We're light years beyond the Goya aisle here.
August 11, 2011 5:16 AM   Subscribe

We're light years beyond the Goya aisle here.

Just discovered a supermarket that, due to location, is stocked to the gills with Latin American staples--probably about 70% of the stock in every category (produce, dairy, meats/fish, frozen foods, candy, dry goods, beverages, etc.). We're talking 3-4 different varieties of chorizo and farmer's cheese, because there are (clearly labeled as such) Ecuadorian, Colombian, Mexican and/or Dominican varieties. Root vegetables I have never seen before, other mysterious and wonderful looking items I wouldn't know where to begin with (packaged or fresh), even though I consider myself a pretty experienced and adventurous amateur cook.

What must I buy/try? Packaged treats or ingredients for scratch cooking. Any good recipes to recommend? (I've already brought home an octopus for salad and can stomach anything short of--heh--tripe.)
posted by availablelight to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mora, or Andean blackberry. You'll probably find it frozen. Thaw it out and drink the juice, or add it to a smoothie, or have it with Dulce de Leche (Arequipe). It is delicious, and tastes like a cross between blackberry and raspberry.
posted by nickhb at 5:31 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Guava paste can be used in a thousand ways. Here are ten (very popular inside of pastries though)

Also, have yourself a dulce de leche tasting party. Either all the brands or different ways to use it. Me, I just put it on ice cream or crepes.

Mora, for smoothies and pies and and and just eat them. They come frozen, usually in blocks.

The cheeses. Oh, man. You'll never put cheddar on a taco again. OK, maybe you will. But queso blanco or queso fresco might still change you life. Again, try all the brands. Make it a party, blind taste testing, have your friends fill out comment cads.
posted by bilabial at 5:35 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: --Get some Masa - the vital ingredient in making your own tamales. See if they have corn husks too.

--Hominy to make your own pozole

--In the produce aisle, do they have chayotes? If so, steam them and eat them with a bit of salt.
posted by vacapinta at 5:35 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tortilla press for making these flour tortillas and some masa or masa harina for making corn tortillas. Three or four varieties of chorizo? Ooooh, what fun!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:36 AM on August 11, 2011

Get tomatillos (green tomato-like vegetables in husks). Cook them into a sauce with garlic and jalepeno for use on enchiladas or burritos.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:38 AM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Also, if they have Jicama, you just rinse it, slice it up and put it into salads. It is sweet and potato-ey in texture.
posted by vacapinta at 5:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, if they have tejocotes, then you can make tejocote punch which is unlike anything else I've tasted.

I also like to slice tejocotes and put them in a small bowl with a bit of honey. Incredible taste.
posted by vacapinta at 5:43 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yellow arepas with queso blanco! Make your own arepas from maza (make sure it's yellow for this dish) or buy them frozen
posted by nickhb at 5:46 AM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: OH! I forgot about jamaica tea. It sounds like Ha-My-ka, and it's hibiscus. So tasty.
posted by bilabial at 5:53 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, also tamarind to make tamarindo
posted by vacapinta at 5:59 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

They're more of a Caribbean thing, but: Platanitos!

Look for boniato, also, which is very similar to a sweet potato.

Seconding chayote, which is also good fried and salted in a little bit of oil. Also seconding the flor de jamaica for tea. Delicious!
posted by jquinby at 5:59 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of my favorite recent finds was cartons of chica morada, a Peruvian purple corn drink. The closest thing I might compare it to is spiced cranberry juice. I'd be checking out the other soft drinks as well, especially for sodas with sugar instead of corn syrup. Mexican Coca Cola and Squirt are great. Jaritos sodas are also good.

You mentioned root vegetables and I would suggest trying boniato if they have it. It's sweeter than a baking potato, but not as sweet as a sweet potato.

They may also have better mangoes than your average supermarket, which tend to have those terrible, stringy Tommy Atkins softballs.

I really like tamarinds, and you might be able to find those fresh. Think of a more tart version of a dried apricot.

Also, since it's summer, look for mamoncillos/genips/quenepas/spanish limes. All the same fruit, but with lots of different names. They're related to lychees. They don't ship well though, so depending on where you are, that might be a long shot.

Sour orange is great for making marinades, as is bottled mojo.

You might be able to get fresh aloe there too. Peeled and mashed, it's good to use topically on sunburns, etc.

And do they have prepared foods? I used to live near a market where I could get a whole roasted chicken and a pound of fresh corn tortillas for about $7.

Or a bakery? Fresh Cuban bread is a glorious thing (but not vegetarian, because if it's the real deal, it probably has lard).

