They are everywhere, the road side vendor has them in packs of 0.5 Kg ( 1 Lb); the supermarkets have a very extensive section on them; in public markets there is always a sector of stands specializing on them; they come in every color, size and shape, beans the most basic staple in Latin America, the poor people's last resort; there is even a joke: a poor young man asks his mother what is for lunch and she responds, beans and rice, with what? the young man asks, and she responds, with luck son, with luck!!!.

When I travel in Latin America I always visit public markets to see what people eat in a particular region, I usually judge the region's prosperity by the variety of beans offered, the greater the variety the more prosperity there is. In the city of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, I visited a wholesale market where there were 17 different types of beans offered, people there seem to eat beans in every meal and prepared in every way imaginable.

The common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, is an herbaceous annual plant domesticated independently in ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes, and now grown worldwide for its edible bean, popular both dry and as a green bean. Beans, squash and maize constituted the "Three Sisters" that provided the foundation of Native American agriculture. Beans are a legume and thus acquire their nitrogen through an association with rhizobia a species of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, so planting beans at the base of plants or trees provides fertilizer. If you want to learn about growing beans follow this link: Growing Beans

Even though beans are considered a poor man's food, many people who are not so poor love them, Latin American politicians in particular seem to be very fond of them, when they are campaigning for votes you always see them eating some local recipe of beans and saying how good they are, their counterparts in the north of the continent seem to have similar taste, I heard the US senate's restaurant offers a famous bean soup.

I myself am a fan of beans prepared in any way. Growing up there were always beans in my diet; when I went to college in Massachusetts, USA, I loved the Yankee Dinner of Frank & Beans offered on Saturdays at local diners and homes. My wife makes some black beans that are delicious.

There is an enormous variety of beans but the most popular are: Black Beans, very popular around the Caribbean, especially in Cuban dishes; Navy beans, the best bean for baking although they can be used for Chili stews and other dishes; Pink beans, the best beans for making beef Chili; Red beans, they are the best to combine with rice but can be used in Chili and for refried beans paste; Pinto beans come in many colors, they are the best for soups and salad applications. For a more detailed look at bean variety follow the link: Varieties of Beans
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Phaseolus vulgaris


LOCAL NAMES: Frijol (spanish), Frejol (Peru, Ecuador), Porotos (Panama, Argentina), Caraotas (Venezuela), Feijão (Brasil), Habichuelas (Caribbean)

PRODUCTS: Canned beans

PROCESSING: Before cooking beans they must be soaked in water, making sure the water covers them. If the beans are to be cooked in a regular pot they should be soaked overnight, if a pressure cooker is to be used then you only need some 2 hours of soaking. When cooking flavoring agents such as pork maybe added but herbs, spices and salt should be added after the beans are cooked and tender.

STORING: Dry beans can be stored forever in a paper bag in a cool dry place, to avoid bugs place some hot chilies or black peppercorns among the beans.

BLACK BEANS STEW: Prepared black beans are a common ingredient in many dishes around the Caribbean. Soak 1 Kg (2 Lbs) of black beans in water overnight making sure the beans are covered in water. If you are going to use a pressure cooker you only need to soak them a couple of hours. Cook the beans without any seasoning until they are tender, in a regular pot some 3 hours, in a pressure cooker 45 minutes. During the cooking you may add a pork bone, piece of pork or bacon for flavoring but nothing else. Meanwhile prepare a spicy sofrito with 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 2 green onions, 1 leek, 5 cloves or garlic, finely chop everything and cook over medium heat in 1/2 cup of oil until aromas are released, about 8 minutes. Once beans are tender remove any bone, add the sofrito, 1 tablespoon of dry oregano leaves, 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, which is the essential seasoning and stir to make the stew somewhat creamy; turn off heat and add 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro, salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. This method can be used for any of the other types of beans. Black beans are good companions to white rice and saucy beef.

