The Roscón de Reyes and The Epiphany

Around this time of year it is great to celebrate the traditions that we hold dear to our hearts but it can also be fun to learn a little about how other countries celebrate the holidays.  Some of us Latinos celebrate what is known as Die de Reyes or King’s Day.

You may have more of a clue as to what this holiday means when I tell you that it is also known as Three Kings Day.  This is the day in which the Three Kings from the East also known as the three wise men also known as the Magi traveled to see baby Jesus and present them with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This is known as The Epiphany; the day that the son of god was incarnated into human form as Jesus Christ.

So how does one celebrate Three Kings Day?  While there are many traditions that go hand in hand with Día de Reyes this article is to be about the roscón de reyes.

Roscón de reyes is a traditional dessert that is eaten on King’s Day which falls on January 6th.  It is usually round or oval in shape and it has a special meaning that pertains to the holiday which is celebrated in many Latin countries and even in France.

The Cake

At a glance, roscón de reyes looks a lot like a Bundt cake or a fruit cake and it does share some similarities to both. It is baked in a roundish shape like a Bundt cake and includes fruit like a fruit cake. However, unlike both of those cakes, roscón de reyes is filled with cream at the center and there is another surprise hidden inside the cream. It is traditional to include a small figurine inside the cake for children. The cake is sliced up and served and all the children hope to have been given the slice with the gift inside.

The Roscon de Reyes and the Epiphany

The Roscon de Reyes and the Epiphany

The Roscón de Reyes and The Epiphany

The main point of the roscón de reyes and the Epiphany is that the cake and the gift inside reflect the gift that the Three Kings from the East gave to Jesus.  The figurine is sometimes of the baby Jesus himself and that variation hearkens to the story of Mary and Joseph who had to flee their home from King Herod who aimed to slay the baby messiah. Thus, the roscón de reyes and the Epiphany go hand in hand.

A Simple Recipe of Roscón de Reyes

If you want to try your hand at making Roscón de reyes here is a simple recipe.

  1. Blend sugar and citrus zest.
  2. Dissolve yeast with warm milk in a large bowl.
  3. Add the sugar and citrus zest plus 2 eggs, orange, flower, water and salt to the large bowl and stir.
  4. Add flower to the warm milk.
  5. Knead dough until it is smooth.
  6. Cover the bowl and let sit for an hour.
  7. Work the dough into a log about 30 inches long and two and a half inches thick then join the ends to form a circle.
  8. Place the circular dough on a baking sheet and put it in the oven at low heat for about an hour.
  9. Remove the pan, break an egg over the dough and place your dried fruits and candy on top
  10. And return the dough to the oven at 400 degrees for about another half hour.

If you venture to make the roscón de reyes send me some pictures, I would love to publish them here!

Christmas Foods in Argentina

When most people think about Christmas they think about cold climates and warm food but should you find yourself in Argentina during the holiday season you will experience a much different atmosphere.

As you probably already know when it is winter for us here in the Northern Hemisphere it is summer for those in South America and their winter cuisine reflects that fact.  The Argentines have a very unique tradition when it comes to Christmas meals.  They do not eat roasted turkey and ham like we do in the states.

Vitel Thone

Sitting around the dinner table for an Argentine Christmas meal, you are sure to see slices of meat topped with a whitish cream being consumed.  Vitel Thone is one of the most popular and traditional dishes for Christmas Eve in Argentina and it is a dish that is very unique.

First of all it has its roots in Italy.  As you also probably already know Argentina has a very strong German and Italian influence and Vitel Thone definitely comes from the old country.  Essentially it is a dish composed of sliced veal and topped with a sauce made of mayonnaise, anchovies and tuna.

The veal is roasted in a large ceramic pot and thrown in with quarters of onions and large slices of carrots.  Water is also added for steaming.  You cook this mixture for about three hours and then the veal is ready to be sliced.

The sauce is a mixture of onion, anchovies, milk cream and lots of mayonnaise. Tuna is traditionally added to the sauce but some leave it out depending on individual tastes.  Once you have the veal cooked and sliced and the sauce whisked, preparation is relatively simple.  Just arrange the slices on a plate and evenly spread the sauce over the flanks of meat and enjoy.

Christmas Foods In Argentina

Christmas Foods In Argentina

Christmas Foods in Argentina  –  Cool Foods for a Hot Climate

This is where Christmas foods in Argentina really start to differ from what we perceive to be typical of holiday foods.  Since it is so hot during Christmas in Argentina, Argentine Christmas foods include plenty of cold served dishes for the sake of refreshment.

