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Give Your Flan a Savory Makeover


“It’s black. It’s ugly. But it’s yummy.”

Huitlacoche Flan

Huitlacoche Flan

That was Josefina Santacruz’s description of huitlacoche, a corn fungus or smut that’s highly prized for its earthy flavor. The chef, who divides her time between restaurants in New York and Mexico City, showcases its unique flavor in a savory flan that features heavy cream and a touch of epazote.

Santacruz served it at last week’s Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus. It makes a great side dish, she said, or even as a main course with fish on top. The version served at the conference featured sautéed wild mushrooms on top.

You can find canned huitacoche in the Mexican section of a great many supermarkets, but you might want to ask at places like Las Americas on San Pedro Avenue if they have a frozen version, which has a slightly firmer texture.

Huitlacoche Flan

3 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
Leek and Huitlacoche Mixture (recipe follows)
Chopped epazote, to taste
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Melted butter, to grease molds8 (4-ounce) aluminum molds

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Slightly beat eggs, just enough to break them down and get a homogenous mixture. Add cream, Leek and Huitlacoche Mixture, epazote, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly until well incorporated. Pour into the buttered molds, about 1/4 cup each.

Place in the oven in a hot waterbath at 300 to 325 degrees for 40 minutes or until set, but not too firm.

Cool and reserve, if making early.

For service, place in the oven and reheat. Unmold directly on the serving plate.

Makes 4 servings.

From Josefina Santacruz/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

Leek and Huitlacoche Mixture

2 ounces (2 tablespoons) butter
1 1/2 small leeks, chopped
4 ounces huitlacoche
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

In a saucepan, melt butter, add leeks and sweat until soft.

Add huitlacoche and mix in, season with salt and pepper. Cook until it becomes a nice even mixture and cooked.

Remove from heat and place on a sheet pan to cool down.

Note: If using raw huitlacoche, check the amount to ensure it produces 4 ounces cooked.

From Josefina Santacruz/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

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So, If the Ceviche Is Made in a Blender, Is It Authentic?


The chef is from Peru, land of ceviche. But his background is also Japanese. And he uses a Vitamix to make his ceviche, not to mention ingredients that go beyond the usual lime-seafood-chile mix.  So, is the food he’s preparing authentic?

Diego Oka is a culinary ambassador of Pervian cuisine.

Diego Oka is a culinary ambassador of Peruvian cuisine.

The question of authenticity came up time and again Thursday during the annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus. The annual get-together, which draws celebrity and international chefs, leaders in the food industry across America and food writers, dealt with whether it was authentic to make tacos using truffles, a mole with hazelnuts, a flan that mixed the corn fungus huitlacoche and leeks or mango mojito shrimp with a kale topping?

The issue went beyond one of mere fusion to the issue of whether these creations were authentic representations of the countries they’re associated with.

The answers varied from speaker to speaker, as Southwestern food pioneer and educator Mark Miller explained in a wrap-up of the day. For some, authenticity means employing the greatest simplicity in preparation. Others see it as meaning a lack of industrialization in the food; little is processed, everything is fresh.

For celebrity chef Rick Bayless of Chicago, the definition of authenticity has evolved over time. Early in his career, it meant a look back at the traditions that formed the basis of his cooking. Then he learned that his food should “not look backwards only, but take the wisdom of the past” and allow it to evolve into cuisine that his customers want. Today, he believes that authenticity is simply food that rings true to him.

Rick Bayless stresses his own brand of authenticity.

Rick Bayless stresses his own brand of authenticity.

But he readily admits that his choices are built on his foundation. Too many of today’s younger chefs don’t want to pay attention to the traditions or stories of where food comes from, said Rick Lopez, a San Antonio native who’s now head chef at Austin’s La Condesa, even though he appeared to be no older than the chefs he spoke of. “Tradition is great,” he said. “It’s where we learn.”

That brings us back to Diego Oka, the Peruvian chef with a Japanese background. “In Peru, we eat more salty, more spicy,” he said. So, both had to be cut down for sweet-loving American diners. To do that, he boils his aji amarillos, the spicy chiles at the heart of Peruvian cuisine, three times to cut down on the heat.

But his Cebiche Cremoso would work perfectly for American tastes, especially those in a hotter climate such as San Antonio’s. “When you think of ceviche, you think of the beach and the sun,” he said.

He seems to have captured that in the sun-colored sauce that’s spread over the dish that also features scallops. Yes, lime juice is used, including in a traditional leche de tigre, which Oka said was the “base of all ceviches.”

