The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martínez, documents the vibrant food and culture of one of earth’s most extraordinary geographical regions. Often referred to as the “world’s pantry,” the lands and coasts of Latin America yield an almost endless larder of ingredients, and have given rise to globally popular dishes such as arepas, empanadas, sweet breads, tacos, tortillas, tamales, and much more.
Following years of painstaking research, Martínez—celebrated chef at Peru’s Central and World’s 50 Best regular—guides readers on how to make everything from “Goat Stew” and “Chilean Sandwich Cookies” to “Green Mango Salad” and beverages like “Fermented Corn Juice.”
The incredible range of cuisines from Mexico’s tropical coasts to the icy islands at the foot of South America are documented comprehensively in this collection, bringing to life the vibrancy of Latin America and its myriad influences—Indigenous, European, Asian, and beyond.
Spanning 22 countries, the book features 600 iconic, specialty, and locally distinctive home cooking recipes, showcasing the rich diversity of its peoples and food cultures. Martínez consulted with over 60 sources, including village elders, home cooks, anthropologists, and old-world cookbooks. He is co-founder, along with his sister Malena Martínez, of Mater Iniciativa, the internationally-acclaimed research arm that documents indigenous foods of Peru and Latin America. This organization was also deeply involved, making for a thoroughly researched, exhaustive and definitive book on the region’s cuisine for years to come.
Peruvian food photographer Jimena Agois documented 165 of the recipes in the book, styled with regional dishware and linens, and there are additional evocative images of the landscape and environs taken by the volume’s co-author, the esteemed food and travel writer Nicholas Gill. The book also features a wealth of narrative, including a beautiful introduction by the author on the culture of the region’s food, introductory texts with each recipe that place them in a specific culinary and cultural context, 50 stories throughout about specific ingredients, chapter opener texts and a comprehensive glossary at the back of the book.
Each section follows a specific food group: Breads & Baked Goods, Sandwiches; Grains, Quinoa & Amaranth; Corn; Garden Vegetables; Beans & Lentils; Fruit; Dairy & Eggs; Fish & Seafood; Beef; Pork; Poultry; Native Meats & Insects; Lamb & Goat; Sweets; Drinks; as well as Salsas & Condiments. These recipes produce a vibrant layering of flavors, textures, and aromas distinct to Latin American cooking. Lastly, the book features our now familiar recipe icons indicating which dishes are vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, take 5 ingredients or fewer, and ones that can be made in 30 minutes or less.
The flat-bottomed saltena, with its stewed interior, is like the soup dumpling of empanadas. Despite its name, which refers to the Argentine city of Salta, this baked empanada actually has its origins in Bolivia. During the dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas in the nineteenthcentury, a writer named Juana Manuela Gorriti, from Salta, was exiled to Potosí just over the border in Bolivia, and came up with the recipe as a way to make a living. People in Potosi would often say go and pick up an empanada from “la Salteña”, the woman from Salta. The nickname stuck and eventually the form left Potosi and spread around Bolivia, with many regions creating their own versions.
To add to the confusion, the city of Salta is also known for its empanadas, which in Argentina are generally referred to as empanadas salteñas. The fillings are more similar to the Bolivian version than they are to other empanadas in Argentina and it’s served with a spicy sauce similar to the Bolivian hot sauce llajua, though the dough is quite different and the repulgue(seam) is usually on the side rather than the top like those in Bolivia.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
For the dough:
5 cups (1 lb 7 oz/650 g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 mL) melted butter
2 egg yolks
½ cup (4 fl oz/120 mL) warm water with ½ tbsp salt added
1 whole egg, beaten, to glaze
For the filling:
½ cup (4 fl oz/120 mL) melted lard
2 white onions, chopped
1 fresh ají amarillo (see note), chopped
1 lb (450 g) ground beef (or use shredded chicken)
5 cups (40 fl oz/1.2 L) beef stock
1 gelatin leaf, soaked in ice-cold water
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
6 peeled and boiled potatoes, cut in small cubes
1 cup (4 ½ oz/130 g) cooked peas
1 tbsp ají amarillo paste (see note)
Salt and ground pepper
Heat the lard for the filling in a large frying pan until very hot. Sauté the onions and fresh chili for 8 minutes or until soft and brown. Add the beef, cook for 4 minutes then pour in the stock with the squeezed-out gelatin and let it simmer for about 35 minutes. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat. Add the potatoes and peas and place in the refrigerator until needed.
For the dough, mix the flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the melted butter and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the egg yolks and slowly stir in the warm, salted water. Knead into a soft and uniform dough with your hands, then place on a floured surface and roll it out with a rolling pin to a thin sheet, about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/Gas Mark 4).
Using a 4 ½-inch (11-cm) round cutter, stamp out discs from the dough and place on a lined baking sheet. Place a full tablespoon of the filling in the middle of each disc. Using your finger, wet the edges of the disc with water, and fold the empanadas in half to seal.
Brush with beaten egg and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Note: Ají amarillo is an orange chili that’s widely used throughout the Andean region, especially in Peruvian cuisine. It has a bright, fruity flavour and heat that’s roughly equivalent to a tobacco chili. Many recipes call for it in the form of paste, which can be store-bought or homemade, and it’s often used in sauces. They can also be used raw, ground into a powder, or fried. When dried, they’re called ají mirasol.
Recipe reprinted with permission from © 2021 Phaidon Press.