Waldorf salad which is essentially a mixture of walnuts, apples, celery and peanuts in mayonnaise and served atop lettuce leaves is a common site for Argentine Christmas meals.  It is also common to see cold sandwiches served as part of the complete Argentine Christmas meal.

Drinks

What holiday gathering would be complete without a drink?  In Argentina the libation of choice for Christmas is Anana Fizz which is a sparkling mixture of cider and pineapple juice.  Of course Argentina makes some of the finest wines in the world so expect to see the vino flowing around the dinner table as well.

Sweets

The Argentine Christmas meal is topped off with a variety of sweets that include pan dulce or sweet bread that is baked with dried fruit.  Nougat is also popular in the hot Argentine climate and is shared during the holiday season.  Perhaps the most popular brand of nougat candy in Argentina is Mantecol so you can find it in any Argentine grocery store.

It seems that grilling is an year-round thing in Argentina so don’t be surprised if you see the parrillada, or grill all fired up and topped with meats like pig and chicken.  You can read a whole lot more about South American Christmas foods here.  Eat, read and enjoy!

Main Ingredients in Mexican Food

I have very fond memories from childhood of my mother cooking in the kitchen traditional Spanish and Mexican dishes. Associated with those memories are a host of sensory impressions, most prominent being smell.  Her cooking would fill the whole house with delicious scents emanating from the main ingredients in Mexican food that were always present in our home.

Main Ingredients in Mexican Food

For anyone who doesn’t already know I am pleased to bring you the most important ingredients (at least in my opinion) in traditional Mexican food.

Avocados

If you do not have avocados stocked in your pantry you are missing out on a host of delicious Mexican dishes.  Avocados most prominently are used to make guacamole.  I remember my mother’s homemade guacamole.  She used 5-8 avocados, added diced onions a little sugar and lime juice.  Of course, guacamole can also be used as a topping for many traditional Mexican foods such as tortas.

Tomatoes

While tomatoes may be an important staple the world over, the Mexican use of tomatoes reaches into almost every dish which is why it is on this list.  Personally, my mother used tomatoes to make her Spanish rice.  She also included it in tortilla soup, steak picado and even her guacamole.

Poblanos

The thing I like most about Mexican food is that it is spicy but not esophageal erosion spicy.  One of the secrets to attaining this perfect balance of spice, mildness and flavor is the use of poblano chilies. They can be used in a variety of ways but I remember them being used mainly in homemade salsas and chili rellenos.

Main Ingredients In Mexican Food

Main Ingredients In Mexican Food

Limes

I may be overstating a concept that is fundamentally simple but in my opinion, limes make all Mexican foods better.  In my house, limes were usually chopped into quarters and served on a small dish on the dinner table for everyone to grab and squeeze onto their food as they wished.

One of the best uses for limes from my childhood home was to squeeze a whole quarter slice’s worth of lime juice into my mother’s Albondigas (meatball soup).

Mexican Cheese

If you have ever eaten a Mexican dish in your life you probably know how important queso is to Mexican cuisine.  Take for example the Enchilada.  An enchilada is like Mexican lasagna and it relies heavily on cheese.

My sister makes some killer enchiladas and her cheese of choice is queso fresco.  It gives the dish a bit of natural saltiness and melts to perfection. Pepperjack cheese was also a pretty common cheese in my home growing up for making quesadillas.  It added a good level of spiciness…before tapatío was inevitably added of course.  Last but not in any way least…

Tortillas

I couldn’t think of any food more essential to Mexican cuisine or any better way to round off this list than the all-important tortilla.  My mother use to tell me stories about growing up poor in Los Angeles and how her mother, no matter how bad things were would always have tortillas in the house.  She would give my mom and my aunts and uncle flour tortillas adorned with nothing more than melted butter when things were especially tight.

Tortillas are more than a staple food for the poor of course.  My mom never made her own but she always went to tortillerías to buy freshly made corn and flour tortillas.  I remember using flour tortillas to sop up the juices from steak picado, scooping up Spanish rice with sour cream into a tortilla, and dousing a corn tortilla with the broth from my mother’s albondigas.

Tortillas are indispensible ingredients in enchiladas and of course tacos and burritos as well as other traditional Mexican dishes that I am sure I am forgetting.

Well there you have it; my list of the most important ingredients in Mexican cuisine.  For more information on other main ingredients in Mexican food, check out this article about Mexican Chocolate.

 

Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay

I dream of enjoying tereré in Paraguay… In many parts of South America, drinking tea is a much more social and culturally relevant practice than it is here in the United States.

