How to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in your Kitchen
In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, taking a look at the importance of food as central to the culture is an essential foundation for understanding and enjoying all that is Hispanic Culture.
Celebrated annually, this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15th to October 15th and is a perfect opportunity to celebrate and explore all the diversity that is Hispanic cuisine.
The cultures that span from the Caribbean to North and South America, Mexico to Central America, and beyond have unique delicacies in the cuisine is a way to share and respect the histories, the stories, and the passion that is Hispanic Culture.
While the language is the common denominator in Hispanic Culture, there are plenty of differences even within the language.
Just as the language is unique to regions, the cuisine has some standard features while highlighting various historical differences based on the different areas. While differences in dialect and spices may vary, what these dishes don’t lack is delicious flavor.
When people think of Hispanic cuisine, most of the time, Mexican food comes to mind. But anyone that knows Latin American culture knows that there is so much more to Hispanic food than only Mexican food.
To help you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, here’s a list by region of some of the flavors and dishes to inspire you. Of course, there are countless options available, but this list is designed to highlight some of the more signature dishes and unique flavors for each region.
Food As A Bond In Hispanic Culture
In every culture, food is a central component toward building cohesion and bonds within societies. There are numerous reasons for this to be true, from sharing different recipes based on available produce to sharing family and regional history to creating friendships and making deals between rival factions.
Food is central to understanding others, showing compassion, and camaraderie. In other words, food acts as a social adhesive bringing different people of various ages and interests together.
It’s been said that in times of trouble, food is one of the first things that brings people together and adds comfort to those struggling. In better times, food is used to celebrate life and events of meaning. In other words, food brings the world together one bite at a time.
One of the ways you can honor Hispanic Heritage is to understand the role that food plays in each culture, whether it’s to comfort and nourish, share in the tradition, and understand each region’s history.
In honor of the power that food plays on societies, let’s look at some of the most predominant regions and the types of foods represented by each.
Diversity in Hispanic Cuisine By Region
From North America to South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, the food that represents Hispanic cuisine is as varied and diverse as the regions it means. Likewise, from tropical to dry, the areas that span the Western Hemisphere create unique dishes representing the histories, families, and comfort foods for the area’s people.
The broad range of territory that spans Latin America and the rest of the western hemisphere offers a wide array of different cuisines. Some dishes represent foods made from locally influenced food sources, while others have European influences due to the immigration of people from the European continent and Asia.
Regardless of how you slice it, Hispanic cuisine is something that is everywhere and should be celebrated for its uniqueness, diversity, and most of all, its deliciousness.
In the United States, Hispanic food is thought to be Mexican in origin. It’s the most prevalent style, but even then, it’s very diverse. There is the Tex-Mex version, the Southern California and Northern California styles, New Mexico, and the Southwest versions of the basics.
When people think of “Mexican” food, the thoughts are tacos or burritos. Typically based on corn, the foundation of Mexican cuisine focuses on using corn tortillas as the vehicle for salsas, beef, chicken, seafood, or pork, with a specific spice profile of jalapenos, serranos, cilantro, avocado, and cumin. In addition, the use of chili peppers is common in most Mexican dishes to create the spicy heat and flavor profiles well known with Mexican cuisine.
Enchiladas are another popular dish in Mexican cuisine. Enchiladas are made from corn tortillas stuffed with meats, beans, covered in cheese, and layered in salsa, either green or red.
If you’re in the mood for more protein and wish to have shareable dishes, consider fajitas. Usually made from marinated beef on a sizzling platter, serve up the fajitas with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, with fresh tortillas. Add a side of rice and beans to compliment the dish.
Central American - El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica
The cuisine is less spicy in the Central American region, with dominant pork, chicken, and seafood.
Chorizo is a big deal, especially paired with red or black beans along with white rice. Plantains are common as a side dish or vehicle for protein, much like tortillas in Mexican food.
Tropical fruits such as mangoes, papaya, tamarind, and pineapple provide sweetness and bright acidity to dishes to serve as substitutions for the chili peppers found in most Mexican dishes.
Baleadas is a Honduran breakfast dish served anytime. It’s essentially a bean and egg taco, but in reality, it’s so much more. This dish, made with corn tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs and refried beans, Baleadas are topped with cheese and sour cream for the perfect bites every time.
