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Love that Latin Cuisine

Cuban and Puerto Rican flavors spice up the melting pot.

Cuban Cuisine continued...

"You don't find many vegetable dishes in Cuban cuisine, at least not the nonstarchy ones," adds Castillo. "Instead, the Cuban diet includes plenty of root vegetables, such as yuca, boniato, and malanga."

And what's on the Cuban dessert cart?

"On an island where sugarcane is king, it's no surprise that Cubans love sweet desserts," Lindgren says. "Cuban flan, arroz con leche, and warm flaky pastries stuffed with fruit filling feature an abundance of sugar."

Tropical fruit flavors are popular in ice creams, milkshakes, and as filling for cakes and pastries, Lindgren says: "Guava paste and guava jelly are big favorites and find their way into just about everything."

Cuisine of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican cuisine also reflects the influence of Spaniards, along with that of Africans and Native Americans.

The original inhabitants of the island now known as Puerto Rico were the Arawaks and Tainos. Their diet was thought to include corn, sweet potatoes, cassava, tropical fruit, and seafood, according to the Encarta encyclopedia.

Spanish explorers arrived in 1493, adding beef, pork, rice, wheat, and olive oil to the island cuisine. When African slaves arrived on the island, they contributed their cuisine as well.

The flavors from combinations of rice, beans, spices and different meats are what make Puerto Rican cuisine unique, says Adelinna Fargas, chef and owner of a Casa Adela, a Puerto Rican restaurant in Manhattan. Although Puerto Rican food is often well seasoned, it also is not overly spicy.

Foods indigenous to the island include coriander, papaya, plantains, and yampee (a tuber). A spice blend called adobo is used as a base for many dishes, and is rubbed into meats before being roasted. It's made by crushing together peppercorns, oregano, garlic, salt, olive oil, and lime juice or vinegar, says Ana Maria Mendez, an attorney of Puerto Rican descent who has studied Puerto Rican cuisine.

Another spice mixture is sofrito, which helps color and flavor rice, soup, and stew dishes with a yellow mixture of annatto seeds, onions, garlic, coriander, and peppers browned in olive oil.

"Many Puerto Rican dishes also use a sauté of onion, tomato, and green bell pepper along with the sofrito," adds Mendez.

Beans and rice are popular. So are chicken with rice, meat pies, fried plantains, rice, and pigeon peas seasoned with smoked ham or bacon, meat or cheese turnovers called empanadillas, and all sorts of soups -- including chicken and rice soup, which often contains chunks of pumpkin, says Mendez.

Most parts of the pig are used in Puerto Rican cooking, and pork is the main event at most holiday tables and celebrations, be it barbecued pig, pork blood sausages, ham and pineapple, or smoked cutlets.

Puddings, including rice pudding, bread pudding, and coconut pudding, are a favorite treat. Flan (a type of firm custard) is also popular, along with cakes (rum cake, guava cake, banana cupcakes, sweet-potato cake), cookies, and tarts. Tropical fruits, including coconut, guava, papayas, and mangoes, abound on the island.

And let us not forget, Puerto Rico is the world’s leading rum producer. So plenty of rum is used in recipes, too!

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