For example, how often do you meet a friend or colleague at Starbucks for a drink? Probably pretty often.  But how often do you sit in a circle at Starbucks, prepare the coffee yourself and share the same customized cup?  Probably never.  But this is how the people of Paraguay enjoy their tea.

Drinking tereré in Paraguay is a lot like drinking Yerba Mate in Uruguay and Brazil. In fact tereré is also a tea that uses mate leaves but there is one crucial difference in the preparation that goes down in Paraguay; instead of being served hot, tereré is drank with cold water and some people even add ice cubes.

This is not a difference just for the sake of being different.  There is a very practical reason why Paraguayans drink the mate tea cold: it is hot all year round in Paraguay.

Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay – The Social Drink

So what is tereré?  In essence there is very little difference between tereré and yerba mate.  One important similarity is that that drinking of both yerba mate  and tereré is a very social event.

Groups of friends, coworkers and students can be seen all over Paraguay gathering in a circle and preparing their tereré gear which consist of the guampa (the vessel from which the tereré is drank, similar to the hollowed out gourd used in the mate ceremony) the bombilla (the filtered straw used to drink the tereré) and the termo (basically a thermos).

Once the tereré is prepared, all participants remain in a circle and pass the guampa around and drink from the straw.  However, unlike the Uruguayan mate ceremony, in Paraguay, they replace the water after each person has their share.  In other words, no one actually drinks the same tereré.

Enjoying Terere in Paraguay

Enjoying Terere in Paraguay

Another difference between the two drinks is that it is pretty common for Paraguayans to add additional herbs or even fruit juices to the cold drink although, purists look down on the whole fruit juice thing.  Termos and Guampas are often customized by their owner to express their personal style, support for a sports team or simply emblazoned with the owner’s name.

The history of tereré stretches back to the indigenous tribe of the Guaraní who invented the drink and like in modern times drank it in a ceremony style for communion and socialization.

The Social Aspect of Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay

Drinking tereré is considered a normal part of daily life in Paraguay.  It is also an important aspect of socialization and bonding among friends and family.  At its purest, drinking tereré is supposed to symbolize trust and community.  People gather, share the tereré and talk to one another just as you would talk to your friend at Starbucks. Of course, the process of drinking tereré in Paraguay is much more ceremonial than the manner in which we have coffee with a friend here in the States.

The Essence of Tereré

Of course, on the surface people drink tereré because of the mate leave’s natural antioxidant and energizing effects but the true essence of tereré drinking is to feel a close bond with the people you care about.  Not much about the ritual has changed over the centuries which speaks to the primal function of this tradition and the basic, human need that it fills.

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

If you just stumbled onto this article searching for some food articles you may be asking yourself what the heck Oaxaca cheese is. If you know what Oaxaca cheese is and are asking yourself the question “where do I find Oaxaca cheese?”  Fear not because I will share with you the answers. For now, let’s start with the basics…

What Is Oaxaca Cheese

Cheese lovers will rejoice over the mild and buttery flavor of Oaxaca cheese.  Although you will probably never see it being paired with wine, it is considered an artisanal cheese.  It gets its name from the region of Mexico where it originated.

It does not hit you as strongly as say a brie or a sharp cheddar and it is more akin to Mozzarella which makes it great for use in baked goods, for quesadillas and empanadas.  It has a stringy texture which makes it a perfect topping for the traditional Oaxacan dish known as Tlayuda.

The History of Oaxaca Cheese

The reason Oaxaca cheese has such a mild flavor is because it is a cheese that is made from cow milk.  The form of Oaxaca cheese that is most popular now is credited to Dominican monks who settled in the region of Oaxaca a long time ago.  The monks would typically make cheese from goat’s milk which would lend a stronger and more pungent flavor but when they arrived in Oaxaca and found that there was no goat’s milk readily available, they had to improvise.

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

The monks used cow’s milk and combined it with a method of cheese-making that is very similar to the process used to make Mozzarella from Italy.  Thus, Oaxaca cheese was born and implemented in many traditional Oaxacan dishes.  Since then it has become one of the most popular cheeses in Latin countries and is becoming increasingly popular with Anglos as well.

The Process

Oaxaca cheese is a curd cheese and it is kneaded and then stretched to give it its stringy consistency.  After it is stretched, it is usually wound up in a ball shape for packaging.  There is also a form of Oaxaca cheese called asadero and this incarnation of the dairy product comes in the form of a brick.

Asadero cheese is usually intended for slicing but it is made with the same ingredients as traditional Oaxaca cheese.  Oaxaca cheese whether in its brick or ball shape however will always be the same color; white.  Not pure white mind you but a very light, off-white.  It will also always be semi-soft.