MOORS AND CHRISTIANS: From its name this dish probably originated in Spain but it is very popular around the Caribbean, particularly among Cubans who call it Congri rice. Over high heat fry 1/2 cup of chopped onions in 1/4 cup of oil until aroma is released, add 3 cups of black beans stew and stir for some 5 minutes, add 4 tablespoons of brown sugar (grated raspadura, panela) and stir for some 2 minutes until it dissolves completely; add 2 cups of cooked white rice and stir to mix well and cook for a couple of minutes. Use a coffee cup to mold and spray some fresh chopped parsley, cilantro or green onion to serve. It goes very well with pork dishes.

CHARRO BEANS: Very typical Mexican dish, Charros are the Mexican cowboys. Cook 1 onion minced in 2 tablespoons of oil until aroma is released, add 3 cups of cooked pinto or kidney beans (porotos) with their liquid and stir, cook some 5 minutes over medium heat; meanwhile on a separate pan heat 1 tablespoon of oil and cook 4 slices of bacon coarsely chopped and 2 chorizos (spicy sausage) cut in 8 slices, once browned add to the beans with 1 16 Oz can of diced tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, 6 finely chopped sweet or hot chilies or mixture of both, cook stirring some 5 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, to serve spray some chopped fresh cilantro.

BLACK BEAN & CORN SALAD: 2 red and 1 green bell peppers diced, 1 small red onion diced, 1 16 Oz can of corn drained, 1 large clove of garlic finely chopped, 1 teaspoon of chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup of oil, juice of 1 lemon, 3 Tbs of vinegar, salt, pepper to taste, mix everything and add 2 cups of cooked black or other color bean, drained and rinsed, toss well and serve with corn or plantain chips over a bed of lettuce. This salad goes well with grilled meats.



The Italians have their basil, the Greeks have their Rosemary, the French have their Thyme, the Scandinavians have their Dill, the Spaniards have their Parsley and us Latin Americans have our Cilantro and its cousin Culantro. In Latin America I can not think of any typical  dish without some Cilantro, every time we need to spice something up, we will chop some fresh Cilantro and throw it in.

Cilantro originated in the middle east and has been used since pre-historic times, it still grows wild in that area. Cilantro seeds have been found and dated to pre-historic time inside caves located in Israel where pre-historic men lived, so it seems our ancestors had a taste for it. Cilantro first arrived in the Americas at the British colonies of North America where it was one of the herbs commonly used by the early colonials, from there it spread south and conquered the palate of Latin America. There was not much to conquer really, since the natives were already great consumers of Culantro, the native American cousin of Cilantro. Culantro is native to the Caribbean and has a similar, but stronger, flavor to Cilantro even though the plants have completely different shapes.

Cilantro/Culantro do not cook well so they should be consumed raw or added at the last moment to any cooked dish. The leaves, seeds and roots have different applications; the chopped leaves are the main flavoring agent; the root has a similar, but milder, taste appropiate for grating into a sauce or spice paste; the seeds have an anise like sweet flavor and are better used in spices mixes or desserts.

Cilantro/Culantro are very easy to grow from seed, just spray the seeds over some loose soil and cover them with some more soil to avoid birds picking them. Keep the soil moist and you soon will see something sprouting; in a month you will start harvesting leaves. Culantro even grows wild in humid locations, very often you will find it around your garden or in the plants you buy from a nursery.

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Coriandrum sativum (cilantro), Eryngium foetidum (culantro)

ENGLISH NAME: Coriander, Cilantro, Culantro

LOCAL NAMES: Cilantro, Culantro, Recao (Culantro), Coentro (Brasil, cilantro), Coentro-bravo (Brasil, culantro)

NUTRIENTS: Cilantro/Culantro are a very potent cocktail of vitamins, minerals and anti oxidants, so its regular consumption is good for you. Medical studies in Japan have shown that regular consumption of Cilantro/Culantro helps the body excrete heavy metals such as mercury. For a more detailed analysis of nutrients follow this link: Cilantro's nutrients

PROCESSING: Cilantro/Culantro are used after finely cutting them with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors. The root is better processed by grating it with a lemon zester. The seeds should be coarsely crushed using a mortar.

STORING: Cilantro/Culantro dehydrate very quickly once they are harvested. If you have them in your garden pick only what you are about to use. If you must keep them in the refrigerator place them in a sealed bag with a little water for moisture.

