It is often said that if you lock one hundred Texans in a room, there will be one hundred Chili recipes all of them tastier than the rest. Something similar would happen if you locked one hundred Latinos in a room, you would have one hundred Cebiche recipes, all of them passionately tastier than the rest.

Cebiche originated with ancient indigenous tribes in northern Peru, they prepared fish marinated in the juice or pulp of sour fruits in order to preserve it. The most commonly used fruit was a relative of the Passion fruit called Curuba in most of Latin America, in Peru is called Tumbo, in English is called Banana Passion fruit and the scientific name is Passiflora tripartita. It is a vine that grows wild in tropical climates and is considered an invasive species. In the USA is quite common in Hawaii. It is very sour and therefore suitable for culinary preparations.

Once the Spaniards introduced Citrus fruits to America, these were preferred to make Cebiche and today it is a rare occasion when you find one made with Curuba. However, cooks of the world sometimes add other fruits juices and liquids to the basic lime marinade to diversify the taste, Passion fruit, oranges, grapefruit, mandarins, Pineapple, tomatoes, Vodka, tequila are some of the candidates, always added in small quantity just before serving.

The recipe below is the most basic preparation of Cebiche and
its ingredients are present in every recipe, although everybody
always adds something extra, Celery, leeks, semi ripe mangoes, semi ripe Pineapple, firm Avocado can be one of those extras, the cook's palate is the limit.

White fish (grouper, snapper, Corvina,
Swai, Etc.) cut to bite size                        1 Kg (2.2 Lb)
Lime juice, enough to cover the fish
in a bowl                                                  3-4 cups
Sweet Chile peppers or any non-hot
pepper deseeded and
finely chopped                                          1/2 cup
Hot Chile pepper deseeded and
finely chopped                                          1-2
Red onion in thin rounds                            1 medium
Cilantro coarsely chopped                         1/4 cup
Garlic clove finely chopped                        1 large
Salt & pepper                                            1/2 Tsp ea

1. In a bowl cover the fish with lime juice and let it marinate 2-4 hours.
2. Before serving add the seasonings, any extra ingredient and mix well.
3. Verify seasoning and correct according to taste.
4. Place bowl over ice to chill it.

Cebiche is served in various ways. In Peru they serve it in pretty clam shells with crispy vegetables on the side, in Panama they use little bread baskets, sometimes saltine crackers are used. In Venezuela plantain chips are used, sometimes in rounds for individual self-serving or in strips for elegant presentation in a Martini glass. The crispy plantain chips are made quickly sliding crosswise a green plantain against the single blade of a grater or mandolin. Plantain strips are made using a potato peeler lengthwise against a green plantain. In order to turn crispy they must quickly deep fried in hot oil until they are golden and crispy. Deep fry about 1/4 of the plantain each time, if you put too many the oil will cool and they will not turn crispy and will turn greasy. Once the chips or strips are crispy place in a plate over paper towel and dust them lightly with a seasoned salt such as half & half chili powder and table salt.

Below you can see various presentations of Cebiche:

Peruvian style in shells.

Peruvian style with vegetables.

Cebiche in spoons

It is possible to deconstruct Cebiche and present it with its
ingredients separated such as a Cebiche Bar with the fish
marinated in sour juice and the seasonings on the side as
savory oils, such as Cilantro-Garlic oil and a Chili Pepper-Red Onion oil. Many savory oils can be prepared, curry and coconut are very popular. You dip the morsels in the oils and place it over a plantain chip to eat.

Once all the fish is consumed the left over seasoned liquid can be used to prepare a Tiger's Milk cocktail by taking 1 shot of the liquid and mixing with a shot of Vodka, Pisco or Tequila and serving in a short glass with ice cubes. This stuff is so good that you will want to make Cebiche just to enjoy the drink afterward. As an added benefit all that lime juice and seasonings prevent any hangover.

Cebiche can be prepared with shrimp or octopus but these must be properly cooked before marinating. Look the recipes in the internet for further information.

Below you will find links to my blog:

Passion Fruit: Something to be passionate about

Plantain: the Fruit From Paradise

The Fish In Our Seas

Cilantro: Our Herb, Our Flavor

Cebiche is one dish that is tasty and healthy and we all should it more often. I hope you prepare some very tasty and creative Cebiches. If you have any questions please write to me at


Chef Juan



Lately the most frequent topic of conversation seems to be food cost inflation, I often hear people in shock over prices at supermarkets; in the news I often hear charity organizations and commodities traders warning of famines and other disaster because of increases in the cost of basic staples.  The UN's Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) keeps a world food price index chart that shows an ominous trend, it has a tendency to rise under conditions of extreme volatility,  which occur due to sudden scarcity of basic food staples, like corn, soybeans and wheat.

The causes of food inflation are diverse and often beyond our control, population has increased, there are now 7 billion of us in this planet and in the next couple of decades we are going to be 9 billion and we all have to eat something, this is bad; a lot of people has joined the middle class around the world, particularly in Asia and Latin America and they are eating more and better, consuming more proteins for instance, this is good;  Energy cost have risen considerably and they have multiple impacts on the cost of food, first because fertilizers are often manufactured from energy staples like oil and gas, second because transporting food requires energy and third because in the search for alternative fuels some manufacturers are using food staples like corn to make bio fuels, this is bad.

Fortunately there are solutions on the way but they will take a while to have a positive impact; Population is expected to stabilize around 9 to 10 billion and then start decreasing but this will happen in the next 50 to 100 years, this is good; the next generation of bio fuels already coming out of labs will use organic waste instead of food staples and will be generally available in the next 10 to 15 years, this is good; agricultural production will rise for  traditional staples like wheat, corn, rice and soy, but more important we will see new staples coming into the market, like Yucca, air potatoes, chayotes, quinoa and many other interesting vegetables and cereals from the tropical jungles of the planet, this is good; for proteins we will see improved farming of traditional and new species and we will have the vast field of insect species which through the science of Entomophagy will contribute to feed the world; cooks all over  the world are busy learning from ancient cultures in Africa, Asia and Latin America how to prepare certain species of insects, this is good; I had a couple of sauces from Amazon Indians, Catara and Cumache, which are delicious; Catara is made from the tail of a specie of giant ants mashed with Yucca juice, tamarind and lots of chili peppers and other seasonings, it tastes like a hot Worcestershire sauce; Cumache is made from the body of a specie of big termite, mashed with yucca juice, hot peppers and other seasonings, it tastes like a hot sauce with a slight pine resin flavor; Catara has been industrialized and you can buy it in supermarkets in countries around the Amazon river basin.

