Sunday 23 August 2009

The Colombian Exchange and Food Fusion

This is the second part of our occasional posts about the history of Latin American food. Check out the introductory article here. At Sabor Restaurant we're interested in all the possibilities of cooking inspired by Latin American ingredients and techniques.

When Columbus returned to the New World on his second voyage, he brought cuttings for such Old World favourites as wheat, chickpeas, onions, garlic, cauliflower, bean sprouts, beets, radishes, spinach, lettuce, melons, oranges, grapefruits, lemons, pears, apricots, almonds, sugar cane, cherries, and figs. The exchange had begun. Many of the Old World plants (which had their origins in Asia and Africa as well as in Europe) adapted quickly to their new home. Sugar cane, in particular, grew well, becoming one of the staples of the economies of the islands. He also brought cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens, which quickly multiplied, thanks to the rich grass and other vegetation.

In contrast to the North America explorers, who brought their wives with them, the Spaniards in the south didn't bring women from home and instead depended on Indian women to prepare their foods. These creative women used their own foods and techniques, as well as the foods the Spaniards brought, to create new dishes that would be acceptable to Europeans, thus giving birth to the creole cuisine of Latin America. The Indians quickly adopted European animal foods, and pigs and chickens became part of Indian households. Unfortunately, for many Indians the greater variety of foodstuffs did not represent an improvement in lifestyle. However the Spaniards introduced to the New World a wide range of new ingredients, techniques, and culinary customs, just as the Moors had done in Spain over the preceding centuries.

The first settlers came from Andalusia, and their heritage is still very strong in the Andean countries. They brought oranges and olives, spices such as cumin and saffron, and the use of nuts and olive oil in cooking, which they inherited from the Moors. Tapas were invented in Andalusia, and variations of them can be found in every Latin American country, including empanadas, pinchos (small shish kebabs), croquettes, and escabeches (pickled foods), to name just a few. On the other hand, the influence of the Basques, who settled in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, is reflected in the penchant there for using fruits in savoury dishes.

The Portuguese also were arriving in South America during this period, claiming and settling along the east coast. They started their exploration in the 1500's, not long after their rivals in Spain had discovered the continent. Their influence is seen most in Brazil, where the Portuguese language is spoken and Portuguese customs and foods blended with myriad other influences to shape the region. The Dutch and French settled in other parts of Latin America, but they were not major players in the region. The Portuguese experience was different from the Spanish. In the first place, the Portuguese had no problem adapting to the tropical climate, because they were more predisposed to the tropics than the Spaniards. They brought their own foods, too, including sugar cane, bacalhau (salt cod), olives, sausages, wine for cooking, and the widespread use of eggs, cloves, cinnamon, and sugar, which the Portuguese inherited from the Moors. They also brought dishes such as cozidos (stews), cuscuz (couscous), codfish cakes, and pork with clams.

The Portuguese soon realized that the forest was extremely important as a source of food and that the Indians living there would have to teach them how those foods were processed. The Tupi-Guarani Indians had been growing cassava for about 5,000 years in the Amazon forest of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. This root was the bread of the natives in those areas, and the Portuguese quickly adopted it in all its forms, almost to the exclusion of the wheat they brought with them. They loved the freshly made cassava bread, and many believed it to be more nourishing and digestible than wheat bread. (Ironically, cassava is nutritionally inferior to wheat).

Cassava became the basis of the Portuguese diet, and today it is part of the daily diet of millions of people in Brazil. In some areas of Venezuela and Colombia, cassava bread is consumed more than cornbread or wheat bread. Later on, when Portuguese women started to arrive, Indian women taught them how to make all sorts of delicate confections with the cassava. They also taught them the process of fermentation, which was used to prepare some of their delicacies. For example, they prepared wonderful preserves and the carimii cakes that have nourished Brazilian children for generations. The natives of Amazonia contributed the famous fish pirarucu, which in northern Brazil is sometimes more important than salt cod or beef jerky. The turtle is another important food of the region, because of the variety of its uses. Brazilians use the meat, as well as the innards, in a number of unusual dishes. They also use turtle fat for cooking. Today turtles are raised in sizes that range from the size of a hand to three to four feet in diameter. The Indians had many uses for corn as well. Fresh corn was ground to make pamuna, which was wrapped in cornhusks. Today this dish is called pamonhas, and the corn is mixed with coconut and sugar and steamed like a tamal, a contribution of Brazil's African cooks. Another Indian specialty is canjica, originally called acanijic, which has become a national dish. It is made with cracked dried corn or fresh corn. coconut, sugar, and cinnamon. The Indians contributed the practice of using leaves to wrap foods for cooking and hot peppers to season foods, which the Mrican slaves embraced wholeheartedly.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Elegant South American Wines

It is a generally held belief that all New World wines are powerful, full of fruit, and perhaps a little brash. Whilst there are certainly many examples which support this notion, it is far from being a universal truth. In South America, there are many vineyards planted in cool climate, mountainous regions, and these can be as subtle and delicate as any European wine.
A good example is the Julio Bouchon Carmenere Reserva. This has a solid gratifying core of fruit, but presents it with an elegance reminiscent of a fine St Emilion from Bordeaux. A cool mouthfeel and soft tannins combine to make this a wine one can readily enjoy in the summer. Although it has plenty of structure to stand up to pairing with food, it is a long way from the blockbuster red some might anticipate.
Another excellent example is the Bosca Chardonnay Finca Los Nobles from Argentina. This has a real minerality, and an abundance of citrus flavours to complement its’ depth of flavour, and surprising length. The closest comparison I can find is to a Chassagne Montrachet from Burgundy, and it is remarkable value in that company.
These are just two examples of wines which might just surprise with their complexity and sheer class. Many others can be found in the region, and on the Sabor wine list!

