I thought this article from today's paper was worth sharing. Latin Flavor from The Commercial Appeal Latin flavor By Leslie Kelly Contact February 1, 2006 Hispanic staples Piloncillo sugar cane cones (left), Guajillo chiles and cilantro are key for many dishes. Guajillo adds "an almost chocolate note to something like braised pork," says PBS show host Daisy Martinez. Achiote seeds add color and nutty flavor to olive oil. Latino food is so hot right now. No, we're not talking about fiery salsas, overstuffed burritos and 99-cent fast-food tacos. As the number of Hispanics continues to grow in this country, so does the colorful palette of cuisines from Spanish-speaking parts of the globe. Just ask cookbook author and PBS show host Daisy Martinez, who was in Memphis recently to demonstrate dishes from her new book, "Daisy Cooks: Latin Flavors that Will Rock Your World" (Hyperion). "America has only scratched the surface of our regional cuisines," said Martinez, whose show airs on WKNO at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays. "Just like when French cooking once meant coq au vin, before French chefs began arriving on our shores in droves." The times, they are changing. In the past few years, a dozen or more specialty markets have opened around the Mid-South, stocking hard-to-find staples such as epazote, culantro or queso fresco. Supermarkets have even started stocking more products with a Latin accent. Cooking shows have introduced Americans to empanadas from South America, pot roast from Puerto Rico and the delights of toasted Cuban sandwiches. Yet, for the mainstream home cook, many of the ingredients essential for recipes, such as sopa de ajo (garlic soup), sofrito (a green salsa) or alcaparrado (a distant cousin to olive salad), remain exotic and mysterious. So, we enlisted Martinez to guide us through the aisles of unfamiliar items, to provide us with a primer on a few basic ingredients key to some of the delicious dishes in her book. After getting her bearings in Viet Hoa -- a market on Cleveland in Midtown that stocks a wide variety of Asian and Hispanic foods -- Martinez sang the store's praises: "This selection here is great!" Try avocado leaves instead of bay leaves Culantro is "cilantro times 10" First stop, the produce section: Martinez grabbed a big brown tuber. "Once you discover yucca, it will be like 'potato who?' " she said. "The texture is so buttery, you can peel it and cook it like a potato, with olive oil and garlic. You can use it in empanada dough. They're great fried, like French fries." Just don't forget to remove the fibrous thread that runs down the middle of this starchy vegetable. Then, there's the boniato, a cousin of the sweet potato. "Anything you can do with a sweet potato, you can do with boniato," she said. And, there's taro, Martinez's second favorite root vegetable. "It's also known as yautia. It's used in Puerto Rican tamales and beef and root vegetable stew," she said. If collards define Southern greens, then epazote is the quintessential green in Latino cooking, Martinez said, grabbing a bunch and breathing in the spicy aroma of this slightly bitter herb. Another pungent herb that Martinez picked as a favored flavor booster: culantro. "It's like cilantro times 10," she said. Culantro adds zing to a recipe that Martinez guarantees will change the way you cook. "In my house, sofrito makes its way into everything from yellow rice, black bean soup, sauce for spaghetti and meatballs to braised chicken and sauteed shrimp. Not only that, it freezes beautifully, so in about 10 minutes you can make enough sofrito to flavor a dozen dishes. I'm telling you, this stuff does everything but make the beds," Martinez said. To her imaginary shopping basket, Martinez added dried avocado leaves ("use them instead of bay leaves"), guajillo peppers ("they add an almost chocolate note to something like braised pork") and a jar of pickled palm fronds ("they're typically served with pupusas ... the El Salvadoran version of a tortilla.") "Look at this, this is fabulous," Martinez gushed. She found the expansive selection of spices. She spotted one of her must-have ingredients, in fact, the first recipe on her "Top 10" list calls for achiote seeds: "They're also known as annatto seeds, these deep-reddish-colored seeds that are about the size of a lentil." Steeping achiote seeds in hot oil turns them a brilliant orange-gold color and infuses dishes with a nutty aroma, Martinez said. Media Crema is essential for a fine flan. Yucca stands in for potatoes She uses anchiote oil to prepare yellow rice, noodle paella, braised chicken and an Ecuadorian fish and peanut stew, or "anytime you want to add a splash of color," she said. Moving from savory to sweet, Martinez picked up a can of Nestle Media Crema. "This makes the best flan," she said. Jars of guava in syrup are key for the simple, yet sophisticated dessert: "You mix the fruit with a little queso fresco or cream cheese. It's a very traditional pairing." Plantains can be turned into Torta de Maduro, a Dominican cake that tastes something like banana bread, and the bittersweet Mexican cocoa makes the "world's best hot chocolate." So, what are those funny brown cones? "Piloncillo is Mexican brown sugar. It has a high molasses content, and is used in baked goods, candy, even coffee," she said. It's not a long shopping list, but it's a start. -- Leslie Kelly: 529-2594 Arroz Amarillo (Yellow Rice) 1/2 