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.

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