Where to Get Oaxaca Cheese

Unfortunately you can’t just waltz into the national chain grocery store down the street and expect to find Oaxaca cheese. Unfortunately, the most readily available source of Oaxaca cheese is online.  There are very reputable sites where you can order authentic Oaxaca cheese such as MexGrocer.com and FoodServiceDirect.com.

For the freshest Oaxaca cheese you are going to have to do some digging.  Hopefully you live in a state with a fairly large Latin community because if you do, you can bet there will be a local Mercado that sells fresh Oaxaca cheese.  If you are south of the border you can also try a lecheria to get your fill of Oaxaca cheese.

Traditional Breakfast Foods in Bolivia

While lunch may be the most important meal in your typical Bolivian’s day that is not to say that breakfast has not taken on a life and style of its own in this unique South American country.

Western breakfast traditions like milk and cereal are slowly seeping into the Bolivian culture but there are traditional breakfast foods in Bolivia that can still be tasted today.

Should you find yourself in Bolivia at any time of the year, you will begin to hear the calls of local street vendors at around seven in the morning.  This is the best time to sample some of the delicious traditional breakfast foods of Bolivia.

Traditional Breakfast Foods in Bolivia

Café con Leche

Of course, no Bolivian’s breakfast is complete without café con leche or as Anglos know it, coffee. Bolivian breakfast drinks are very important to a traditional Bolivian breakfast and coffee is just one of the beverages that you will see on the menu of a Bolivian café.

Bolivia makes some of the richest and sweetest coffee in the world and while many in the country drink it very strong and without milk, you can get traditional Bolivian coffee as thick and sweet as you can handle it.  If you are not a coffee person, fear not. Bolivian breakfast vendors will usually have a ready supply of tea or mate drink to stimulate your morning.

If you are really looking for a traditional experience, you can sample the Api that is said to have been created and passed down from the Incas so many centuries ago.

Api is a corn based drink and is spiced with cloves, orange rind and cinnamon.  The first thing you will notice is that it has a very thick consistency and depending on whether you try Api Morado or Api Blanco, it will have a purple or light tan coloring.  It is a sweet drink that often accompanies sweet Bolivian breakfast pastries.

Empanadas

Bread based foods make up most of traditional breakfast foods in Bolivia and empanadas reign supreme as the staple of the first meal of the day.

You may have tried an Empanada here in the states and it was probably sweetened and maybe even filled with some kind of meat. While this style of empanada is not unheard of in Bolivia, for breakfast they have a simpler version.  They eat an empanada which is essentially fried dough and sometimes puffed up to enormous proportions.

Traditional Breakfast Foods in Bolivia

Traditional Breakfast Foods in Bolivia

Other Bolivian Breakfast Foods

Something called buñuelos are also commonly served up for breakfast.  Buñuelos in Bolivia are somewhat different from Colombian buñuelos.

In Bolivia buñuelos are simple fried balls of dough and are sometimes topped with honey.  Buñuelos do not always come in ball-form.  In fact you can get them to look more like their American counterparts, donuts with just a bit of searching.

In case you haven’t noticed by now, Bolivian food (particularly Bolivian breakfast foods) are usually fried, carb-heavy dishes that can be sweetened to accompany your cup of coffee or preferred breakfast drink.  This is the signature of Bolivian breakfast and is demonstrated in the final breakfast food I will speak of here: Pan con queso.  Literally translated, this dish is bread with cheese and it is as simple as that.  A hearty roll of bread stuffed with a delightful piece of homemade cheese.

Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina

Have you heard of the Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina?  Argentina plays host to some of the most exciting and eclectic festivals in the world.

The German influence in Argentina has spawned the Oktoberfest Argentinians celebrate every year. People come from all over the world to take part in the festivities that Argentina has become so well-known for.   One of the biggest, brashest and most raucous is the Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina.

Background of the Grape Harvest Festival en Mendoza Argentina

The Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina is essentially a wine grape harvest and has its roots in more religious rites of the past.

Wine was mainly used in religious sacraments in olden days so it was very important for Argentines of old to bless the wine and offer fruit to the patron saint of Mendoza’s vineyards. Even then however, when the work was done, it was time to celebrate.

The Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina is as much a reward for the hard work that is put in all year long into cultivating these prized wine grapes, as it is a cultural manifestation as important as any to the nation.

If you are planning on Visiting Mendoza Argentina and want to catch the Mendoza wine harvest festival, you will want to aim for early to mid-March.  While preparations for the both the harvest and the festival begin as early as January, Early to mid-March is when things are kicked into high gear.

