CINCINNATI - As WCPO continues to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, contributor Grace Yek talked to three Latin Americans now living in Cincinnati about their favorite foods.
"We have a saying where I'm from. ‘Every animal that walks ends up on the grill,’" said Max Kimmich, a professional photographer. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Kimmich, has lived in Cincinnati for two-and-a-half years.
Kimmich’s words capture the central role of the grill in Argentine cooking. Furthermore, Argentineans will often use every part of the animal. This includes the brain, stomach, kidney, liver, heart and sweetbreads. Kimmich described how beef in Argentina is naturally packed with flavor, and needs very little seasoning aside from salt and pepper.
"Every cut of the animal has its own distinctive flavor and texture," he explained, attributing the intense flavor to where cattle are raised: in the vast pastures of fertile plains called the Pampas. These plains occupy central Argentina, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the foothills of the Andes.
Grilling is often done over an open pit, with wood or charcoal, adding even more layers of flavor to the food. It is not uncommon to grill the whole animal, not just cuts of it.
The social gathering over the grilling of food, an event called an asado, is anchored by the grill master, called the asador. The asador orchestrates the cooking of the food to perfection, while serving the diners the right cuts of meats at just the right time.
As Kimmich explained, "You get the whole meal at an asado."
An impressive roster of dishes accompanies the meat. This includes chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), provoleta (grilled medallions of seasoned provolone cheese) and verdurajo (grilled vegetables). Chimichurri, a sauce made from fresh herbs, vinegar, olive oil and chili flakes, rounds up the gastronomical feast.
I asked Kimmich what other food in Argentina he misses most. His answer: Cannelloni. While this may seem surprising, it makes perfect sense, considering the huge migration of Italians to Argentina in the 19th Century. The variety of Argentine cannelloni filling is extensive, with choices like ricotta cheese, almonds, spinach, chicken, mozzarella cheese, tomato basil and ham.
As Kimmich lovingly described the cannellonis, he said, "I could eat eight of those cannellonis in one go."
- Recipe: Chimichurri
"Nobody makes rice like my mother," Sonia Turtaro said. Born and raised in Sao Paulo, Turtaro became an expatriate in Cincinnati when she took an offshore assignment with her company. She was immediately smitten by her new surroundings and very quickly decided to make Cincinnati her new home. That was thirteen years ago.
When it comes to her mother's rice, Turtaro's husband could not agree more. She recounted how he cheerfully went on a rice-only diet when they visited Brazil. Turtaro's mother is so stalwart about eating only fresh food, she tossed out the microwave oven her kids gave her.
While rice is the main staple in Brazilian cuisine, beans come a close second.
"We cook beans, usually pinto beans, with garlic and onion in a pressure cooker," Turtaro explained.
Pressure-cooking is such a mainstay that Turtaro brought her own pressure cooker all the way from Brazil for good measure.
"We also eat potato, but it counts as a vegetable," Turtaro added with a chuckle.
On the Sunday morning I met with Turtaro, she had prepared bolo de fubá (Brazilian cornmeal cake) to demonstrate what might constitute a weekend breakfast in Brazil. The golden delight that is bolo de fubá, is a composition of eggs, milk, cornmeal, sugar, coconut, and--the surprise ingredient--Parmesan cheese, which adds the perfect touch of savory to the cake.
"In Brazil, we often use the same ingredient for savory and sweet," Turtaro explained. While corn is mainly regarded as a savory ingredient, it is the star ingredient in suco de milho, a delicious sweet shake of corn and milk.
"You would find this in a street stand," Turtaro added. Another example is the avocado. In addition to its place as a savory ingredient, it is also used to make batida de abacate, an avocado shake comprising milk, sugar and sometimes lime juice.
One of Turtaro's favorite ingredients is carni seca (salt-cured beef).
"It adds incredible flavor and makes a great pasta or pastry filling," she said.
While flan (caramel custard) is no stranger to Latin American cuisine, the way it is cooked in Brazil makes it uniquely Brazilian.
"We cook flan in a pressure cooker. The texture comes out softer and silkier than most other flan," Turtaro explained, surmising it might be because of the shorter cooking time.
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African slaves who were brought to Brazil in the 19th Century left their mark on the local food as well. Feijoada (fey-zhoo-ah-dah), a national dish, is a stew of pork, beans and vegetables, served with rice. The stew was originally made with "the other parts of pork," which included the feet, ears and head. Using parts of the animal which would normally be thrown out was typical of the slaves' diet.
Feijoada is a heavy dish, complete with sleep-inducing effects. Caipirinha is another Brazilian original, a cocktail made with cachaça (sugar cane hard liquor), sugar and lime.
"If you eat feijoada and drink caipirinha, you're done, " laughed Turtaro.
- Recipe: Feijoada
"It is important that they don't forget their roots," Gricelda Wolfinbarger said, referring to her son and the future generations in her family. Wolfinbarger was born and raised in Monterrey. She met her husband there and made the move to Cincinnati 18 years ago.
Though Wolfinbarger speaks with the reassuring voice of a mom, she is a no-nonsense professional who supervises a team of more than 35 men for a major construction materials company in Cincinnati. She has had to overcome her share of cultural stereotypes, which included references to "working in the fields."
Wolfinbarger hopes the tradition of making tamales, frijoles charros and mole verde remain in her family. Having tasted her tamales, I certainly hope so too.
"Frijoles charros is food from my hometown in Monterrey. That is why I would like this tradition to continue, " Wolfinbarger explained. Frijoles charros is a lip-smacking stew of pinto beans, onion, garlic, bacon, sausage, tomato, cilantro and peppers.
"My mother makes everything from scratch," Wolfinbarger said. The ingredients that go into her mole verde include avocado leaves, tomatillos, serrano, poblano and chilaca peppers, and cilantro. This mole is usually served with chicken, rice and salad.
These recipes have been passed down from her great-grandmother. Wolfinbarger has even videotaped her mother making mole verde to preserve the family's culinary history and culture.
Wolfinbarger recalled that growing up, her father would always make sure that panela cheese, avocado, and a melange of chili peppers like morita, jalapeno and piquin, were at the dinner table.
"Not all Mexican food is spicy. The peppers on the table allow for individual adjustments of the spice level," Wolfinbarger said. This is especially true of the beef soup she makes, which does not contain any chili pepper. The soup has the intrinsic flavors of the beef as well as the other ingredients, including cabbage, zucchini, carrots and cilantro.
Wolfinbarger’s must-have ingredients include cumin, cilantro, peppers, onion and garlic. When asked what her secret ingredient is, Wolfinbarger, without skipping a beat, replied, "Love."
- Recipe: Mole verde