Thursday 23 July 2009

Latin American Food History Part One

One of our aspirations at Sabor Restaurant is to promote and to share the variety of Latin American food, and first of all we must celebrate the contribution made by the original inhabitants of the New World, the American Indians, or whatever you wish to call them, to the food of the contemporary world. The fifteenth century marked the beginning of the European Age of Discovery, and when Christopher Columbus embarked on his historic voyage in 1492, landing in Latin America by accident, they found not only new cultures but a large number of foods that were native to Latin America and which they brought back to Europe. These were ingredients, plants and animals that the original inhabitants gathered, domesticated and ate for many millennia before the European laid eyes on them, including corn or maize, chocolate, potatoes, beans, vanilla, tomatoes, chillies and pumpkins, which had never been seen before in Europe. This is to counter the accusation often made that the American Indians did not really make much of a contribution as far as the domestication of animals and plants is concerned as they loafed in their hammocks with tropical fruits dropping into their laps.

Inca agriculture, for example, was highly developed, because the Incas were great experimenters. They experimented with habitat, yield, hybrids, and growing time. They dried meat, potatoes, and other root vegetables to avoid famine. They knew how to extract the poison from bitter cassava (yucca) to make a meal. They also knew that planting corn, squash, and beans together would achieve optimum results, because corn provides shade and support for the delicate beans, squash provides ground cover for moisture retention and minimal soil erosion, and beans regenerate the soil, providing the nitrogen needed by the other plants. To enrich the soil further, the Incas used guano (seabird droppings), a nutrient-rich fertilizer. (The richest guano, found off the coast of Peru, helped replenish many depleted soils in Europe after the conquest.)

Corn, Cassava and Other Staples

The New World's most important contribution to the global larder was probably corn. For pre-Columbian communities corn played a very important role. The Aztecs had a god and goddess of corn, Centeotl and Chicomecoatl, whom they represented in their ceramics and paintings. They held festivals for planting and harvesting, and used corn in celebrations and for communal meals, in dishes such as tamales, and corn based drinks.

In the 15th century the Aztec and Inca Empires, building on earlier cultures, already had an ingenious agricultural system using elaborate terracing and irrigation to cultivate food on steep Andean slopes and in coastal river valleys. The Incas had tremendous respect for the earth, and their culture revolved around agriculture. Anything to do with farming was considered holy and religious, and they revered corn and quinoa as life-giving foods. At harvest time, they would hold thanksgiving festivals and spill a little of their first drink of chicha de jora (a fermented corn drink) on the ground for Pacha-Mama, or Mother Earth.

The Indians of the tropics made a bread from the bitter cassava (yucca), which is easy to grow and can be kept for a year or more. In fact, cassava played a major role in the conquest because it could be prepared in large quantities, it was cheap, and it kept well. The Portuguese took it to Africa, where it became a staple food. Cassava fed African slaves during the long journey to the New World. The Spaniards introduced cassava to the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and today it continues to be a major ingredient in the diets of peoples throughout the tropics.

Farther inland, in the cooler climates, other foods were discovered. Potatoes were a staple food among Andean peoples. They grew in temperate zones, at altitudes that ranged from sea level to 10,000 feet. Another great contribution to world cuisines was the tomato. At one time, Europeans and North Americans worried that it, too, might be poisonous. However, the tomato was accepted early on as a medicine to treat diarrhoea, liver and gallbladder disease, and digestive disorders. Today, the tomato enjoys tremendous popularity throughout the world. Hot peppers, beans, and squash, which along with corn were staples of the Indian diet, also have become staples of many societies around the world.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Verano con Sabor

It's been a while since we've sent out an update but meanwhile things haven't been standing still at Sabor. As always we've been working on new recipes in the kitchen, so that our menus can continually evolve. Our empanadas have always been popular, but now we offer a selection of three as a single starter: in addition to the traditional Antioqueña from Colombia, filled with beef and potato, we include a Caribbean version, cornmeal stuffed with mixed seafood, and a Bolivian salteña, a wheat patty stuffed with queso campesino, cheddar, mozzarella and smoked paprika. All accompanied by aji, a fresh relish of tomato, onion and jalapeño chilli.
A lot of our new dishes are inspired by the prospect of warmer weather, and this includes our pescado cartagenero, a delicious pan-fried fillet of sea bass served with arroz verde - coriander-infused rice and peas – and coconut milk tomato sauce. If you prefer stronger flavours however, our rabbit with chocolate sauce is making a come-back... To round off a meal you might enjoy our lulo parfait – lulo is also known as naranjilla in Ecuador, or 'little orange'. It has a sharp but fruity flavour somewhat like gooseberry, and we serve it with brevas colombianas, ripe green figs preserved in syrup. We think you'll like it!
Happy Hour
Cocktails are an important part of a good latin night out, and at Sabor we have always offered the latin classics (margarita, caipirinha, mojito, etc) as well as our own creations using some of the fruits which are unique to Latin America such us lulo and mora. To welcome the summer, starting immediately, we are having a happy hour every day from 5.00 – 7.00pm when you can get two cocktails for the price of one.
New Wine
The wines of Chile and Argentina are as bold and flavorful as the Latin food, but also these days increasingly complex and elegant. We had a massive tasting of new wines from all of our suppliers last month – it's a tough job but someone has to do it – and we've revamped our list considerably as a result.
To take just one example we have added a new Torrentes from Bodegas Colome. Torrentes is the white variety unique to Argentina, typically it has fresh aromas of grapefruit, roses and apricot, really good for a warm summer's evening. We also added some wines from Michel Rolland, possibly the best-known winemaker on the planet, who is producing tremendous wines out of Mendoza, Argentina. A stunning example on our list is the 2004 Val de Flores Malbec – complex on the nose with a great balance of jammy red fruit, floral peppery notes and mild spice. Who said South America doesn't produce great wine?
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Facebook page, or following our tweets. You'll get instant updates on what's going on here, and we also intend to offer special last minute "treats" that will be only be available for those who receive our tweets or Facebook updates. Don't get left behind and don't miss out! Sabor fans will be the first to know about fun freebie's that we offer from time to time. We also hope that we can use these updates to share information with you about all the great Latin concerts, films, and other shows going on in London all the time - and that you will share some updates with us.