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
ENGLISH NAME: Beans
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.
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.
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
ENGLISH NAME: Avocado
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 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.
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.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mangifera indica
ENGLISH NAME: Mango
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.