In order to do something about food cost you have to understand the processes involved in food consumption: Production is what the farmer does and it has a cost, usually high, and a profit, usually low, I have not seen many rich farmers; Distribution is the process that gets the food to you, it involves transporters, wholesalers and retailers, it has a high cost but it can be optimized through economies of scale and improved logistics to produce low unit costs, well optimized operations can produce high profits; Preparation is what you do to eat the food, you use energy for storage and cooking, you use additional products to make food tasty like seasonings and oils, this process has costs and if you are not a smart cook you may add a lot of cost without realizing it.

You cannot do much about Production, except to produce some food yourself and it is easier than you think, herbs like basil, oregano, mint are easy to plant around your home, even in a pot inside an apartment, chili peppers are frightfully simple to grow, just dry the seeds and throw them over some soil, any soil, they will sprout, grow and provide you with peppers in a few weeks. The bottom part of green onions and leeks usually have some roots and if you plant the bottom half inch they will grow back and produce some small but very tasty leeks and green onions, if you provide a good soil they will grow bigger. Garlic and onions sometimes sprout leaves, if you carefully cut through the sides of the bulb to extract the sprout, you can plant it, you will not grow a full garlic or onion bulb but the leaves of the growing plant can be harvested and they are delicious, I think garlic leaves are sweeter and tastier than garlic itself. Some tropical vegetables like Chayote or Air Potatoes will sprout and then you can stick them in the ground next to a fence or stone wall or tree and they will grow like crazy and give you lots of fruits.  Plantains and bananas are very easy to grow, you dig shoots from the base of an existing plant and sow them in your garden, they will grow forever and bear fruit every 6 months. Look around your home region and find things that sprout and grow, you will be amazed of all the stuff you can produce without being a highly skilled horticulturalist. For protein you can grow grains like Guandu that have protein or you can raise Rabbits in cages, they reproduce like crazy, are clean and easy to keep, when I was a kid I raised rabbits and my mother prepared them in all kinds of delicious recipes, grilled, stewed and fried. In the Andean countries of south America families often keep guinea pigs for protein, they eat anything,  produce 2 offspring every 3 months and are quite tasty, we should not be concerned that Guinea pigs are cute little creatures, they are food and lean protein at that; after all Rock Cornish Hens are also cute little birds and they have been industrialized and are delicious.

To reduce distribution costs try to consume food that is produced close to where you live, the farther away your food is produced the stronger the impact of any increase in fuel costs. There is also a hidden cost in food from far away places, it has been longer since it was harvested and spoils faster once you get it. Find out what is produced in your region and find recipes for it, the Internet is a great help to find recipes. Distribution costs can also be reduced by buying from producers directly, sometimes farmers sell their produce directly at their farm or in a farmers market or cooperative, in this way you eliminate the costs and profits from some intermediaries, their costs and profits are your costs.

In the process of food Preparation you can do  a lot to reduce costs and maximize the nutritional value of the resulting dish, for that you must adopt the strategy and tactics of Market Cuisine, whose motto is: "If we have lemons, let's make lemonade"; in traditional cooking you find a recipe for a dish then you search for the ingredients for such a dish; in market cooking you come across some attractive ingredients (cost, looks, availability, Etc.) and then you search  recipes for such ingredients. The Internet is a great help, just a simple search on for example "Recipes with Chayotes" will return thousands of entries, if you qualify your search to "Recipes with Chayotes, lime juice and Chili Powder" you will get more specific recipes.  Food Preparation has 3 sub-processes: Storing, Seasoning and Cooking; to reduce cost of storing food you can increase the use of dry ingredients which do not require refrigeration, spice mixes are very easy to make and keep, they add lots of flavor to dishes and are good for your health since they reduce the use of salt; for fresh produce that require cooling you may use Pot-In-Pot refrigerators, which are an ingenious African invention that do not use any electricity and they really work, they can generate temperatures in the low 10's Celsius (low 50's Fahrenheit) good enough to keep tomatoes for 2 weeks, even to cool white wine to perfection, these refrigerators are easy to built and work best when placed in a sunny, well ventilated location like a balcony or terrace. To optimize seasoning, spices or herbs should be added at the very end of preparation, they always loose flavor when heated too long. When Cooking you should strive to minimize or optimized the use of energy and added ingredients like oils. Here are some tactics to minimize or optimize the use of energy and ingredients:

- NO HEAT COOKING: It is possible to cook chemically without using any heat, the Peruvian dish Ceviche is the best example of this method. If you search the Internet for "no heat cooking" you will be amazed at all the recipes you can find and this is the most nutritious method since nutrients are not degraded by heat.

- RESIDUAL HEAT USE:  this tactic refers to using the heat that remains in the pot after the heat in the stove is turned off. For example if a recipe calls for cooking vegetables for 10 minutes in a covered pot, turn the heat off after 5 minutes and let the vegetables stay in the pot for 10-15 minutes, the residual heat will finish cooking them to perfection and you saved half the energy. You can do the same while baking, turn oven heat off at some point before recipe's time and let baked goods stay longer; ovens heat are often not very precise and insulation varies, sometimes ovens lose residual heat very fast, you would have to experiment with your oven until you get a feel for its residual heat, does it last or is it lost rather quickly?

-HEAT USE MAXIMIZATION: this tactic refers to cooking the most products with the available heat, a good example is a completely oven baked meal, if your main dish is a roast cooked in the oven, then make your side dish and dessert also in the oven, a good side dish to bake are scalloped potatoes with some tasty seasoning like mustard or cheese, the dessert can be a fruit pie, set the oven at the average temperature required by the dishes and raise or reduce the baking time for each dish. When grilling on a BBQ you can cook your meat, sides and dessert on the grill, corn on the cob or potatoes in foil can be cooked while grilling your meats, sweet fruits like mangoes, papayas or pineapple can also be grilled for dessert; with yogurt, nuts and sweet spices grilled fruit are delicious, even a dessert pizza can be cooked on the grill; you can also grill products for later use as ingredients, for example some chicken to make burritos the next day, some jalapeños to make some chipotle sauce for later use. When making soup you can place a steamer on top to cook some vegetables with the soup's steam.