People don’t know much about Peru, Oka said, so staying true to the heart of the ceviche is important.

“We show our culture through our food,” he said.

Cebiche Cremoso

Leche de tigre:
3 cups lime juice
1 cup fumet or light fish stock
1/2 rib celery
1/2 habanero, seeded and deveined
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup ice
1 cup raw fish, such as halibut
1/4 red onion
Cilantro
Salt, to taste

Creamy scallops leche:
5 scallops
4 tablespoons aji amarillo paste (see note)
4 tablespoons aji rocoto paste
5 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup iceLeche de tigre (recipe above)
Salt

Chalaca sauce:
1 red onion, diced small
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced small
1/2 habanero, seeded and deveined
1/4 cancha corn (Peruvian corn nuts)
1/4 cup choclo (Peruvian corn), boiled
1 tablespoon green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice
Salt

12 Alaskan scallops
Micro cilantro, for garnish

Cebiche Cremoso

Cebiche Cremoso

For the leche de tigre: In a restaurant-style blender, such as a Vitamix, put the lime juice, fumet, celery, habanero, garlic, fish and ice; blend it for 10 seconds. At the end, add the red onion and cilantro (if we put it at the beginning, it will turn the leche de tigre muddy, which is not desired), and the salt, to taste. Then strain and keep it cool.

For the creamy scallops leche: Put the scallops and ice in a blender on medium speed, the add the canola oil slowly; once it has a thick texture, add the aji amarillo and the rocoto paste. Season with salt and lime juice. Then add slow the leche de tigre to the mix.

For the chalaca sauce: In a bowl, mix the red onion, tomato, habanero, cancha, choclo, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt.

To serve: In a serving bowl, place the scallops and top with the creamy scallops leche. Mix them and serve 2 or 3 pieces in a cold plate. Top with the chalaca sauce and finish with microgreens.

Note: Aji amarillo paste and other South American ingredients can be found at Las Americas Latin Market, 6623 San Pedro Ave., if you can’t find them at specialty supermarkets such as Central Market or Whole Foods.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Diego Oka/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

 

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Brighten Your Meal with an Easy Appetizer of Ceviche de Corvina Panameño


This ceviche recipe, which Panamanian chef Elena Hernández shared at the recent Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus, is an easy appetizer that is colorful, bright and refreshing.

Ceviche de Corvina Panameño

1 pound white sea bass (corvino),  fillet
Salt, to taste
2 ounces celery, finely chopped
4 ounces red onion, finely julienned
Juice of 8 limes
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ají chombo  (see note)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Thinly slice the fish.

Mix fish, salt, celery, onion, lime juice, cilantro, ají chombo and olive oil. Allow the mixture to cool for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Note: Ají chombo is a Panamanian pepper akin to habaneros, which can be used as a substitute.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Elena Hernández/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

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Aguas Frescas Are Refreshing More and More in the U.S.


It’s better to put ice in the glasses, so your agua fresca isn’t watered down.

Aguas frescas need no introduction in San Antonio. They are a colorful, cooling fixture at many of our best taquerias and come in bold flavors, such as sandia (watermelon), tamarindo and horchata (rice).

The more these drinks become popular elsewhere in the United States, the more changes you’ll find.

During the annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference at the Culinary Institute of America’s San  Antonio campus, New York chef Roberto Santibañez offered a tasty mixture of tradition, limón and jamaica (hibiscus), with the decidedly different but no less welcome combinations of flavors, including  one that blends pineapple and lime with spinach.

Another sign of their growing acceptance is the MiFruta line of aguas frescas from Minute Maid, which come in a variety of flavors, including jamaica, strawberry-banana, mango-orange, pineapple, and strawberry.

Aguas frescas are easy to make in your own home, if you have a blender and plenty of ice to cool them down. Like smoothies, aguas frescas are limited only by your own imagination.

A refreshing agua fresca is a great way to stave off the heat.

These are not fruit juices, though they do use fruit as well as flowers, rice hulls and tamarind seeds among the flavors. But unlike orange juice, which proudly displays it pulp, most aguas frescas are filtered through sieves in order to be as clean and smooth as possible.

Take a tip from Santibañez’s recipes. Fill your pitcher only with the agua fresca, and leave the ice to the glasses. Otherwise, your refreshing drink could get watered  down all too quickly.

Following are five recipes that Santibañez, author of “Rosa’s New Mexican Table” and “Truly Mexican,” presented during the San Antonio symposium.

Mexican Limeade (Agua de Limón)

2 limes, rinsed, quartered and seeded
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups water

Combine the limes, skin and all, sugar and water in a blender. Blend until very smooth, then strain through a sieve into a large pitcher.