Do you drink coffee? Try Bustello or Pilon. Or see if they have tablets of spiced Mexican chocolate for making hot chocolate (or turning into ice cream).

Also, if you're feeling ambitious, this might be a good place to take a Diana Kennedy cookbook and stock up on different chiles and herbs.
posted by 6and12 at 6:16 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

YES please do make and hungrily devour all the arepas in all the land. Stuff some pulled pork in there with the cheese for variety (and also because if you eat 2 dozen of the cheese ones you will be so constipated.)
posted by elizardbits at 6:18 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There will be a lot of hot sauces, some of them familiar. Look for the yellower aji pepper based ones from Ecuador or Peru. The peppers are a different species/subspecies than usual, and the flavor is different and interesting, usually on the mild to medium side.

If you like tamales, there may be a good selection in the freezer case. Quality can vary, but the convenience factor is high.
posted by gimonca at 6:40 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, yes! Nthing mora.

When I lived in Ecuador, there was this "fruit... shake thing" made from mora called Chicha Morada. It was commonly consumed for the Day of The Dead celebrations. Please make it. And send me some. Please.
posted by functionequalsform at 6:41 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, preview, 6and12. I got excited.
posted by functionequalsform at 6:42 AM on August 11, 2011

Plantains and a tostonera to make tostones.
posted by penguinicity at 7:07 AM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Oh, one more - La Lechonera brand mojo has been the go-to standard for mojo criollo in my family for years and years. Marinade a pork roast in it. Divine stuff. I've also tossed a small amount over cold pasta for lunch.
posted by jquinby at 7:41 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get crema. It's like sour cream with cream cheese mixed in. At my local stores, they have varieties for seemingly every country in central America, plus Mexico and a general "centroamericano" version. From what I can tell, they vary by thickness. I like salvadorena best.
posted by oreofuchi at 7:49 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Huitlacoche, or "corn smut". Don't let the name fool you, it's considered a delicacy in Mexico. It's essentially a mushroom that has an earthy flavor with a very strong umami component. The simplest preparation is just on a tortilla with some queso. You can often find it canned.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Mexican Coke.
posted by mkultra at 7:51 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: bilabial: "OH! I forgot about jamaica tea. It sounds like Ha-My-ka, and it's hibiscus. So tasty."

Came in to recommed this. I'm also a big fan of another aguas frescas, Horchata.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:02 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Chiles are fun to play with. Get yourself some cascabel, some ancho, some guajillo, to start. Make salsas out of them to get a feeling for each variety.
If you want to get really adventurous, you can always try Rick Bayless' Black Mole.
posted by Gilbert at 10:15 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cane sugar is usually a lot cheaper at central american grocery stores, if that sort of thing appeals to you.

I am a fan of Tropo chico mineral water in the glass bottles.

Cheap spices and dried peppers.

Canned chipotle peppers in adobo. I've been happy with any of the salsas we've bought (usually ~$.77 for a small can).
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:20 AM on August 11, 2011

I mentioned Mexican Coca Cola.
posted by 6and12 at 11:07 AM on August 11, 2011

different kinds of cheese!! chihuahua, fresco, whatever. and epazote. mexican oregano, to compare to italian. the sugar cones--panela or something like that? mexican coke and jarritos, etc. stuff to make elote with. tamale husks. huitlacoche. those tablets for hot chocolate. la lechera-type canisters for making Alton Brown's premixed hot cocoa powder maybe? maybe green mangoes aren't in Mexican cuisine, but i find them most easily in these kinds of emporiums (sooo good shredded for salad with nuts and Thai or Filipino flavors, ummm).

for recipes I recommend checking out books by Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless. lots of Mexican stuff does well in slow cookers by the way--the long simmering stewy stuff.
posted by ifjuly at 11:32 AM on August 11, 2011

and if you're adventurous, those cactus paddles.
posted by ifjuly at 11:32 AM on August 11, 2011

ohohoh, and stuff to make agua fresca with--jamaica/hibiscus flowers, horchata ingredients.
posted by ifjuly at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2011

nthing canned chiles in adobo (though those are everywhere, at least where i live). super excellent to kick up the flavors of stuff like sweet potato hominy soup, for example.
posted by ifjuly at 11:34 AM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: sorry keep thinking of stuff. honey is often cheaper in places like this, and in my experience actually tastes better. also check out unusual jam flavors like guava, mango, watermelon, etc. there are also those intricate wrapped gelatinous looking candies with passion fruit and other unusual flavors.
posted by ifjuly at 11:36 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: oh oh oh! and if you get a ton of different kinds of root veggies--boniato, yucca, malanga, name--to go with your plantains and chorizo, you could make David Rosengarten's Ajiaco, which along with tamales, smoky citrus Cuban pork shoulder, and his recipe for chilaquiles are the best Hispanic dishes I have ever made, lordy.
posted by ifjuly at 11:45 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The cactus paddles (a.k.a. nopales) don't even take much adventurousness. Most stores will sell them with the spines already off, and you can also get them in a jar if you want to go the total convenience route. They taste pretty mild — like green beans, but a little tangy too. Highly recommended!