-NATURAL FAT USE: some meats like chicken or pork have fat in their tissue, you can use this feature to avoid using oil or other fat in their cooking. Season your chicken or pork meat place them in a pan with a little water and start cooking over low heat, the meats will release some of their own fat and after a while the water will evaporate and you can raise heat to medium to brown and cook in their own fat, in this way you will avoid the cost and extra calories from external fats.

The above strategies and techniques when adopted as habit will reduce the overall cost of your food consumption while increasing the nutritional value of your meals. Below I will point you to some recipes found in my blog that are very economical and tasty:








There is not a fruit stand, grocery store, public market or supermarket in Latin America that does not offer some form of the brown sugar we call Panela. It comes in various shapes from square to round, and shades of brown from Auburn to Tawny, but they are all the same product; the different shapes usually carry an specific name but it varies from one country to another. The name Panela usually refers to a rectangular prism, commonly called a Brick or Block.

The Panela is produced by pressing the juice out of sugar cane at small sugar mills called Trapiches, the machinery at these mills is very simple and sometimes is moved by water from a nearby source. The juice from the cane is filtered and boiled in a row of copper or iron pots where it is stirred frequently and decanted from the first pot to the last, becoming thicker in texture and lighter in color in the process. Copper pots produce a lighter colored and better crystallized product than iron pots, which produce darker Panela, however copper pots are more expensive and some trapiche do not use them. The process for making Panela has not changed much in centuries here you can see a very good video on the process, MAKING PANELA, this is from a Trapiche in Colombia but it is similar all over Latin America.

I grew up in a sugar cane growing town in Venezuela, named El Tocuyo; as a kid I roamed around the cane fields and occasionally cut some ripe sugar cane to peel and suck the juice out of it. To this day my favorite drink is freshly pressed sugar cane juice, called Guarapo, with a fresh lime squeezed into it, every time I see someone selling it I always buy, I can't resist it I am addicted to the stuff. During my childhood my family occasionally visited some of the local trapiches and my mother always brought spices and grated white cheese to have a Melcocha made, which is like a fudge made with the syrup from the last pot, the spices and cheese are added to form a paste which is kneaded until it becomes very elastic and almost solid then is shaped like a cylinder and is wrapped in dry plantain leaves.

I love cooking with panela, it produces a pretty caramel color in foods and the resulting flavor is never sickly sweet. Panela when added to any mixture turns it syrupy very quickly unlike sugar. Panela combines very well with white meats like pork or poultry and is excellent for making glazes. Panela and Rum are a match made in heaven since both come from sugar cane.

The technical definition of Panela is: unrefined whole cane sugar, typical of Latin America, which is basically a solid piece of sucrose and fructose obtained from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice. In India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka a similar product is made which is called jaggery. The main producer of panela is Colombia (about 1.4 million tons/year), where panela production is one of the most important economic activities, with the highest index of panela consumption per capita worldwide. Panela is also produced in Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panamá, Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia. In Colombia, the panela industry is an important source of employment with about 350,000 people working in nearly 20,000 trapiches (panela farms).

Below you will find some simple and delicious recipes with Panela I hope you will give them a try.

ENGLISH NAME: Brown Sugar, actually brown sugar shaped as a small brick

LOCAL NAMES: Panela, rapadura (Brazil), piloncillo (Mexico), Chancaca (Peru), Papelon (Venezuela), Raspadura (Panama)
Piloncillo (Mexico)

Papelon (Venezuela)

Raspadura (cuba)

PRODUCTS: Bricks, cones, half spheres, powder, syrup, nougat, fudge, candy, brittle.

NUTRIENTS: Panela is a form of sugar and as such is highly caloric, however in its defense one must say that unlike white sugar, which only has empty calories, Panela has some additional nutrients such as fiber and vitamins. Panela contains simple sugars (sucrose) but it also contains complex sugars (fructose) that take longer to be processed and delay hunger. So if you have to sweeten a dish, Panela is a healthier choice. I always combine Panela use with some protein to reduce the overall  glycemic index of the meal.

PROCESSING: In order to use Panela you will either break it, grate it, crush it (with a rock, my favorite) or scrape it, you can also melt it with a little water.

STORING: Panela keeps well in a cool dry place, it will last for weeks but make sure ants do not reach it, they love the stuff.

WIENERS IN SWEET RUM SAUCE: Take 8 hot dog sausages, preferably pork & beef kind, cut them in quarters, melt half a stick of butter in a pan over low heat, increase heat to medium, add sausages and brown, add about a quarter of a panela, a volume similar to half stick of butter, crushed or grated; stir to disolve the panela, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes; add a shot of dark rum and set on fire by inclining the pan towards the flame, it will die out quickly, evaporating the alcohol but leaving the rum taste. Serve warm with tooth picks, you will love this stuff, kids will devour them.

TERIYAKI RUM SAUCE: Take 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1 cup of water, 1 teaspoon each of grated ginger and garlic, use half if they are in dry powder form, 6 tablespoons of crushed or grated panela, mix in a small pot and bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer 5 minutes; mix 2 tablespoons of corn starch (maizena) and 1/4 cup of rum preferably dark, stir well to disolve starch; add rum mixture to soy mixture; increase heat and stir until it becomes sirupy and not too thick; remove from heat, add drops of hot sauce and let cool completely before storing in a jar or bottle. Use over grilled meats but not from the start, brush meats with sauce when they are almost ready and let sauce form a glaze.

