The cultivation of Guandu goes back at least 3000 years. The centre of origin is most likely India, from where it travelled to East Africa and by means of the slave trade to America. They found Guandu grains in the tombs of the Pyramid workers. It is a very sturdy bush that grows from seeds in poor soil, which will be improved in two ways, first by nitrogen that the plant takes from the air and fixes in the soil thereby fertilizing it; second its deep penetrating root system breaks hard soil thereby facilitating water penetration and aeration. These features of Guandu bushes make them good companions to other plants or trees that need lots of nitrogen in the soil. Guandu bushes need very little water so they grow well in dry climates, they like direct sun light. Guandu come in three main colors, green, beige and black, they are sold fresh, dried or canned. They cook quickly (30 minutes) and have a nutty taste. It is possible to germinate the grains for eating raw in salads or make them more digestible after cooking, germinated Guandu have a somewhat blander taste but vegetarians really like them. To learn about germinating grains see the following link: Sprouting Seeds

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cajanus cajan

ENGLISH NAME: Pigeon pea, from its frequent use as poultry feed in 19th century USA.

LOCAL NAMES: Guandu (Panama, Colombia), Gandul (Puerto Rico), Guandul (Dominican Republic), Gungo Pea(Jamaica), Quinchoncho (Venezuela), Andu (Brazil)

PRODUCTS: Canned Guandu, Guandu flour is produced in some countries as animal feed.

PROCESSING: Guandu grains are usually sold already shelled, however if you happen to grow your own, which is very easy, you should pick the bean pods when they are light in color and look somewhat dry. You shell the grains out by pressing the pods with your fingers.

STORING: Dried Guandu will keep forever in a cool dry place if you fend off the bugs, and you can do this by placing some hot chilies in the grain, in India they would place leaves and branches from the Neem tree, which is sometimes found in Latin America. Guandu grains are available all year round, but towards the end of the year demands increases and so does the price, but you can buy them fresh before November and freeze them, they will keep well.

 NUTRIENTS: Guandu is in the same family as the Soy bean (Fabaceae) and as such is rich in protein. It is one of those foods that is very complete, one could survive a long time eating only Guandu. The fresh grain is very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Thiamin, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Copper, and a very good source of Folate and Manganese. For a complete nutrients analysis follow this link: Nutrients in Pigeon Peas

ARROZ CON GUANDU (Rice with Guandu): Very typical dish in Panama and Puerto Rico. First prepare a sofrito (fried mixture of seasonings) by frying in 4 tablespoons of oil, 2 tablespoons each of chopped onions, sweet chilies (aji dulce) or bell peppers, 2 chopped cloves  garlic, fry until flavors and aroma are released, about 5 minutes, some people add a little chopped bacon to the sofrito for extra flavor; add 1 cup of fresh Guandu and stir for 2 minutes in the sofrito; add 1 cup of water and salt to taste, cover and cook the Guandu for no more than 20 minutes over medium heat until slightly tender, not completely tender since additional cooking will be required for the rice; add 1 cup of rice and 1.5 cups of water; increase heat to high until waters boils then lower heat to low, cover and cook for no more than 20 minutes; turn off heat and let rest covered for at least 10 minutes before serving. Mold the rice with a cup of coffee for serving and spray fresh chopped cilantro over it. It goes well with saucy preparations of chicken, beef or pork.

GUANDU DIP: Veggies will love this dip loaded with proteins and antioxidants. Boil 3 cups of fresh Guandu in salt water until tender, about 30 minutes or you could use canned Guandu, reserve; prepare an escabeche ( cooked acid marinade) with 1 cup chopped onions, 1/2 cup of chopped sweet red chilies or peppers, 6 mashed cloves of garlic, 8 whole black peppercorns, 1 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1 teaspoon of spiced salt (Adobo) or to taste, 2 Bay leaves, mix in a pan and cook until flavors and aroma are released, about 8 minutes, do not overcook; add the Guandu and stir for some 5 minutes, turn off the heat and let cool; remove the Bay leaves and mash or blend half of the mixture and remix with the other half, add a little hot sauce or to taste and spray with chopped fresh cilantro, serve with crackers, plantain chips (my favorite) or raw vegetables.