CILANTRO RICE: Very common side dish for saucy beef recipes in Central America. Make a sofrito with 1 finely chopped small onion and clove of garlic with 3 tablespoons of oil, cook over medium heat until aromas are released, add 1 cup of rice, salt and pepper to taste, stir well and add 1 cup of finely chopped cilantro, add 1.5 cup of water, stir well and bring to boil, then lower heat to minimum and cover, cook until all liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes), turn off heat and let rest 10 minutes before serving. To serve mold with a cup of coffee and spray with finely chopped green onions or fresh Cilantro.

CILANTRO MILK BROTH: Very typical for breakfast in dairy farms across Latin America and very easy to make at home. Per person take 1 cup of milk, 2 tablespoons of fresh finely chopped Cilantro/Culantro, 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped green onions, 1 egg, 6 small cubes of pressed white cheese, this is the common white cheese found in markets; over medium heat bring the milk to boil and add green onions, salt, pepper and stir, with the milk boiling add eggs and let harden, turn off heat and add Cilantro; place cheese cubes in soup dish and serve hot broth with 1 egg per dish.

CILANTRO PESTO: in a food procesor or blender place 1/2 cup of oil, 2 cups of packed Cilantro/Culantro (stems and leaves), 1/4 cup of salted peanuts, 1 clove of garlic, 2 sweet green chilies de-seeded, chilies can be hot if you like some heat in your pesto, process to a paste adding more oil if necessary, add salt and pepper to taste and a few drops of hot sauce. You can eat the pesto with bread, chips, vegetables, with pasta, or over fish, chicken or pork seared on a hot pan with a little oil.

CREAMY CILANTRO DRESSING: 1/2 cup of mayonaisse, 1 tablespoon of mustard, 1/4 cup of tighttly packed cilantro/culantro (stems and leaves), 1 teaspoon of sugar, juice of 1 lime, 3 tablespoons of white vinegar, salt, pepper and drops of hot sauce to taste, process with a blender to liquefy. Serve over a fresh garden salad that has some avocado slices in it.




The avocado originated in the state of Puebla, Mexico. The word 'avocado' comes from the Spanish 'aguacate', which in turns comes from the Nahuatl word 'ahuacatl' meaning testicle, a reference to the shape of the fruit. Avocados were known by the Aztecs as 'the fertility fruit', they thought its consumption increased a man's ability to father children, of course there is no evidence to support such belief.

Together with olives, avocado is one of the only 2 fruits where oil is extracted from the flesh rather than the seed, so it can be properly called extra virgin oil. The nutritional and health benefits of avocado oil are at least equal to olive's oil, some say are better, and since avocados produce faster and are more productive, some European olive oil producers are concerned about future competition. Avocado oil is turning up in specialty food shops, health stores and other venues with increasing frequency and I must say it is a good thing, it is high time those high priced extra virgin olive oils got some competition. If you ever come by a bottle of avocado oil give it a try, I am certain you will positively impressed. With my French bread I will take avocado oil over olive oil any time and on a salad with avocado slices there is nothing better than avocado oil in the dressing.

Avocados are very easy to grow on well drained terrain, excess humidity rots the roots and kills the plant, you will never see and avocado tree growing in a swamp. The best trees for growing at home are grafted trees from varieties that produce quality fruit. Trees grown from seed usually grow too tall and produce small fruits that are hard to reach.

Avocados can be bought in 2 stages of ripeness, green (verde) which feel hard to the touch, ripe (maduro) which yield to pressure with your fingers but leave no mark, if pressure leaves a mark then it is over ripe and should be used for recipes that call for mashing. There are no applications for green avocados there are many for ripe avocados.

Some countries like Brazil treat avocadoes as if they were a sweet fruit and make sherbets (with sugar and lemon), smoothies (with sugar and yogurt), shakes (with milk and sugar) or ice cream ( with cream and sugar).