Friday 14 August 2009

Discovering Latin America - Charities 2009

Every year the good folks at Discovering Latin America choose two good causes in Latin America to be the beneficiaries of the cultural events organised by DLA for the forthcoming year. This year’s choices were made in July, and Kiya Peru have been selected as the charity to be supported by the 8th Discovering Latin America Film Festival, which takes place later this year, whilst the proceeds of the first Discovering Latin America Literature Festival will raise funds for Raleigh International in 2010. See below for more details.

Kiya Survivors - Peru

Kiya Survivors is a Peruvian charity building and working in educational centres catering for special-needs, abused and abandoned children. Kiya also offers support to young and violated women and families living in severe poverty.
The Mayor of Chinchero, Peru donated 2 buildings to Kiya Survivors to be used as a drop in centre in the village. The rooms are in a great location but are very run down and need doing up before we can commence work in them. The drop in centre will provide immediate onsite physiotherapy, speech therapy, early stimulation sessions including weekly baby massage, support from a social worker to help families with re-housing, water/electricity installation, health issues and getting work along with a psychologist to support children and families in abusive or difficult situations at home. Food and milk would also be provided along with vitamins and regular health checks including an anti-parasite programme.

Families living in severe poverty with children who have some form of special needs will also benefit of this project. Right now Kiya supports 20 families and hopes, with our funding,to support 50 families.

Raleigh - Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Raleigh is a youth and education charity working for sustainable development based permanently in Costa Rica & Nicaragua. The aim of this project is to build a primary school for the children of Ximiri in the ChirripĆ³ Indigenous Reserve in Costa Rica. The local development association has asked Raleigh International to help in the construction of the new school. The project has been approved but they have no funding to build it. The money will be used for materials and construction of the facilities.

Children who attend the school, local labourers during construction, teachers and parents for having facilities to support the education of children will be the direct beneficiaries of this project supported by DLA.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Alex Wilson’s Salsa Con Soul Orchestra, Ronnie Scotts, 3rd - 4th September

Our friends at London Salsa Scene tell us that one of our favourite musicians Alex Wilson has more shows coming up at Ronnie Scotts - here's what they have to say:
"Somewhere between London and Havana, volcanic activity has triggered the emergence of a new tropical island – Salsa Con Soul.
Catch the eruption as Alex Wilson (right) and his 12 piece Salsa Con Soul Orchestra let rip with their latest high energy fusion at three concerts at the legendary Ronnie Scotts in London's Soho, Thursday 3rd - Friday 4th September.
Salsa Con Soul is the latest destination on Alex Wilson's circumnavigation of world rhythms and beats. The UK's top Latin/jazz piano man/band leader and featured instrumentalists will deliver driving salsa dura, laced with deeply felt soul and gospel vocals, drenched in Latin flavas, beats and rhythms at three concerts (early and late concerts Friday 4th September - book the late one if you want to stay on).
This is an opportunity to hear some of the most authentic and tastiest salsa grooves you’ll hear anywhere in the world played live by the UK's No1 salsa crew and some of the finest salsa musicians around. Alex Wilson will play tracks from his 6th and latest album Salsa Con Soul (2008), his first totally dedicated to a genre he has made his own, salsa with soul, cranked up with bone aching gospel vocals. Expect to hear too some of Wilson's best known tunes - “Ain’t Nobody” & “Show Me” from his 5th album Inglaterra and “R&B Latino” from the eponymous album, with vocals from Aquilla Fearon, Niaomi Phillips & Elpidio Caicedo.
Wilson’s 5th album Inglaterra was his first to feature the fire water of Salsa Dura neat, with tracks like Show Me and Ain’t Nobody appearing on 10 compilation albums and burning up dance floors in salsa clubs across the UK. This was another ground-breaking album, featuring the first ever Brit-Reggaeton-Salsa track and the first fusion of Cuban rhythms with Bhangra beats. Wilson's 3rd album - R&B Latino - created a cocktail of Cuban rhythms and R&B to blow away the cobwebs on the dance floor.
With Salsa Con Soul, Alex Wilson has continued his relentless assault, only this time the burning yin fires of soul and gospel infuse the muscular, urgent yang drive of Cuban timba and hard salsa, creating a sensual, romantic vibe made for Ronnie's crepuscular hallows."
Ronnie Scott’s: 020 7439 0747 or visit: and and
Salsa Con Soul Orchestra line-up: Alex Wilson - Keyboards - (Courtney Pine, Jazz Jamaica); Aquilla Fearon - Vocals; Naomi Phillips - Vocals; Elpidio Caicedo - Vocals; Steve Dawson - Trumpet; Annette Brown - Trumpet; Trevor Mires - Trombone; Alistair White - Trombone; Javier Fioramonti - Bass; Emeris Solis - Congas; Dave Pattman - Timbales; Will Fry - Bongos