GUANDU EN ESCABECHE: This is like a salad and goes well as a first course over a bed of lettuce or as a side for fish. Boil 3 cups of fresh Guandu in salt water until tender, about 30 minutes, let cool and reserve or you could use canned Guandu; prepare a simple escabeche with 1 cup chopped onions, 4 chopped cloves of garlic, 6 whole black peppercorns, 3/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 2 Bay leaves, mix in a pan and cook until flavors and aroma are released, about 8 minutes, do not overcook and let cool before using; In a salad bowl place the cooked Guandu with 1/2 cup each of chopped fresh red pepper and cilantro, add a few drops of hot sauce and salt to taste, mix the escabeche sauce and toss well to coat the Guandu, chill and serve over some lettuce.

GUANDU AND YUCCA SCRAMBLE: This a typical recipe from northeast Brazil, it is delicious side for grilled meats and it can be used as a stuffing for poultry. In Brazil they use pork rinds (chicharrones) but if you can not find them you can use 2 cups (1/2 Lb) of fresh coarsely chopped pork fried to a crisp in 4 tablespoons of oil, the leftover oil can be used for the recipe. Boil 3 cups of fresh Guandu in salt water until tender, about 30 minutes, let cool and reserve or you could use canned Guandu; Cook enough Yucca for a finely chopped cup, about half a root, you can cook the Yucca with the guandu until it is tender enough to chop; in a big pot heat 4 tablespoons of oil, fry 1/2 cup of chopped bacon until almost golden, add 1 cup of chopped onions, 4 chopped cloves of garlic, 1 hot chili seeded and finely chopped (aji habanero or chombo are my favorite), stir until onions are tender; add the cooked Guandu and stir to acquire the flavors; turn heat off, add 1 cup of coarsely crushed pork rinds or chopped crispy pork, add 1 cup of finely chopped Yucca , add 1 cup of chopped green onions, salt and pepper to taste and toss well. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Plantains are originally from south east asia. Linnaeus, the famous botanist created the name Musa, which is similar to several Arabic words for the fruit to honor the Muses. The Koran called this the "Tree of Paradise" so Linnaeus named it Musa paradisiaca. The Arabs believed the sages in India ate this fruit, "the plant of the wise," hence the name Musa. At about 327 B.C. Alexander the Great during his India campaign ate this fruit and ordered it planted around his Mediterranean dominions, particularly in the coast of Africa. Plantains along with their sweeter cousins Bananas were introduced in the 1500's to the Caribbean islands by Dominican Friars from the Canary islands. Plantains are easy to grow from the shoots at the base of a plant, they like rich muddy soil. Plantains together with rice are the most frequent companions of protein around the caribbean. Plantains are sold fresh in 3 stages of ripeness, green (verde), semi-ripe (pinto or pinton) and ripe (maduro), they have different applications. The green are used for its starchy firmness, the semi-ripe for its combination of firmness and sweetnes, and the ripe for its sweetnes. African slaves were the first to cultivate and consume plantains in America since they knew it in their homeland.

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Musa paradisiaca


LOCAL NAMES: Platano, Platano macho (Mexico), Banana-da-Terra (brazil)

NUTRIENTS: Plantains are a type of banana that contains less sugar than the common yellow banana. Plantains are low in sodium and high in vitamin A, potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. They are also a good source of magnesium, carbohydrates, vitamin C, riboflavin, and biotin. Plantains are packed with several nutrients, especially potassium, which is one of the most important electrolytes in the body because it helps to regulate heart function and also fluid balance. The regulation of heart function and fluid balance are key factors in regulating blood pressure. Studies have shown that potassium rich foods are very effective in lowering blood pressure and protecting against heart disease and stroke. Bananas contain a high amount of pectin. Pectin is a soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol, is soothing to the gastrointestinal tract, and normalizes bowel function. Studies have shown that plantain bananas may be effective in the treatment of peptic ulcers.

PROCESSING: Cut the tips and discard; cut the skin legthwise; introduce your fingers under the skin and lift it.

STORING: Plantains do not keep well since they tend to ripen very fast and their skin turns black. You can delay the process keeping them in a cool place, but they will ripen anyway. It is better to get them green and used them in different recipes as they ripen.