There are many varieties of avocados, from 0.25 Kg (0.5 Lb) to 1.5 Kg (3 Lb), from rugged skin to smooth skin, from dark purple to shiny green. The Hass variety produced in California is well known to north Americans, however that variety is rare throughout Latin America where large, green and smooth skin varieties are more common. For a look at different varieties follow this link: Avocado varieties

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Persea americana


LOCAL NAMES: Aguacate, Palta, Abacate (Brasil)

PRODUCTS: Avocado oil

NUTRIENTS:  Avocados are an excellent source of potassium, vitamins B and E, monounsaturated fatty acids, and fiber. Avocados contain a high level of monosaturates (unsaturated fatty acids). The oils contained in avocados include oleic and linoleic acids. Studies show that those oils may help to lower cholesterol levels. For more information follow the link: Avocado's nutrients

PROCESSING: Avocados can be diced, sliced, mashed or used in whole halfs depending on the recipe to be prepared. The following link will show you all cutting options: How to cut an Avocado

STORING: Avocadoes store well at room temperature. For ripening they should be stored with other fruits like bananas or pineapples. They ripen best slowly, if you need to accelerate it wrap them in newspaper and put them in a warm place like the top of refrigerator or an oven with a pilot. Once cut the avocado flesh oxidizes rather quickly and turns brown, to delay this reaction one can spray with lime juice or brush with oil depending on the recipe to be prepared, cover tightly to avoid exposure to air, use plastic wrap. If the avocado is to be mashed you can place the seed in the mixture until serving, it will delay oxidation.

AVOCADO COCKTAIL: 2 medium size avocadoes diced, 1 small onion finely chopped, 3/4 cup of mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, juice 1 small lime, drops of hot sauce. Mixed well all ingredients except avocados, add avocados and toss gently to coat in sauce; serve over a bed of lettuce on a plate or martini glass, spray with fresh chopped cilantro before serving.

AVOCADOS STUFFED WITH SHRIMP: cook 0,5 Kg (1 lb) of clean shrimp quickly over salt water, cool and chill; prepare a sauce with 3/4 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of ketchup, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, drops of hot sauce; Toss the shrimp in the sauce to coat well; take 3 small ripe avocados and cut in half lengthwise, discard the pit and take flesh out of each half shell in one piece, slice a small section of flesh from the bottom of each half so that they can stand; chop these pieces of avocado flesh and mix with saucy shrimp; place avocado halves on small plates, distribute saucy shrimps over avocados halves, spray with chopped fresh cilantro and serve.

PASTA WITH AVOCADO SAUCE: this one will probably shock italians, but it is delicious. Cook 0.75 Kg ( 1.5 Lb) of pasta al dente, (spinach fettucini are my favorite), drain, place in a bowl. Over low heat melt half a stick of butter (4 Tbs), add 1 cup of whipping cream and heat gently, add 3 small avocados ( 2-3 cups) diced and stir to heat thoroughly, add salt and pepper to taste,  cover pasta with sauce and toss well, add 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and toss, to serve spray chopped parsley over each serving.

AVOCADO SOUP: It is a cold soup very refreshing during a hot day. Take 3 medium size avocados cut in half, discard the pit, with a melon baller cut 4 balls of avocado flesh and spray with lime to avoid browning, if you do not have baller cut 4 thin slices, reserve; place rest of flesh in a blender with 7 cups of warm clear chicken soup ( from cubes if necessary), if you are vegetarian you can use vegetables stock instead, add the juice of 1 lime, 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste, blend until you get a homogenous cream, if it is too thick add more soup or stock; place cream in refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours before serving; to serve add 1/2 cup of whipping cream and blend briefly; place an avocado ball in each individual serving and spray with finely chopped fresh cilantro.



Throughout tropical Latin America Mango season starts in full at the end of the dry season, usually April to May, when Mangoes start appearing in abundance in every venue, from super market to road side vendor, even neighbors start offering free mangoes. The mango is indigenous to India. Cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions and distributed widely in the world, mango is the most extensively exploited fruit. Of all the commercially produced fruits mangoes are 50% and the consumption follows the same pattern, mangoes are the most widely consumed fruit in the world.