DULCE DE LECHE: You probably heard the term, it is poping up around the world in desserts, candies and ice creams. It is a very simple home made dessert which is being used as an ingredient all over the world as a spread, stuffing or flavoring. Pour 2 liters (2 quarts) of whole milk in a pot, add 8 panelas and disolve by stirring and heating, bring mixture to boil and then squeeze the juice of 1 big lime or 2 small ones, the milk will curdle, add 2 sticks of cinamon broken in half, lower heat to simmer uncovered until syrup clears and and curdled milk chunks harden, about 2 to 3 hours; remove from heat and you may add a shot of dark rum for extra flavor. You may serve it by itself or over a piece of biscuit, cake  or ice cream, vanilla, coffee (my favorite) or rum raisin are the most suitable flavors. Some people add old hard bread cubes at the beginning and let them simmer. Another addition maybe dry prunes, raisins or whole small cherry tomatoes. I have an aunt who makes a glorious Dulce de Leche and when I was a kid I would steal some from her at the risk of getting a beating from my mother, the stuff is so good that it was worth a good beating.

SHRIMP IN CHIPOTLE AND PANELA SAUCE: Around Latin America we love the hot and sweet flavor,  this dish is a prime example of such a flavor. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos chilies in adobo sauce you buy them in cans. Take 1/2 panela broken in small pieces and melt them with 2 tablespoons of water, add 1/2 cup of chipotles and 1 cube or tablespoon of dry chicken soup, sauce should be sirupy if necessary add a little water; liquefy sauce in a blender and reserve; in frying pan over low fire melt 1/2 stick of butter, increase heat to medium, add 1 large onion cut in rings and cook until slightly browned, add 1/2 Kg (1 Lb) of clean shrimps which have been tossed in the juice of 1 lime but do not add the juice, stir and add chipotle panela sauce and heat at medium for 10 minutes. To serve spray with some chopped cilantro and accompany with white rice.

SWEET SPICY CHICKEN RICE: This dish originated in island of Trinidad, probably from the indian community, from there it passed into south easter Venezuela where it became very popular. In Trinidad it is reffered to as Pelau and in Venezuela as Pelao but are very similar. You need a whole big chicken  (0.75 Kg or 1.5 Lbs) cut in bite size pieces or if you prefer use 6 chicken breast cut up in pieces. Wash your chicken and spray the pieces with juice of 1 lime and toss well, discard lime juice;  in a large saucepan over medium heat add 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 panela, stir until panela melts completely, add chicken pieces and brown (about 7 minutes), remove chicken and reserve; add 1 large red bell pepper coarsely chopped, 10 sweet chilies deseeded and coarsely chopped, 2 large onions coarsely chopped, 4 green onions chopped, 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped, 3 skinned ripe tomatoes in chunks, cook stirring until soft, about 10 minutes, return chicken pieces, add 4 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of salt, 1 tablespoon each of ground black pepper and cummin, increase heat to high, bring to boil, then cover, reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes; add 3 cups of rice, 2 tablespoons of capers, 1/2 cup stuffed green olives, 2 tablespoons of pickled vegetables in mustard, stir to mix well, add 4 cups of water, increase heat to bring to boil then cover and reduce heat to medium, cook for 30 minutes turning the rice ocasionally to cook it uniformly, you should end with a relatively humid rice. To serve mold in center of dish and spray with cilantro.



One of my pleasures when I travel throughout Latin America is to visit produce markets or roadside fruit stands to see and taste the local fruits. Often in cities you will see women or kids selling fruits and whenever I find some fruit I have never tasted I always go for it and besides eating it I try to find out as much possible of the fruit, where does it come from? what it is called? what can you prepare with it? does it have any medicinal value? later I go to the internet and research it, what is the scientific name? what is the nutritional value? recipes for the fruit, I always meditate on the fruit, can it be used for dessert? with what other ingredients could it be combined? can it be used for seasoning or flavoring? can it be a side to a protein dish? can it be used in salads? these are fun questions that I take time to answer and eventually I cook with the fruit in various recipes, my own creation or someone else's , but I record the experience and if it is positive it becomes part of what I call my Market Cuisine archive.

In this blog I have written extensively on some fruits that are particularly ubiquitous, this time I will refer to fruits that are well known but are not so common because they are associated with a particular region of Latin America or season of the year. Fruits in tropical Latin America are most abundant during the rainy season that is when you see fruit stands well stocked. I am sure that my readers in Latin America have seen some of the fruits I describe below, perhaps some have tasted them, if not I hope this blog will encourage them to try these fruits, I am certain you will enjoy the experience, remember what your mother and doctors always say: fruits are good for you.

CAS: Anyone who has traveled in Costa Rica must have seen this fruit. It is a relative of the Guava and sometimes it is referred to as CAS GUAVA. Its flesh is white and sour with some seeds. The simplest recipe is to liquefy the flesh with some water, strain the liquid, add sugar and ice to prepare a very refreshing drink with lots of vitamins. If you heat the liquid to reduce it a little you will have a syrup which you can use to make a glaze for white meats, if you heat some more to reduce a lot you will get a pleasant marmalade to spread on a toast with some cream cheese. You can also use Cas marmalade over a New York style cheese cake, you will find it a very interesting variation of a classical dessert.

GUANABANA: This fruit called in English Soursop is considered the queen of fruits in Latin America, Mango being the King everywhere. It is a very productive fruit since you can use 90% of it is flesh. Its flavor is described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple with sour citrus flavor notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavor reminiscent of coconut or banana. The basic processing is to liquefy the flesh with some water, strain it, add sugar and ice and have a refreshing drink; if you heat the liquid to make a syrup you can mix it with a little white rum for an interesting variation of a rum cake; if you make a marmalade you can use it to spread inside a sponge cake and to flavor the icing, you will have a ""Torta de Guanabana"" (Guanabana Cake) which is a Classic in Latin America. Certain chemicals in this fruit have been shown to kill cancer cells in laboratory trials.

GUAYABA: Called in English Guava, it is a very important fruit since it is cultivated in large scale and it is made into several industrial products, candies, jams, jellies, concentrates and canned fruit in syrup. You can scoop out the pulp, liquefy it with a little water, strain it into a pot, add sugar and heat it to reduce it and make syrup or marmalade. Guava marmalade over a toast with some cream cheese is delicious. After scooping out the pulp you can peel the empty shells and cook then in syrup made with 2 cups of sugar for every Kg (2 Lb) of fruit; place the shells in a pot, add the sugar cover with water and boil over medium heat until shells are tender and liquid has become a red syrup; let cool completely and serve with a slice of cream cheese and 2 soda crackers, you will have a delicious dessert called ""Cascos de Guayaba"" (Guava Shells) very popular in south America. Guava is rich in iron and the fresh juice is often ordered by doctors for people with iron deficiency. Birds love this fruit and spread its seeds, which grow easily.