Mendoza itself is a Northern town in Argentina and is generally pretty quiet for the rest of the year. The Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina however is when the town is shook wide awake and brought to life.  Wine lovers, industry authorities and merry-makers from all over the world swamp the town during the festival which has much to offer even if you don’t particularly like wine.

Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina

Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina

The Queen of Vendimia

If you are not an appreciator of fine wine, maybe you will be more enticed by the Argentinian beauties that compete from the 18 provinces of Mendoza for the title of Queen of Vendimia.  This annual beauty pageant is held in the Frank Romero Day Amphitheater which gives the whole ordeal a vintage, Greek vibe.

The Argentine sirens parade through the downtown streets in the days leading up to the pageant and local vintners are eager to offer visitors and locals alike free samples of their wine.

Even if you are not a wine person, if you are in Mendoza during the grape harvest festival, keep in mind that Argentina produces some of the finest and most coveted wines in the world.

The 2016 Harvest

The Grape Harvest Festival is entering its 80th year and there is much on the agenda in 2016.  Absorb some Argentine culture by seeing the Carousel of Vendimia; a parade that features Gauchos in traditional outfits.

The central act is not to be missed as it is essentially the culmination of the entire celebration. It is a recitation of authentic Argentinian folklore tales by over 1,000 players. Finally, the Queen of Vendimia is crowned and the ceremony is lively, exciting and climaxes with an amazing fireworks display.

Of course, the streets flow with wine during the festival and there is no shortage of music, great cuisine and of course, delicious reds and whites to sample. There are only three rules when attending the Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina: eat, drink and be merry.

What Are Arepas Colombianas

Many people ask me what are arepas Colombianas?  If you are Colombian, the word “arepa” was probably one that you grew up hearing in your home.  In short, an arepa is one of the most popular of Colombian foods.

There are many different versions of arepas all throughout South America but let’s take a little time to talk about arepas Colombianas.

First, a bit of history on this Colombian staple food.  One of the most abundant food sources in South America is corn. Arepas have their roots in the days of the indigenous people of South America.  The Timito-cuicas Indians can be credited with creating what we know today as arepas.  They used corn and Yucca to make it.

Then the Spanish came along and they took this food from the Venezuelan Andes and helped to introduce it to the rest of South America.  When the Spanish arrived, so too did ingredients not typical in indigenous South America which we will get into later.

What Are Arepas Colombianas Made Of

Arepas

Arepas Colombianas

The great thing about Colombian arepas is that there is such a wide variety of them but the basic formula remains the same.

Arepas can be considered a bread food but sort of like a Pita pocket, they are stuffed with all kinds of delicious ingredients. The bread itself is usually made of corn and one of the most common ingredients placed inside an arepa is egg.  The Colombian Arepa is usually topped with cheese, butter or even condensed milk.

Arepas Colombianas can be fried or grilled.  They are usually eaten for breakfast but like Mexican tortillas, are usually included in one capacity or another throughout the meals of the day.

Other varieties include the arepa rellena which can include ham, grilled chicken shrimp and more, the arepa de arroz which is made with rice as opposed to some type of corn product and the arepa Antioqueña like the one we eat with the famous Bandeja Paisa which is made without salt and tends to be smaller for the purpose of being eaten with Colombian soups.

Arepas Recipe

Your basic arepas Colobianas can be cooked using pre-made cornmeal, some flour, sugar and Colombian cheese.

1-You will have to knead the cornmeal, flour, sugar and butter with milk for about 3 minutes until the whole deal is malleable and blended well.

2-Round the mixture into about a dozen balls and place the balls between 2 sheets of butcher paper and flatten them with your hands.

3-Place the cheese between to flattened pieces of dough that you have created and use your hands to gently seal the fringes.

4-Now it’s time to grill your arepas.  You will want to use a non-stick pan, butter and place the arepas over medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side.  There should be a light crust that forms and the resulting color should be a golden brown.

How You Can Enjoy Arepas

There is really no one way to enjoy arepas.  The great thing about this food is that it can be made custom which is why the recipe will vary from Colombian home to Colombian home.

In our home we eat arepas for breakfast with cheese and chocolate, at lunch with soups and at dinner time with meats and even tuna.  They are so versatile and tasty that there are special restaurants throughout Colombia that serve “Arepas con Todo” or arepas with everything like “J & C Delicias”.

You can enjoy them for breakfast with hot chocolate; you can make a meal of them by filling them with your favorite meats and vegetables or keep it basic and use it as a bread to sop up the flavors of other great Colombian foods.  Keep an open mind and enjoy!