If you can get the drier yellowish-whitish sweet potatoes (rather than the moist bright orange ones you see in most of the US) those are also very good.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:51 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh! And look into soup bones. Oxtails make wonderful stock. (Though you should avoid them if you're worried about mad cow disease. On the other hand, if you're not worried, lemme know and I'll post you my ex-godmother-in-law's oxtail stew recipe, which is to die for.) Chicken feet are also great — they make just the thickest glossiest chicken stock you've ever seen. But even just ordinary beef shinbones and neckbones for soup tend to be fresher and more plentiful at ethnic markets than they are at the white-folks supermarket.

Another thing ethnic markets will beat most supermarkets on is organ meat. If you think you don't like organ meat, try beef or chicken hearts — either grilled like a steak (go very rare if you do this) or stewed very long and slow. They really don't taste at all "organ-y." They're just super-meaty-tasting, and don't get stringy in stew the way that e.g. pot roast can get stringy. Gizzards are similarly wonderful in stew, though you have to cook them for a long-ass time before they get tender.

Oh, and goat. Keep an eye out around Easter. If they advertise spring goat kids, you want one. Get it cut up on the bone and make stew or curry.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:58 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Epazote. Odd herb that tastes really interesting with black beans. Might be an acquired taste... has been mentioned already above but I just want to point it out again because it's such a unique flavor and so commonly used in southern Mexico.
posted by belau at 8:29 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

nebulawindphone, I would like that oxtail recipe, please.
posted by 6and12 at 9:43 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding everything above.

Also, I recommend Latin & Caribbean Grocery Store Demystified.
posted by desuetude at 10:46 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Needless to say there's no measurements. But here's what you need:
  • Half a bottle of "the cheapest, fruitiest rosé wine you can find." (Though from painful experience I can tell you that you do want actual wine made entirely from grapes here, and not some sort of Thunderbird-like concoction.)
  • A pound or so of meaty oxtails, with as much of the fat trimmed off as you can manage. I love me some fatty beef, but seriously, these things are plenty greasy even when you trim them well.
  • A few cloves of garlic, chopped fine, and a bit of olive oil to sauté it in.
  • A packet of Sazón Goya.
  • Also, you need ingredients and seasonings for the sofrito that everything's going to simmer with. The mnemonic for this part is that there are three sets of three. You need....
    1. Three fresh veggies: tomato, onion, green bell pepper. Roughly equal amounts, enough to cover all the meat in the pan. Chop them up fine.
    2. Three canned veggies: green olives, pimientos, capers. Half a jar of Goya alcaparrado (which includes all three) is about right. Get the kind with no pits in the olives.
    3. Three spices: oregano, cumin, paprika. Just use common sense on the amounts here.
Brown the oxtails — under the broiler if your oven has a good broiler, otherwise in a skillet. Basically get them really brown, on the highest heat you can manage.

Meanwhile, get a nice big pan. Fry up the garlic in a little bit of olive oil. Add the three fresh veggies and fry them until they start breaking down into undifferentiated flavorful mush. Add the three spices and cook for a minute more. Add the three canned veggies and the rosé wine, and cook it uncovered for another few minutes, so that it reduces down and gets thick again. After you reduce it, add some Sazón Goya, tasting as you go to make sure it doesn't get too salty, because that stuff is like 99% salt and MSG.

At this point, the oxtails go in the pan, and the whole thing goes on a back burner with a lid to simmer for two or three hours. You want the meat tender but not mushy.

Serve it with white rice. If there are a few green peas in with the rice, you get Extra Cuban Bonus Points. Also, if it were up to me, a gin and tonic with extra lime would be a mandatory accompaniment, but at least have a beer or something.

posted by nebulawindphone at 3:36 PM on August 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I'd favorite every reply if it didn't seem ridiculous...you all are fantastic. Have already tried some of the suggestions, and look forward to going back to try more.
posted by availablelight at 3:41 AM on August 15, 2011

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