Season to taste with more sugar; stir thoroughly. Pour into ice-filled glasses.

Makes 4 servings.

From Roberto Santibañez/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

Pineapple Agua Fresca (Agua de Piña y Hierba Buena)

Pineapple Agua Fresca

2 cups ripe pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks
1/3 cup sugar, plus more, to taste
4 cups water, divided use
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
8 spearmint leaves (optional)
Ice cubes

Blend the pineapple, sugar and mint along with 4 cups of water in a blender until it is very smooth.

Strain the pineapple mixture through a sieve, smashing the solids to force out as much juice as you can, and into a large pitcher.

Gradually season the agua fresca to taste with more sugar and lime juice.

Chill the pitcher in the refrigerator, then stir thoroughly; add the mint sprigs, if using, and pour the agua fresca into ice-filled glasses.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From Roberto Santibañez/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

Cucumber Agua Fresca (Agua de Pepino)

4 cups water, divided use
1/2 cup sugar, plus more, to taste
1 English cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup lime juice, plus more, to taste
Spearmint sprigs, for garnish (optional)
Ice cubes

Blend 3 cups of water with the sugar in a blender until the sugar has completely dissolved, about 30 seconds. Add the cucumber and lime juice and blend again until it is very smooth.

Strain the mixture through a sieve and into a large container, and then stir in 1 cup of water. Gradually season the agua fresca to taste with more sugar and lime juice.

Chill the pitcher in the refrigerator, then stir, thoroughly, add the mint sprigs, if using them, and pour the agua fresca into ice-filled glasses.

Makes 6 to 8 portions.

From Roberto Santibañez/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

Hibiscus Agua Fresca (Agua de Jamaica)

5 cups water, divided use
2 cups dried hibiscus flowers
3/4-1 cup sugar, divided use
Ice cubes

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot; add the hibiscus flowers, turn off  the heat, cover the pot,  and let the flowers steep for 20 to 30 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve and into a large pitcher, pressing on the flowers to extract as much liquid as possible, and then discard the solids.

Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir until it dissolves.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From Roberto Santibañez/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

Pineapple, Lime and Spinach Agua (Agua de Piña con Espinaca y Limón)

1/2 cup pineapple, peeled and chopped
1 lime, rinsed, quartered and seeded
1/2 cup baby spinach, lightly packed
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups water
Ice cubes, as needed

Combine the pineapple, lime, skin and all, spinach and sugar in a blender with 3 cups of water. Blend until it is very smooth, and then strain through a sieve into a large pitcher.

Gradually season the agua fresca to taste with more sugar and stir thoroughly, then pour the agua fresca into ice-filled glasses, and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

From Roberto Santibañez/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

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Hungry for New Tastes? Rick Bayless Offers Chefs Some Advice


Rick Bayless

After a day of sampling and hearing discussions about Latin foods such as matalí, chaya leaves, siriguela and umbu, celebrity chef Rick Bayless had only one question: “Why are we not using some of that stuff?”

The answer, of course, is that most of these foods are not readily available in the United States, no matter how good they taste. Some are too perishable to travel in large quantities, others lack a built-in market or demand for them.

So, it’s up to chefs and food purveyors, like those who have come to the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus for the annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium, to help create a demand for them, the owner of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo said. Feature Brazilian cashew fruit on a menu, and people will love it enough to ask for it.

Don’t believe that? “Five years ago, nobody talked about coconut water,” he said. “But now we can get it all day long.”

The same could happen with yerba mate, which could be the new green tea, if it’s introduced to the public properly. Bayless admits he hated the taste the first time he tried it, but he felt the same about green tea, too. And he has grown to enjoy both.

Rick Bayless

“I’m  always, always, always challenged by the lesser-used cuts of meat,” Bayless said, adding that he loves the growth he’s seen in the use of anything far from the center. He included tripe in that list, though we in San Antonio have always known its appeal.

The secret to success with these new-to-American ingredients goes beyond using them, the Chicago chef said. Anyone can do that. The dishes have to be delicious. You have to leave them wanting more.

Iliana de la Vega, who teaches at the CIA, is working on a similar mission, which is to make the pasilla pepper from Oaxaca more popular in the States.

“There’s a pendulum quality to diners,” Bayless said. “What we need to do is figure out where the pendulum is already going.”

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One of Mexico City’s Top Chefs Finds Inspiration in Rotten Bananas


Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol addresses the Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium.