FRIED SWEET PLANTAIN (TAJADAS DE PLATANO): Tajadas de plátano are one of the most popular side dishes in around the Caribbean where plantains are prepared in every form imaginable and this way is delicious and simple to make. Peel 3 large ripe plantains and cut diagonally into ½ inch thick slices; In a large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Fry the slices in a single layer for about 2 minutes on each side; Remove the plantains with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Serve warm. For added flavor you could spray some cinnamon or coarsely grated white cheese or both. Tajadas go very well with saucy beef or chicken dishes accompanied by rice.

TOSTONES O PATACONES: Very common side for fried fish around the caribbean. To make you need green plantains cut in 1 inch slices; fry them in deep hot oil until slightly golden (about 2 minutes); take them unto a hard surface spray some seasoning over them, which could be finely chopped garlic, a combination or chopped garlic and ground cummin, or simply a spiced salt like Adobo of which there are many local brands; flatten the pieces somewhat with a plantain press (tostonera), the botton of a glass or a good round stone (my favorite), the thickness should be about half. Refry them in the hot oil until golden and serve warm.

PLANTAIN SLAW: A variation of Cole Slaw originated in the Dominican Republic. Peel 3 large green plantains and cook in boiling water no more than 15 minutes; grate them coarsely; add 1 small coarsely grated carrot, 2 tablespoons each of chopped red onion and green pepper; Make a sauce with 1/2 cup of mayonaise, 1 teaspoon of mustard, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar mix well; add sauce to vegetables and toss well; add salt and pepper to taste; to serve cover with some ripe seeded tomato cubes.

PLANTAIN CHIPS (PLATANITOS): These are very versatile to serve many kinds of foods, use them to serve Ceviche or dips; the japanese use them to serve sliced pickled onions, they think it is a delicacy. To make them, heat some deep oil and using the one blade side of a grater slide a peeled green or semi-ripe plantain in a quick repeated motion to drop thin slices into the hot oil, process about a 1/4 of the plantain at the time; they should fry until crisp and golden; remove the chips with a slotted spoon onto absorvent paper to dry and while still warm spray with salt or spiced salt (adobo, my favorite).

PLATANOS EN TENTACION (TEMPTING PLANTAINS): These are typical in Panama. They can be used as a side or dessert. To make peel and quarter 3 large semi-ripe plantains; fry them in deep hot oil until golden, about 1 minute, remove with slotted spoon onto absorvent paper to dry; peel and chop 1 small ripe pineapple and blend with a little water until you get a thick juice; in a pot place the fried plantain quarters, cover with the pineapple juice, add 2 sticks of cinnamon broken in pieces, 1/2 cup of raisins, 1 cup of cherries in syrup and 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar (panela or raspadura); cook this stew until it becomes syrupy, about 40 minutes; serve warm with rice as a side dish to beef, pork or chicken; for dessert cut each quarter in thick slices, cover with some syrup, raisins and cherries and top with some vanilla ice cream. Sometimes these plantains are cut on one side and a piece of white cheese is wedged before cooking them in the pineapple juice, in this case they are called Platanos Enamorados (plantains in love).



Yucca (Manihot esculenta), also called cassava or manioc, is a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae family native to South America that is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. Throughout Latin America there is not a super market, Grocery store or vegetable stand that does not offer Yucca. Usually it is offered raw as roots, sometimes you can find it peeled, cut and frozen in logs. Once peeled and cut it keeps well in a freezer. It is very easy to grow in loose sandy soil by planting cuttings from woody branches. It is extensively used in Latin America as an ingredient, side dish, main dish when used with protein and as ingredient for desserts. Indians in the tropical regions of Latin America cultivated and consumed Yucca, they even developed products as Casabe, which are still produced and sold in local markets. People in Latin America cannot think of grilling meat without having yucca on the side, along with cold beer it is the other constant ingredient in any BBQ party.

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Manihot esculenta


LOCAL NAMES: Yuca, Manioc, mandioca, Aipim, Macaxeira (Brazil), Kassav (Haiti), Mandi'o (Paraguay)

NUTRIENTS: The saponin in Yucca is a precursor of natural cortisone normally produced by the adrenal glands. This makes it a popular remedy for all kinds of inflammation, such as arthritis, rheumatism, bursitis, colitis, and other inflammatory conditions.
Yucca is high in fiber, vitamins A, B, and C, and contains potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, manganese and copper which make it very soothing to the intestinal tract. The plant provides nutritional support to the structural system (bones, joints, muscles).