cup Achiote Oil 1/2 cup Sofrito 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pimiento-stuffed olives 2 to 3 tbsp. salt 1 tsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. ground black pepper 2 bay leaves 3 cups long-grain white rice 4 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned Heat the achiote oil in a heavy 4- to 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Stir in the sofrito and cook until most of the water is evaporated. Add the olives, salt, cumin, pepper and bay leaves, stirring to combine. When the mixture is bubbling, add the rice, stirring to coat and to fix the color to the rice. Pour in enough chicken broth to cover the rice by the width of two fingers. Bring to a boil and boil until the broth reaches the level of the rice. Stir the rice once, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes, without opening the pot or stirring. Gently fluff the rice up by scooping the rice from the bottom to the top. Serve hot. Yield: six to eight servings. Sofrito 2 medium Spanish onions, cut into large chunks 3 to 4 sweet bell peppers or cubanelle peppers (see note) 16 to 20 cloves garlic, peeled 1 large bunch cilantro, washed 7 to 10 ajices dulces (see note), optional 4 leaves of culantro, or another handful cilantro 3 to 4 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into large chunks Chop the onion and cubanelle or Italian peppers in the work bowl of a food processor until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, add the remaining ingredients one at a time and process until smooth. The sofrito will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days. It also freezes beautifully. Yield: 4 cups Note: Ajices Dulces, also known as cachucha or ajicitos, are tiny sweet peppers with a hint of heat. They range in color from light- to medium-green and yellow to red and orange. They add freshness and an herb note to the sofrito and anything you cook. Do not mistake them for Scotch bonnet or Habanero chilies (which they look like) -- those two pack a wallop when it comes to heat. If you can find ajicitos in your market, add them to sofrito. If not, up the cilantro to 11/2 bunches and add a pinch of cayenne pepper. Cubanelles are thin-fleshed sweet peppers. They are longer and more narrow than bell peppers and similar in shape to Italian frying peppers. Cubanelles have a sweet, herby flavor and are found in shades of light green and yellow, with touches of light red. Achiote oil 1 cup olive oil 2 tbsp. achiote (annatto) seeds Heat oil and annatto seeds in a small skillet over medium heat just until the seeds give off a lively, steady sizzle. Don't overheat the mixture, or the seeds will turn black. Strain as much of the oil as you are going to use right away and store the rest for up to four days at room temperature in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Yield: 1 cup Chuletas de Abuela (Grandma's Pork Chops) Six to eight 1-inch-thick loin pork chops 3 tbsp. dry rub (recipe follows) Juice of 3 oranges Juice of 1 lemon 2 tbsp. cider vinegar 2 cloves garlic, smashed Canola or other vegetable oil Rub both sides of the chops with the dry rub, coating them generously. Place them in a deep baking dish, overlapping if necessary. Stir the citrus juices, vinegar and garlic together in a bowl until blended. Pour over the chops and massage it into them. Marinate the chops at room temperature for up to 1 hour or in the refrigerator for up to one day. Pour enough oil into a large, heavy skillet to film the bottom. (If necessary, work in batches or use two skillets -- if you have them and space on the stove to hold them.) Heat the oil over medium heat until rippling. Remove the chops from the marinade and discard the marinade. Add as many chops as will fit in the pan without touching. Cook until the chops are well-browned on the underside, about 6 minutes. Turn the chops and cook until they are firm near the bone when you poke them with a finger, about 8 minutes. Keep warm while cooking the second batch, if necessary. Serve immediately. Yield: four to six servings. Adobo Seco (Dry Rub for Meats and Poultry) 6 tbsp. salt 3 tbsp. onion powder 3 tbsp. garlic powder 3 tbsp. ground black pepper 1 1/2 tsp. ground oregano Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Store at room temperature in an airtight container. You can add 1 tsp. of any or all of the following to customize your dry rub: ground cumin, dried citrus zest (orange, lemon or lime), saffron and achiote powder or paste, which can sometimes be found where achiote seeds are found. Arroz Con Dulce di Papi (Daddy's Rice Pudding) 10 cups milk 2 cinnamon sticks 2 strips lemon peel 1/4 tsp. salt 1 cup short-grain rice 1 1/4 cups sugar 1 tbsp. brandy 1 tsp. almond liqueur (optional) 1 cup raisins 3 tbsp. unsalted butter Heat the milk, cinnamon, lemon peel and salt in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed saucepan on low heat until bubbles start to form around the edges. Add the rice and stir continuously for 5 minutes, so that it doesn't settle to the bottom and clump. Keep the heat low and stir the rice every 15 minutes. When the rice has absorbed most of the milk and is tender, about 2 hours, stir in the sugar and brandy and almond liqueur. Cook 15 minutes longer. Remove from the heat, stir in the raisins, stirring quickly, and stir in butter. Allow to cool. Yield: eight servings Source: All recipes from "Daisy Cooks" published by Hyperion.