When Enrique Olvera was a child, his grandmother would take rotten baby bananas and turn them into a dish that she would proudly serve to the entire family.

The chef, who heads Mexico City’s celebrated Pujol restaurant, hated the dish back then. “We weren’t rich, but we certainly weren’t poor,” he recalled Wednesday during the opening of the Culinary Institute of America’s annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the San Antonio campus.

But the image of rotten old bananas somehow seemed beneath his family, at least when filtered through his youthful perspective.

Now that he’s in charge of a world-renowned kitchen and the Mexican City guide, Chilango, has named him Chef of the Decade, Olvera has found inspiration in his memory of those black-brown baby bananas. They are a proud part of the menu he serves at his restaurant, which he says focuses on food that is closer to home cooking than to fine dining — though it is more likely a savory combination of both.

For  this dish, he sautés the overripe baby bananas in clarified butter before topping them with macadamia nuts, a vinegar-infused sour cream and mint leaves.

Just sear the banana, he said. That gives it a texture similar to foie gras. Also, be careful to baste the banana with as much of the butter as possible.

The end result is not as sweet as you might think , because the longer the bananas ripen, the less sweet they become. And that suits Olvera just fine. “I hate sweet things, for some reason,” he said.

If the thought of bananas aged beyond the point where you’d use them in banana bread turns you off, the way they did when Olvera was a child, then think of them in this light: “You guys in America like to age your beef,” the chef said. “Why can’t we age our fruit.”

Ripe Banana, Grated Macadamia Nuts, Mint and Sour Cream

You want very ripe bananas for this recipe.

6 tablespoons clarified butter
4 baby bananas, very ripe, sliced
8 macadamia nuts
1/8 cup sour cream
1/3 teaspoon banana vinegar (see note)
Spice blend, for garnish (see below)
8 leaves mint microgreens
Ground cocoa nibs, for garnish

Spice blend:
Chilhuacle negro chile, for garnish
Cardamom, for garnish
Black pepper
Clove

Preheat oven to 285 degrees.

Heat the butter in a sauté pan, and fry the sliced bananas until they are golden in color. Place in a asheet pan lined with parchment paper, reserve.

Roast the  macadamia nuts in the oven for 18 minutes.

Mix the cream with the banana vinegar, place in a pastry bag and reserve.

For the spice blend: Toast the chilhuacle negro chile, cardamom, black pepper and clove. Grind and mix.

On a large plate, place the fried bananas and, with a microplane, grate the macadamia nuts on top like a cloud. Pout a dollop of sour cream on each end of the banana, sprinkle with the spice blend, garnish with mint and scatter some cocoa powder over the top.

Note: You can order banana vinegar from Rancho Gordo. You can substitute another heavily fruit-flavored vinegar, though you may want to use a little less.

Makes 4 servings.

From Enrique Olvera/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

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SA Spices Up Latin Flavors, American Kitchens


Elena Hernandez discusses the foods of Panama.

In Panama, culantro is the herb that gives the canal country’s dishes their distinctive flavor.

That’s culantro, not cilantro, as chef Elena Hernández explained to a gathering of chefs, food purveyors and educators as the fifth annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium got under way Wednesday at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus.

She didn’t know if she’d be able to find the pungent herb in San Antonio either, so she brought it with her in her luggage. She did the same with her favorite types of chiles, too. And when she was stopped at customs, she informed the agent that it has all been blanched.

Laughs of recognition greeted that statement, as the crowd featured a number of chefs from Central and South America, who have traveled to other countries only to discover that they could not prepare their cuisine in an authentic manner because a dried chile or an exotic fruit was not available.

Yet Hernández, who organizes the Panamá Gastronómica International Fair, did find fresh culantro in San Antonio, a sign that the city’s ethnic markets and specialty groceries are growing to meet the expanding tastes of people within the city.

Honey Gingerbread

That same story is happening across the country, which is why the CIA presents the symposium. You’ll find Latin flavors throughout the celebrated cooking of Rick Bayless of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo or Maricel Presilla of New Jersey’s Zafra and Cucharamama as well as small kitchens in cities from San Francisco to New York.

Demand for Latin food and drink continues to grow, which is why the symposium is able to draw top chefs and food writers, including Roberto Santibañez, Mark Miller and Anne E. McBride in addition to Bayless and Presilla. This year, a handful of San Antonio names appear on the speaker list, including Puerto Rico-born Nelson Millán of the San Antonio Country Club, Jeret Peña of the Esquire Tavern, and Elizabeth Johnson, Geronimo Lopez-Monascal and Iliana de la Vega, all of whom work in various capacities at the CIA.