1) Take one root, cut both tips and discard them.
2) Cut the root in logs about the length of your middle finger. Discard any section that is stained.
3) Cut the skin with a knife and push under the skin with the knife turning the log until all the skin is off.
4) Cut the logs in half lengthwise for faster cooking.
5) Repeat for all logs and cook in salt water or steam until Yucca feels tender when pierced.

STORING: Once cut and peeled it can be frozen raw for later cooking or cooked for reheating in boiling water, steam or microwave oven.

YUCA AL MOJO: a very simple side dish, cook 1.5 Kg (3 Lbs.) of yucca until tender, prepare a sauce (mojo) by blending 1 cup of packed cilantro, 1 small clove of garlic,
1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, to serve spray the sauce over the yucca. This is a great side dish for any grilled meat. Others herbs such as parsley or basil may substitute cilantro.

CARIMAÑOLAS: this is a very typical street food in Colombia and Panama, very easy to make at home to eat as a first course or main dish. For 24 pieces you will need to boil in salt water 1.5 Kg (3 Lbs) of yucca for 15-20 minutes, the yucca should not be too tender, then grate the yucca through a fine vegetables grater and knead to form dough. Wet your hands and divide dough into 24 balls and reserve. For the filling heat 4 tablespoons of oil and lightly brown 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic and 2 finely chopped sweet chilies (aji dulce) without seeds, then add 0.5 Kg (1 Lb) of ground beef and brown; add 1/2 teaspoon of cumin powder, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste mix well and remove from heat; add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste and mix well. To form the carimañolas wet your hand flatten a ball of yucca dough in the palm of your hand and extend it, place some filling in it without overfilling, wrap the filling in the dough and roll it in your hands to form a cylindrical shape, deep fry in hot oil, dry with absorbent paper and serve warm, they are delicious with hot pepper sauce.

BUÑUELOS: These are similar to beignets but made with Yucca dough. This is a very typical dessert in the tropical regions of Latin America. You will need 1.5 Kg (3 Lbs) of Yucca, boil it in water for about 15-20 minutes, it should be tender enough to grate but not too tender. To the grated Yucca add 1 egg, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of Anise seeds. Knead well to mix all ingredients and let rest. Meanwhile make a syrup with 3 cups of dark brown sugar, in Latin America we would use raspadura or panela the local version of dark sugar, 1 cup of water and 7 cloves; boil until sugar dissolves and mixture turns syrupy. Wet your hand and make 1 inch balls with the yucca dough, fry them in hot oil until golden, about 2 minutes, serve warm and covered with the syrup.


My First Blog

In my work as a Chef in Latin America I have encountered many foreign visitors who are curious about the ingredients in the food they eat here. I am always delighted to talk about our native ingredients, so much that some of my visitor friends suggested I write on the subject of Latin American cooking ingredients. Such writing my friends told me, would be useful not only to foreign travelers in Latin America, but also to the large number of foreigners living in the region, either because they are working or retiring.

Very often these expatriates encounter a vegetables and fruits vendor on a road or visit public market or even a modern supermarket and they are bewildered by the variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, meat, poultry and seafood that are on display, some of which may look familiar while others appear exotic and some really strange.

The purpose of this Blog is to help foreigners in Latin America learn about the typical ingredients found throughout our region, to describe each ingredient in words and images, its taste, its color and shape; to relate local ingredients to ones they may know in their own country; to know their nutrients and most important how to consume them, for this I will provide many simple recipes.

Latin America is a very extensive region occupied by many countries with different traditions and often different names for the same ingredient; I will use the scientific name, the most common English name and as many local names as possible indicating for each name the country of usage.

I hope foreigners traveling or living in Latin America will find my writing useful. I will write once a week on a different ingredient, starting with the most common. My first ingredient will Yucca which is omnipresent en every stand, shop or market in Latin America.

I hope you enjoy my Blog and send me your comments. Chef Juan