What better way to welcome a hot summer Sunday than with a Latin-style brunch? With the Gourmet Latino Festival kicking off June 4th at the Astor Center in Manhattan, I was able to savor some of the flavorful innovations that are happening in Latin American cuisine right now throughout the city. Led by chef Aaron
Sanchez and other popular names in the world of mixology, I picked up some ideas in the Mexican kitchen (ei. use an onion studded with cloves when you make home-made chicken stock ) and witnessed the creation of original cocktails inspired from traditional Latin ingredients.
The session I attended was a “Levanta Muertos” brunch seminar, a phrase ubiquitous in Latin America, that alludes to a dish or a drink that’s supposed to “wake you up from the dead” and help with your hangover. As the first year of the festival, the turnout of people was impressive. There was not a single seat available at the long tables set up for the diners throughout the space. The event was well organized, although the setup of the space was a bit funky: I was limited to seeing the mixologists in action, but couldn’t really see the chef at work.
After a cheesy introduction that had the two hosts (Sanchez and Olson) playing a pair of drunkards at a bar, the event thankfully picked up. The first creation was a Maria Sangriente, or a Mexican version of the Bloody Mary. This drink was prepared by mixologist Steve Olson and had Mezcal, Tequila, hot chiles, tabasco sauce, salt and pepper as its principal ingredients. The drink was beautifully served in a tall glass with a half chile. It was a feast for the eyes and the palate. After my first swig, its lingering heat and balanced flavors made even a spice-adversed palate like my own second-guess itself. One thing Olson repeated throughout the class was that the key to making a levanta muertos successful is that you should use the same liquor you drank the night before. This he kept referring to as using the “hair of the dog” of the dog that bit you! Kind of weird, but probably true. To nibble on, the chef prepared a huitlacoche tamal with a saffron corn sauce. The tamal took the color of the huitlacoche ( it’s corn fungus), so its masa was a dark almost black color, but tasted heavenly, with a fluffy texture and sauce that was smokey and complex.
The courses that followed all had the colors, textures and heat of traditional Mexican cooking but with a refined twist. There was a Pepita Crusted Salmon in a Papalo Coconut Broth, which was paired with a drink from Phil Ward from Mayahuel restaurant in Manhattan. The drink echoed the colors of the dish as a clear peach elixir, prepared by mixing mezcal, Aperol, Maraschino and lime. The final tasting course was a Stuffed Sweet Plantain with Smoked Black Beans, Epazote and Crema Fresca. This was accompanied by a drink called the Marajoara Magic, by Danny Valdez, the most charismatic of the guests, who prepared a drink with Brazilian cachaca, Carpano Antina, Habanero peppers and Lime oil.
The session was educational and fun, but most of all, I walked out feeling not only impressed at how Latin American flavors can be, but most of all, very proud.
(I took the photos with my phone, the colors were vibrant in real life)
A Taste of Passion04.02.09
Passiflora edulis in Latin, Chinola in Dominican, Maracujá in Portuguese. It’s a wonder that the unique passion fruit has so many identities, although its essence remains the same: tangy, sweet, pulpy and dotted with seeds, which can make it a challenge to eat, but in its different manifestations, becomes a pleasure. Its pungent fragrance reminds me of lazy summers in the D.R.. Tall icy glasses of its juice would wait for me as I came in from playing in the yard, sweaty and giddy and craving refreshment. As colorful as America’s beloved Sunny D, my Chinola juice would quench my thirst with its bright and summery punch.
I found it once again years later and miles away from home, on a trip to Brazil. Actually, it found me; mixed with the local cachaca to create an exotic version of the caipirinha. It became our signature drink, setting the stage many evenings, with a memorable one spent at a local posada where we indulged in a banquet of local dishes laid out over banana leaves in the middle of the rain forest. It paired exquisitely with the coconut-spiked moquecas and spicy chicken stews, luring us into a happy buoyant surreality until the sun and moon both shared the sky.
Then, once again, a few weekends ago, it reappeared. Here on the 22nd floor of a New York City apartment. It lit up our evening and arrived at our party dressed as a mousse. It was silky luscious creamy and evoked the scent of somewhere lush and warm, which, along with the jokes and friendly chatter, it comforted us from the city’s gray cold.
So I bring you today, in an ode to passion, a quick and easy rendition of passionfruit mousse.
1 can of condensed milk
1 can of “creme de leite”
80% of the same can measurement of passion fruit juice
Blend and place in a bowl. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until firm. Garnish with mint leaves or some fruit syrup.