Unique to Costa Rica is a dish known affectionately as the “painted rooster,” or Gallo Pinto. The indigenous Ticos created the plate, and it’s one made of a combination of beans and seasoned rice.The Caribbean - Cuba, Puerto Rico, and The Dominican Republic
The region located in the Caribbean shares the idea of Hispanic cuisine with a seafood emphasis. White rice with black beans is typical, and daily menus include plenty of plantains as a side or main serving. Tropical fruits paired with garlic and herbs are dominant in the cuisine, with guava, mango, and papaya being everyday staples to provide a freshness to the dishes.
A popular dish of the region is ropa vieja - translated as “old clothes” in Spanish. But, don’t worry, you’re not eating a dish made from old clothes. Instead, it’s a term of endearment, one that harkens to a comfort food made from some leftover scraps of beef shredded in a sauce of tomatoes and bell peppers, seasoned with cumin, paprika, and oregano.
South America - North - Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Belize
In the region of the northern portion of South America, Beef is one of the protein stables. Seafood is prevalent, especially in coastal areas, and sofrito is a common base for dishes. Sofrito is made from bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and garlic and serves as a “Mirepoix” of South American dishes. Staples are white rice and black beans, either whole or mashed, with cornmeal as a base for many dishes. Potatoes, including the boniato (a sweet potato), are utilized in dishes with spicy peppers married with tropical fruit compotes for sauces and toppings.
With a lot of territories in this part of South America abutting the ocean, of course, a seafood dish would be the main staple.
In Ecuador, shrimp ceviche is king. A dish made by marinating shrimp in an acidic brine made from citrus, typically lime, onions, and salt. In Ecuadorian cuisine, the shrimp are lightly cooked before adding to the sauce to create a smoky, peppery flavor. The sauce is made of tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, cilantro, and oil. Serve with tortilla chips as a scoop, and you have the perfect light yet filling meal.
The eastern side of South America hosts the territory of Belize. One of the favorite local dishes is the Chimole, the “black dinner.” A fusion of Mayan and Mexican cultures created the mole-style chicken dish prepared with spices and seasons local to the area.
South America - South - Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay
Well known for beef dishes, the area of the southern portion of South America is famous for steaks, ribs, chorizo, and more.
Sweetbreads are popular, and as a yucca vegetable is known as mandioca to be served as a side dish, located in the region of Patagonia.
Seafood is another staple to the cuisine as the area is bordered on either side by the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. In certain areas, such as the southernmost part of Argentina, substitute beef for lamb and goat dishes.
The historical influence of European cuisine has fostered the popularity of past and baked dishes such as the empanada, a pastry stuffed with eggs, proteins, sofrito, and other vegetables. Side dishes may include legumes such as chickpeas or pumpkin, while fruits that grow in cooler climates such as apples are extremely popular.
Barbeque is huge in the southernmost part of South America, but the empanada stands above even great BBQ, as mentioned earlier. A stuffed pastry served with or without sauce such as chimichurri (an oil-based sauce similar to pesto made with parsley), the empanada can be filled with chicken, beef, olives, corn, spinach, and/or cheese.
In Chile, the popular dishes include Ajiaco, a meat soup made of leftovers but more than just leftovers. This delicious soup is made with meat, potatoes, onion, green chiles, salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. This soup is hearty and rumored to cure what ails the body, including a local hangover remedy.
Not to be overlooked when discussing Hispanic Cuisine is the world-famous wine varietals of Chile and Argentine. The mild, subtropical climate is superb for red wines such as the cabernet Sauvignons and Carmenere blends, yet the most recognized Argentinian varietal is the Malbec.
Celebrate The Richness Of Hispanic Cuisine
Food brings people together, creates communities, and serves as a source of tradition and pride in societies. Whether it’s using locally influenced recipes based on the ingredients of the region, or a fusion of imported favorites and local recipes, Hispanic cuisine is one that is delicious and comforting for every occasion.
Regardless of how you plan to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, there’s a dish for you. You can make these or any number of dishes each and every day, whether you’re hosting people, making a delicious, filling meal for the family, or simply want to explore the richness that is Hispanic cuisine.
Most Hispanic cuisine is steeped in history, rich in flavors, and unique to the geographic region it stems from.
Plan your dinners out to celebrate the vibrant flavors, enjoy a simple breakfast from the region of your choice, and steep yourself in the timelessness that is Hispanic cuisine.