JABUTICABA: This is a fruit typical from Brazil where it is grown commercially. During harvest time, usually October and November you will find them everywhere in Brazil, from roadside fruit stands to supermarkets. The fruit is eaten fresh and its flavor resemble that of Concord grapes, but Jabuticaba are much bigger and juicier. In Brazil they make jellies, marmalades, wines and vinegar from this fruit.

LUCUMA: The lúcuma (Pouteria lucuma) is a subtropical Peruvian fruit native to the Andean region. Lucuma is a very ancient fruit and it has been found on ceramics at burial sites of the indigenous people of coastal Peru. It is also called ""eggfruit"" in English, the name refers to the fruit's dry flesh, which is similar in texture to a hard-boiled egg yolk. The lucuma has particularly dry flesh which possesses a unique flavor of maple and sweet potato. It is a very nutritious fruit, having high levels of carotene, vitamin B3, and other B vitamins. It has recently become popular as a dried powder flavoring, and production of fruits dried for export is increasing on a large scale. Lúcuma is a popular flavoring for ice cream in its native Peru.

NARANJILLA: Very popular in Colombia where it is called Lulo. The fruit has a citrus flavor, sometimes described as a combination of rhubarb and lime. It is usually consumed as a drink by liquefying and filtering the pulp then adding sugar to taste and ice. I make a very simple and delicious layered cake by dipping Graham Crackers in a mixture of equal parts filtered Naranjilla pulp, plain yogurt and sweetened condensed milk, arrange dipped crackers in a square mold to a height of 3, cover top with any leftover mixture, spray with lime zest and refrigerate overnight before serving. This stuff will impress your taste buds.

MAMON CHINO: this fruit originated in Malaysia where it is called Rambutan. In Central America it is extensively cultivated, harvest time is July and August when you will see it offered in produce markets and roadside fruit stands. I am a big fan of this fruit and always look forward to harvest time to buy bunches and eat at home.

MANGOSTEEN: This is another transplant from Asia where it is considered the queen of fruits. It has the look of a purple tomato and inside there are some fleshy wedges of a white pulp with a taste that can be described as sweet and tangy, citrusy with peach flavor and texture. Wherever I see mangosteen for sale I always buy, I just can't resist the urge to eat.

PIXBAE: Known in English as Peach Palm is called many names in Latin America: Pifa, Pejibaye, Chontaduro, Pijiguao, Pupunha (Brazil). This fruit has been used for centuries as food. The fruit is frequently stewed in salted water. However, it may be eaten raw, peeled and dressed with salt and honey, used to make compotes and jellies, or also used to make flour. Economically is a very important fruit since the palm that bears it is extensively cultivated to produce the delicacy Hearts of Palm (Palmito). One interesting recipe from Panama is the Pixbae Ceviche, buy 8 fruits preferably already cooked, if not boil them in salt water until they are tender, peel them, deseed them, cube them and marinate in 1/2 cup each of fresh orange and lime juice, 1 small red onion finely chopped, 6 sweet chilies deseeded and finely chopped, 1 clove of garlic finely chopped, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste, refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving over lettuce, plantain chips or soda crackers. My vegetarian friends freak out over this ceviche.

TREE TOMATO: Is not really a tomato but resembles one and it grows in shrub, hence the name. Commercial growers are trying to impose the name Tamarillo but it has not caught on. It is the fruit with highest concentration of antioxidants thus regular consumption may slow aging. The fruit is eaten by scooping the flesh from a halved fruit. When lightly sugared and cooled, the flesh makes a refreshing breakfast dish.
They give a unique flavor when made into a compote, or added to stews (e.g. Boeuf Bourguignon), hollandaise, chutneys, and curries. They are also tasty and decorative in, for example in salads. Appetizing desserts using this fruit include bavarois and combined with apples in a strudel. To use you scoop out the pulp and discard the crust which is bitter, liquefy with water and strain to eliminate the seeds. To 2 cups of seedless pulp add 1/4 cup of sugar and boil 10 to 20 minutes to make syrup, which can substitute cranberry sauce for a Turkey or cranberry juice in a Cosmopolitan.



Latin American seasoning traditions developed from the combination of Iberian (Spain and Portugal) ingredients and techniques with the culinary traditions of the American indians, later the seasonings and methods of African slaves were added to the mix. The result is an enormous diversity of seasonings preparations, some of them liquids, some pastes and some others powders; some are fiery hot, some are spicy, some others are sweet. According to texture Latino seasoning mixtures can be classified as follows:

 SAUCES: these are liquid, although some like MOJO (Molho in Portuguese) can be quite thick. The most basic preparation is the SOFRITO which is a cooked sauce usually made with chopped tomatoes, peppers, onions, green onions, garlic, salt and pepper heated in oil until it releases aromas, the ingredients may vary a little depending on the ultimate use of the sauce, to season grains, fish, poultry or beef.

MOJO (pronounced MOHO) is a dipping sauce with a thick texture, which does not require cooking. Mojos are divided into Green or Red according to color, which depends on the ingredients used; Red Mojos are made with hot or sweet red peppers, garlic, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, they are best used for grilled meats such as pork, lamb, goat or beef ; Green Mojos are made with herbs, parsley and cilantro are very popular, they also use oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, they are best served with fish or chicken. Mojos originated in the Canary Islands and immigrants from there introduced them to Latin America where they became very popular. Chimichurri is a Mojo very popular with grilled meats (see my blog on beef)

OIL BASED PASTES these are a simpler version of a Mojo, since they only include one main ingredient, a little garlic and oil. The main ingredient is usually something with a strong flavor like hot peppers or Cilantro, to which a little garlic is added with oil and blended to form a paste. These are used to flavor or color dishes, the Peruvians use these a lot in their cuisine.