Scallops in Recado Negro

The list of visiting chefs from abroad include Francisco Casto of the Panamá International Hotel School, Dante Franco of Espacio Dolli in Buenos Aires, Christian Bravo of Punta del Mar in Merida, Mexico, Hubert O’Farrell of O’Farrell  in Buenos Aires, and Rodrigo Oliveira of Mocotó in São Paolo, Brazil

Topics this year include The Latin Wow Factor Strategy, More Than Lettuce: The Versatile Salads of Latin America, Cuisines of the Southern Caribbean, and How Do You Do Latin Cuisines Outside of Latin America?

The following is a sample salad from Francisco Castro, which is part of the More Than Lettuce discussion.

Panama-Style Beet Salad (Ensalada de Feria)

2 pounds potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 pound beets, cooked and peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

Panama-Style Beet Salad

Cut the potatoes and beets in 1/4-inch dice.

In a glass bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the eggs, onion, celery, parsley, and lime juice.

Add the reserved potatoes and beets; mix with wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 8-10 servings.

From Francisco Castro/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

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Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Symposium Opens at CIA


In the new facility at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, students are already using the kitchens for their class work.

As the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, opened its third annual symposium, Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Wednesday the big news was the nearly completed facility.

Celebrity chefs and authors, food historians, purveyors, producers and restaurateurs toured the three-story building while tantalizing scents of dishes being prepared for the afternoon’s demonstrations wafted through the air, both inside and outside.

The CIA’s grand opening will be a public event this Saturday.

Several chefs prepare desserts to be served at the Culinary Institute's San Antonio campus.

Shortly after the first announcers took the podium in the afternoon, more news emerged as the plans to open a fourth CIA campus — in Singapore — were announced.

Closer to home, CIA officials said that by the spring of next year CIA San Antonio will begin offering a two-year associate’s degree.  That could be in April or May, said David Kellaway, managing director of the CIA, San Antonio.

The pilot program at the institute here has been a 30-week certificate course, or half of the associate’s degree.

Iliana de la Vega, Mexican/Latin cuisines specialist at the San Antonio campus, moderated the afternoon’s presentations.

Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, author and lecturer is an authority on the globalization of Mexican food. He discussed the influence of French cuisine, Creole and the indigenous foods of the country, as well as historical factors, as well as aspects of class and ethnicity on its evolution.

Rick Bayless presented the first culinary demonstration, talking about mole in general and putting together a relatively simple green version of the sauce.

An award-winning American chef, author and restaurateur, Bayless has explored Mexican food, its history and culinary intricacies for decades.  He owns the acclaimed restaurants Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and XOCO in Chicago.

Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, one of Mexico City’s top chefs and owner of Cafe Azul y Oro, is also an author and authority on Mexican food. One of his books, which will soon be published in English, is “The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mexican Gastronomy.” He discussed the famous dish that is traditionally served on Mexican Independence Day, Chiles en Nogada. The dish is so special, he says, that one doesn’t make it for just a few people. It takes a long time to make — in fact, just peeling two pounds of walnuts for the sauce, to make a large recipe of this  beautiful dish, takes more than eight hours.

Francisco Javier Cárdenas prepares Enchiladas del Portal.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico chef/restaurateur Francisco Javier Cárdenas. His Guanajuato-style Enchiladas and Red Pozole were two popular dishes at the tasting that followed the demonstrations.

Benedicta Alejo from Michoacan, Mexico, Lucero Soto and Federico López prepared their dishes in the downstairs demonstration kitchen, televised upstairs to the conference room.

Alejo ground roasted guajillo chile seeds in a molcajete to a smooth paste along with onion, tomatillo, cilantro and sea salt. She also employed the molcajete to make Mole de Queso, fried slices of queso fresco topped with a simple sauce of dry-roasted chiles, garlic and onion.

Soto demonstrated making sopes, little corn tortilla cakes with a center depression. The sopes are filled with beans, but then the fillings can vary. For the red, white and green colors of Mexican Independence Day (Diez y Seis de Septiembre), she used fried jamaica flowers, lightly sugared, fried queso cotija, avocado sauce and red Chile Capon.

Federico Lopez demonstrated Tatemado Short Ribs, Queretaro Style. These succulent ribs were braised with chiles and the Mexican drink pulque, wrapped in maguey leaves and covered with nopalitos (cactus paddles). The hours required to make the dish are well worth it, in the tenderness of the caramelized beef and the dark, chile-laden sauce.

This was just the beginning: More in-depth exploration of authentic Latin flavors are ahead as the symposium continues through Friday.

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