The Mango is a recent arrival in Latin America but it has spread widely to the point that it grows wild. The first trees were planted by Portuguese merchants in the city of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil in the 1700's, they brought them from their colonies in India. Mango trees are easy to grow from seed, they are not very demanding of soil conditions. The best mangoes for planting at home are grafted trees from a variety that produces large fruits in small quantity. Mango trees from seeds usually grow very large and produce small fruits in large quantities that end up rotting on the ground and attract mosquitoes. These large quantities of mangoes are useful mostly for farm animals, cattle and pigs love mangoes.

Mangoes like many tropical fruit are found in 3 stages of ripeness, green (verde), semi-ripe (pinton) and ripe (maduro); the green are used because they are crunchy and sour, good for pickling and baking; the semi-ripe are used for their firmness and slightly acidic taste, and the ripe for its sweetness. I find semi-ripe mangoes the best for eating fresh. Green mangoes are often eaten with salt or Adobo (spiced salt) in baking they can substitute sour apples. Ripe mangoes are good for liquefying and making shakes, smoothies or sherbets.

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mangifera indica


LOCAL NAMES: Mango, Manga

PRODUCTS: Pickles, dry powder, marmalades, jellies, juices, concentrate.

NUTRIENTS: Mangoes are very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. They are also a good source of Dietary Fiber and Vitamin B6, and a very good source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. A large portion of the calories in this food come from sugars. The following link will give you more precise nutrional information: Mango Nutrients

PROCESSING: Processing mangoes is about getting the flesh away from the seed and inner skin but depending on the recipe there are different cuts. The following link will  show you: How to cut a mango

STORING: Mangoes keep well at room temperature until they ripen then you should refrigerate them to prevent over ripening which can occur really fast.

MANGO SALSA: This the mango version of the typical Mexican salsa. 1 medium hot pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced, 2/3 cup diced red bell pepper, 1/3 cup diced red onion, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 large ripe mangos, peeled, pitted and diced; toss well all ingredients serve with plantain or corn chips; good companion to grilled white meats such as chicken or pork.

MANGO CHUTNEY: Very typical dish from India to eat with crackers or plantain chips. Take 4 large cloves of garlic, one 5 cm (2 in) ginger root and blend with 1/4 cup of white vinegar, reserve; heat 3/4 cup of white vinegar and add 3 cups of white sugar and boil till sugar dissolves; coarsely crush 1/2 teaspoon each cloves and black peppercorn and add to sweet vinegar with the garlic ginger paste; add 3 semi-ripe mangos coarsely grated and 1 seeded medium hot pepper minced; mix well, bring to boil and reduce heat, cook until mango is tender and the syrup is thick. Let cool before serving, flavor improves with time.

CILANTRO MANGO SALAD: 2 large semi-ripe mangoes cut in strips, 1 small red onion cut in strips, 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro, pinch of ground cumin, toss well and spray with a dressing prepared as follows: 6 tablespoons of oil, 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice, 1 teaspoon of mustard, salt and pepper to taste, mix well. You can substitute the cilantro with other fresh herbs like basil, mint, tarragon, if the herbs are dried use only 1 teaspoon.

PORK MANGO SKEWERS: 0.5Kg (1 Lb) of lean pork cut in 1 in cubes, 2 large semi-ripe mangoes in 1 inch cubes. Prepare a marinade with the juice each of 1 orange and 1 lemon, 2 Tbs of oil, 2 tbs of dark sugar (raspadura, panela), 1 large clove or garlic, 1 hot pepper seeded or hot sauce to taste, salt and pepper to taste, liquefy well. Spray marinade over pork and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours before grilling. Assemble skewers with 4 pieces of pork and 3 pieces of mango, cook until golden, about 4 minutes on each side, over a grill or under a broiler. To serve spray with fresh chopped cilantro.

MANGO CRÈME BRULEE: this is a Thai version of the famous French dish, it is healthier and I think more delicious. 3 semi-ripe mangoes finely diced, 2 cups of cream cheese, 1/2 cup of plain yogurt, zest and juice of 1 large lime, 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger, 2 tablespoons of dark sugar (raspadura, panela), mix well, distribute in 4 ramekins or coffee cups and refrigerate overnight. Before serving spray 2 Tbs of dark sugar over each cup and burn with a kitchen torch or under broiler, until sugar melts and turns golden, let cool and serve.