ADOBO is an uncooked marinade used originally to preserve meats, today it is also used as a flavoring mix. Typically it is made with red peepers, oregano, garlic, salt and vinegar. Adobo can marinate meats or vegetables, such as smoked jalapeños (chipotles) in adobo sauce. Adobo is often used with pork, lamb or goat. Adobo sauce should not be confused with Adobo powder, which is a flavoring dry mix.

ESCABECHE is a cooked pickling sauce typically used on fish. It originated in Spain but has become popular around coastal regions of Latin America. The sauce is made with oil, vinegar and wine in equal parts to which onion, garlic, carrots, peppercorns, bay leaf are added and heated until aroma is released, the fish is then placed and cook for a few minutes. The resulting preparation is allowed to cool and refrigerated for later consumption.

POWDERS: These are mixtures of dry spices which have been ground. The spices are usually sun dried but sometimes are dried over a wood fire to given them a smoky flavor. Some of the more popular dry mixture are:

CHILI POWDER is the essential seasoning for Mexican food, it is the flavor of Mexico but it has been adopted into the cuisine of southwestern USA where some great dishes have been created. The essential ingredient is peppers, which can be hot, sweet or a combination, to which cumin, garlic and oregano are added. The proportion of each ingredient can vary according to taste and often each Latino family has its own recipes, sometimes several different mixtures for specific dishes, for example if you use it to cook grains you may want to include more cumin, if you use it for seasoning meat you may want more garlic and oregano. CHILI powder is a seasoning mixture and should not be confused with CHILE powder which is just ground hot or sweet peppers.

MERKEN is a Chilean seasoning powder made with smoked hot chilies, roasted coriander seeds and salt; it originated with the mapuche indians of southern Chile. Merken is very versatile and can be used in any type of dish with, fish, poultry, beef and even vegetarian dishes where you may want a touch of heat.

ADOBO POWDER is basically a spiced salt, which usually includes ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper and oregano. It is generally used to flavor meats but it can be used over vegetables, and even fruits; sliced green mangoes with a sprinkling of adobo is a very typical snack around Latin America.

SEED POWDERS are often found on the tables of rural families in Latin America; they are made by drying and roasting over a pan seeds from melon or pumpkin, they are then ground with garlic, cumin, oregano and salt to form a mixture that can be eaten with a corn tortilla or sprinkled over some cooked grain such as refried beans; it is simple and delicious. In central western Venezuela peasant families always have something they call "Mojo de Auyama", pumpkin powder, to sprinkle on their soups or refried black beans.

ACHIOTE is a basic spice very important in Latin American cooking; it does not have much flavor but when heated in oil it releases a dark yellow color , which will color any food like rice, mashed potatoes or corn masa. Other name for it is Onoto, it is known in the southern US as Annatto. In Brazil is called Urucu. It is usually sold as seeds but it can also be found in powder or liquid form.

Below you will find recipes for some of these seasoning mixture and suggestions for use.

NUTRIENTS: Spices provide us with vitamins, mineral and fiber but their most important benefit is that they helps us reduce salt intake. A very spicy dish requires little or no salt to stimulate our taste buds.

PROCESSING: Condiments whether they are sauces or dry mixes are best prepared with finely chopped spices either by hand or food processor, blenders should not be used because they would liquefy or pulverize the mixture and would not produce the proper texture, which must have a little crunch, the exception being oil based pastes, which you want liquefy to produce a smooth texture.

STORING: Dry mixes can be kept for 3 months in a cool dry place in an airtight container. Oil pastes can be kept for 6 weeks in a cool dry place and do not need refrigeration. Sauces with vinegar or raw ingredients need refrigeration and should not be kept more than 2 weeks.

CHILI POWDER: Mix 1 tablespoon of paprika, 2 Tbs of ground cumin, 1 Tbs of cayenne pepper or other hot pepper ground, 1 Tbs of oregano, 2 Tbs of garlic powder. This is relatively hot version, you may make it milder by reducing hot pepper and increasing paprika, or vice versa making it hotter. This is the essential seasoning for Mexican flavors and chili stews.

ADOBO POWDER: 1 Tbs each of garlic powder, onion powder, cumin powder, oregano and ground black pepper, mix with 5 Tbs of salt. You may add a pinch of ground hot pepper for some heat. Adobo is very practical for quickly seasoning any meat.

ESCABECHE MARINADE: In a pot place 1 cup each of white wine, white vinegar, olive oil, 1 onion cut in strips, 2 cloves of garlic sliced, 1 carrot sliced, 1 bay leaf, 10 black peppercorns and a teaspoon of salt; heat the mixture until it boils and releases its aromas, you may then place in the hot liquid the fish pieces you want to cook; heat for 5-10 minutes, let cool an refrigerate. You may serve the fish over salad, crusty bread or with a side of rice.

SOFRITO: this is the number one flavoring sauce in Latin America, it is used on meats, grains and fish with some variations. The basic ingredients are finely chopped sweet chili pepper and garlic, for red meats you add chopped tomatoes, onions, green onions, bell peppers, if you will use it on poultry or fish eliminate tomatoes and add celery and leeks. For 1/4 cup of oil add 10 sweet chilies deseeded and finely chopped, 3 cloves of garlic, 2 plum tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 1 green onion, heat and stir until aromas are released and mixture becomes saucy. For fish or poultry eliminate tomatoes and 1 stalk of celery, 1 whole leaf of leek (white and green part). You would use the sofrito to flavor shredded meats.

RED PEPPER MOJO: blend 1 cup of oil with 1 hot chili pepper seeds included, 2 red bell peppers deseeded and chopped, 6 cloves of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 tablespoon of paprika, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1/2 Tbs of salt; blend very well if you want a thicker texture add a piece of the inside of white bread and blend. This goes very well with grill meats.



Latin America is well surrounded by seas and oceans, warm seas like the Caribbean or cold oceans like the southern Atlantic and Pacific. The south western coast of south America has the Humboldt Current, which is the most productive marine ecosystem in the world, as well as the largest cold water upwelling system. Approximately 20% of the world’s fish catch comes from the Humboldt Current. The diversity of fish species around Latin America is enormous and often a specie presents slight variations from one country to another, and sometimes the same fish is called different names. Some species are found only in warm waters, others are found only in cold waters, some are found in both.

