Viva Latin Americans!

Published on Latino American Today, September 2014, -article and recipe by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard.   During September 15 to October 15, the nation’s Latin Americans celebrate their Hispanic heritage in a variety of ways. What a great opportunity and honor to have a whole month to highlight and display our culture, food, music, and more.

The week-long observation first began in 1968 by mandate of President Lyndon Johnson and President Ronald Reagan extended it in 1988 to one month to recognize and commemorate the contributions of Hispanic Americans and their ancestors to the US. The celebration, which falls within September 15 and October 15, coincides with the Independence Day of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, who declared their independence from Spain in 1821. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on September 16 and 18, respectively.

Fifty three million or 17% of the nation’s population is Hispanic. In contrast, Latin America’s population of 595 million is larger than that of the US. National Hispanic Heritage Month today has become a festivity of Hispanics from all Latin nations who proudly embrace their culture and heritage. Within the concept of Latin American, there are 21 Spanish-speaking countries with diverse cultures and traditions, different language enunciations and nuances, varying indigenous languages and ethnicities, and distinctly different gastronomies despite sharing some of the same ingredients. It is amazing how this mass of what we call Latinos in the US coexist harmoniously within the same land having commonalities with each other the main one being Latin American.

Hispanics celebrate this special month in many ways, and as you may have thought, food and music are always at the forefront. Many businesses have office parties during lunchtime, which I often help organize, to bring employees and customers together under one roof with the objective to learn a bit more about Latin culture through the exotic and delicious cuisines. Others celebrate in their own unique way. No matter where and how we celebrate this special occasion, let us always remember what the month represents, -the important contributions of Hispanics to the US that began way before this country was founded.

My favorite way to celebrate the month is with foods from all Latin nations. During special events that I create for business and social groups, I use healthy gourmet cuisine as a platform to educate about cultural synergies in Latin America. I enjoy telling stories during presentations and interactive cooking demonstrations. I often complement my menus with delicious ethnic drinks, music, art, and more. My custom menus are also a way for people to get a taste and appreciation of the cuisines and the cultures of several Latin countries. They may include dishes such as Venezuelan Cachapas (delicious corn pancakes filled with melting mozzarella). A delicious Ceviche Peruano (citrus marinated seafood, potatoes, corn and more).

A succulent Costa Rican Gallo Pinto (rice and beans with bacon, bell peppers and cilantro). A Guatemalan Mayan Pepián (hearty spicy stew with chicken, pork and vegetables). A delectable Cuban pork roast with mojo (garlic-citrus sauce). A delicious Nicaraguan Vigorón (yuca topped with spicy slaw) (see recipe below). Colombian Arepas (corn cakes filled with a variety of delicious goodies), and to end with a sweet refreshing touch, a tangy Rosa de Jamaica (hibiscus drink with canela).

¡Happy Mes Hispano!

Vigorón Yuca with Spicy Lime Cabbage Slaw and Crispy Pork Rind

This recipe is shared by a few Central American countries. In Nicaragua, Guatemala and neighboring El Salvador, this dish is often a street food eaten without utensils. It can also be a side dish for home-cooked meals. This recipe was inspired by the street vendors of the east-central region of Guatemala, where buses full of passengers travel from the capital on the Atlantic highway, passing by many food shacks along the way. When the buses stop for fuel, eager street vendors rush toward them with large flat baskets full of cooked treats. Sometimes they even board the buses, filling the air with delicious aromas.

Serves 2 to 4 people

6 cups water

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 pounds fresh unpeeled yuca, cut into 1-inch slices
1 batch Curtido Crudo (spicy lime cabbage slaw, recipe below)
1/2 cup crushed crispy pork rind

Curtido Crudo (spicy lime cabbage slaw): In a bowl, thoroughly mix 3 cups shredded cabbage; 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice; 1/2 cup julienned carrots or red bell pepper; 1 thinly sliced Serrano, jalapeño, or other hot pepper of choice; and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a quick boil and add the salt. Add the yuca and cook it until it is soft, but not mushy (about 15 minutes).

2. Drain the yuca in a colander in the sink. Let the yuca cool slightly. Peel it as you would peel potatoes. Run a paring knife under and around the skin to remove it. Take out the inner core and discard it. With a fork, break the yuca pieces into small chunks, but do not mash them.

3. Serve the yuca topped with the slaw and pork rind.

Amalia’s Notes Frozen yuca is available at Latino markets throughout the United States. It is also available fresh at some grocery stores. It takes a bit of time and effort to cut and peel the fresh yuca, but this can save you some money. Crispy pork rind is available at Latino markets by the meat section.