on paper towel-lined plate. Divide rice cakes between 2 plates. Crumble bacon and sprinkle over cakes. Top with sour cream or serve on the side. Serve hot.
Yield: 2 servings.
Note: If desired, omit bacon and saute rice cakes in 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Black Bean Salad
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed (1-1/2 cups)
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Place beans, red bell pepper, onion and cilantro in salad bowl.
Stir together cumin seeds, vinegar and oil in cup. Pour over bean mixture and stir gently to coat. Season with pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.
Yield: 2 servings.
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