In this blog I will describe the most commercially common species, giving their English name, the most common local names a photograph of a real fish and when possible a drawing to observe its features. At the bottom you will find some simple recipes to taste some of these fish. When traveling around Latin America you may encounter some local especies of fish give them a try, they are usually well prepared by the locals and very tasty.

BONITO: General Description: Bonito belong to the mackerel family and resemble small tuna, with which they are often confused. Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda) have silvery bellies and sides and a steel to purplish-blue back with dark blue slanting stripes. Pacific bonito (S. chiliensis) are silvery brown and about the same size as their Atlantic cousins. The slightly larger striped bonito (S. orientalis) is found along the Pacific coast of North and South America. Fresh bonito are highly prized in the north of Spain. In Basque country, this fish is served in marmite kua or marmitako, a fisherman’s stew ideally prepared and eaten at sea. Bonito is well-suited to escabeche. Bonito’s tasty meat is used fresh, dried, salted, smoked, and canned and may be cooked like mackerel and bluefish.

COD: Bacalao (Spanish), Bacalhau (Portuguese), this fish is usually not sold fresh, except maybe in

Dried Cod
Chile where it is captured, but is often sold dried salted in markets, it must be soaked in water with a little salt to remove excess salt before cooking. Even though it is not captured in the seas of Latin America all the European immigrants living among us have taught us to eat it and is very popular for Christmas and new year dinners. Cod has a mild flavor, so it takes well to rich sauces and strong seasonings.

Cazon in chunks
DOGFISH SHARK: Cazon in Spanish and cação in brazil. Is a small shark whose flesh is fibrous but is boiled in chunks, then shredded and cooked a second time with a sofrito (fried seasonings sauce) for added flavor. The resulting mixture can be eaten with rice and fried plantains or used as a stuffing for ""empanadas"", the fried half-moon shaped little pies common in Latin America.

FLOUNDER: Lenguado in Spanish and Linguado in Portuguese. The name refers to the family of flat fish, most species are found in cold waters, but some are found in the warm waters of the Caribbean and central America. Its white meat has a very delicate sweet flavor which should not seasoned and cook in excess.

GROUPER: Mero in both Spanish and Portuguese. Highly prized in most of Latin America, the Spaniards have a saying: "" De la tierra el Cordero y de la mar el Mero"" (From the land the Lamb and from the sea the Grouper). These excellent, meaty fish have few bones and its fillets are often blackened: coated with Cajun seasoning then pan-seared at high heat so that it is crusty on the outside and moist on the inside. The Grouper maintains its moisture even if overcooked, making it a favorite for restaurants. Groupers can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but 10 to 15 pounds is average, because of its large size and thick skin, grouper is usually sold filleted and skinned. This versatile fish can be fried, grilled, skewered for kebobs, pan-fried, breaded and fried, sautéed, or used to make chowders and fish stews. Larger whole groupers are suitable for baking, especially in a salt crust. Fillets from large groupers should be butter flied to reduce the thickness of the dense flesh.

Merluza frozen fillets
HAKE: Merluza in both Spanish and Portuguese is a deepwater member of the cod family. The fish have mild-tasting and sweet meat, with creamy flesh and a rather coarse, watery texture, but it is very economical and is often sold in frozen fillets. They are fairly bland fish that take well to all sorts of seasonings, bake, broil, deep-fry coated in bread crumbs or bat.

MACKEREL: Sierra in Spanish, Caballa in Argentina, Cavala or Serra in Portuguese. Its dark, full-bodied meat is rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel flesh is gray when raw but turns off-white when cooked. The flavor is assertive. The oily flesh is firm and free of small bones. Marinate briefly in lime or other citrus juice or vinegar to whiten and firm the flesh before cooking. Is best cut as thick round steaks with the bone in the center.

MAHI MAHI: Dorado in Spanish and Dourado in Brazil. Long known as dolphin fish because they swim alongside boats as dolphins do. To make the fish more acceptable to consumers, they are now known by their Hawaiian name Mahi Mahi. The pinkish raw flesh is darker along the centerline and toward the tail; larger fish may have darker flesh. The lean meat is sweet with a mildly assertive flavor, firm texture, and large, moist flakes.

Huevas de Lisa (roe)
MULLET: Lisa in Spanish and Tainha in Brazil. Mullet average 3 to 6 pounds. The raw flesh is white and cooks up white, firm, and juicy. The roe of this fish is highly prized and is often referred to as Creole Caviar, it is sometimes sold fresh but most often is sold dried and salted. Mullets are best cooked whole, either baked, deep fried or BBQ.

SNAPPER: Pargo in both Spanish and Portuguese, Huachinango in Mexico. Usually red in color, its sweet white meat is highly prized for fillets. They can weight from 1 Kg (2 Lb) to 15 Kg (30 Lb), the small ones can be fried whole; the large ones can produce lots of thick fillets or be baked whole in a salt crust.

SNOOK: Robalo in Spanish, Camorim in Brazil. Snook may weigh up to 50 pounds, but average weight is 5 to 8 pounds. The flesh is dense and firm, delicate and flaky, and has moderate oil content and full-bodied flavor. This fish is suitable for serving with strong sauces.

WEAKFISH: Corvina in Spanish and pescada in Brazil. This fish is delicious and usually relatively inexpensive without pesky pin bones. Its name comes from its weak mouth, which easily tears and releases the hook. It has a relatively bland flavor suitable for strong seasonings or sauces. Their flesh is delicate and should not be overcook.

NUTRIENTS: Fish represents the healthiest form of animal protein, it contains fatty acids that are good for the heart, it usually has less calories than other animal proteins and contains lots of minerals that are good for the human body.

PROCESSING: Fish must be purchased fresh, there must not be any rigidity in the flesh, the eyes should be clear, the smell should be like the sea and no other. Fish are usually sold whole, gutted, fins trimmed and depending on the preparation with head and scales. Fish heads are good for making fish stock. For baking whole fish the scales must be left on the skin, the flesh will better sealed and retain all its flavor.

STORING: To store fish it must be frozen in individual fillets or steaks but it should no be kept more than 3 weeks because the flesh will dry out and loose most of its flavor. Whole fish should not be frozen more than 3 days before consumption.

GARLIC FISH FILLET: Very popular in seafood restaurants, it is simple and makes any fish fillet very tasty. In 1/4 cup of olive oil heat 1 tablesppon of butter, 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic and 2 red sweet chilies finely chopped, do not brown, stir and heat until you get some frying activity and garlic aroma is released, add 2 tablespoons of white wine, heat for a couple of minutes, then turn off heat, add fresh chopped parsley, drops of hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste, reserve. Season fish fillet with salt and pepper, pad it with a little flour on both sides, then sear both sides on a slightly greased hot pan, when fish is golden on both sides pour some of the garlic sauce over fillet and turn off heat, serve inmediately with some lemon wedges and a side of plantain chips or better yet patacones.

SALT BAKED FISH: You have not tasted the real flavor of fish until you have eaten a salt baked fish. Baking fish in salt does not add any seasoning to the fish, what you taste is the fish cooked in its own juices sealed in a salt crust. The best salt for this dish is rock salt, which in Latin America is usually sold in agricultural goods stores since rock salt is often fed to cattle and is very cheap. You must use the same weight in salt as the weight of the fish. The best fish for baking are oval shaped flat fish with scales such as grouper or snapper, long and round fish are not appropiate since they may not cook at the center. The fish must have all its fins and entrails removed but must have its scales and head. The fish must fit comfortably in a baking pan inside a typical oven. In the baking pan you lay a bed of salt roughly in the shape of the fish, lay the fish and cover with the rest of the salt, if necessary throw a few drops of water on the salt for easier shaping. The salt crust should roughly follow the shape of the fish. A good size fish would be 60-70 cm long ( less than 2 Ft.). The fish should be baked at 350F for 2 hours. Once baked you crack the top salt crust, discard the salt and cut the skin at the very crest of the fish from the back of the head to the tail, the skin should peel very easily and expose all the cooked meat. Serve with steamed vegetables (carrots, brocoli, cauliflower, chayote, potatoes, yuca, Etc.) and various sauces for dipping the fish morcels. A good sauce for fish is tartar sauce, you can also make a garlic mayonaise by blending 1 cup of mayonaise, 4 cloves of garlic, juice of 1 lemon, drops of hot sauce and a pinch of sugar; another good sauce is parsley sauce (perejilada in spanish or parsillade in french), blend 1 cup of packed parsley, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 clove of garlic, drops of hot sauce, juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste.

SHREDDED FISH: This is the most economical way to eat fish in Latin America, people will buy some cheap fish like cazon (shark) or Corvina, boil it in chunks in salt water, let it cool then shredded it by hand and season it by stewing in a sofrito (fried seasonings sauce). A 2 Kg (4 lb) whole fish will yield about 1 Kg (2 Lb) of shreded flesh, prepare a sofrito with 2 cups of oil, 1 large onion finely chopped, 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped, 10 each red and green sweet chilies (aji dulce) deseeded and finely chopped, 1 hot chile (or to taste) deseeded and finely chopped. Heat the seasonings in the oil until they start frying and releaseing aroma, add the shredded fish and stir ocasionally until all liquid has been absorbed, about 10-15 minutes, add some chopped green onions, parsley, salt, pepper to taste, stir and turn off heat. If you want to add some color heat a teaspoon of achiote (annato) seeds in oil until they color red the oil, remove the seeds and add the seasonings for the sofrito. You may also add extra flavor by adding a cup of coconut milk, raisins, sliced green olives and capers when you add the fish to the sofrito, this way you will cook a deluxe dish. Serve with lime wedges, rice or plantains. You can also use this fish mixture to stuff things like empanadas or pies.

FISH CEVICHE: There are many recipes for ceviche, it is often said that if you place 10 latinos in a room
there will be 10 Ceviche recipes. In general you would use a fresh white flesh fish like corvina or grouper, the juice of a sour fruit such as lime or passion fruit, fresh seasonings for flavor and looks such as red onions,red chilies, garlic, celery, leeks, cilantro, Etc. I will give you my favorite recipe but there are many others which are very good. Place 4 cups of fresh fish sliced in strips into a bowl, add enough lime juice to make sure every strip of fish soaks, you may combine lime and passion fruit, or lime and orange, but lime juice should be most of the liquid. Refrigerate bowl and let marinate for about an hour, ceviche taste best when freshly made. Cut a small red onion in thin slices, finely chopp 10 each of red and green deseeded sweet chilies, 1 (or to taste) hot chile deseeded finely chopped, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste, these are the essential seasonings however you may add others you like, I usually add some chopped leek, some people add Celery; I have seen some recipes with chopped fruits like semiripe mango or pineapple, but always fruits that are somewhat acid, nothing ripe or too sweet. Add the seasoning mixture after you marinate the fish and serve chilled. Ceviche is usually served with plantain chips, tortilla chips, Yuca chips, soda crackers, Etc. For a good discussion on Ceviche follow this link:

FISH IN ESCABECHE: Oily fish like Mackerel or Tuna are apropiate for cooking in escabeche, this is a vinegary sauce used to cook fish around the mediterranean which we Latins learned from european inmigrants. Have 4 thick fish fillets, prepare the escabeche with 1 cup of oil, 1 cup of vinegar, 1 cup of white wine, 1 bay leaf, 1 onion sliced, 1 carrot sliced, 2 garlic cloves sliced, 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon each of dry oregano and thyme, 1 hot chile sliced in half, salt to taste, heat all ingredients in a large pot until they release their aroma, about 10-15 minutes. Over a hot pan with a little oil sear the fish fillets on both sides, transfer the fillets to the escabeche sauce and heat 5 more minutes, if necessary you may cut the fish in chunks, you may add some sliced green olives and small capers for extra flavor; let cool and serve, or refrigerate in a glass or ceramic pot for later; to serve let stand at room temperature some 30 minutes, serve with some crusty bread for dipping in the sauce. Fish in Escabeche can keep in the refrigerator for upto 2 weeks.