A Summer South American Barbecue

by thomandaimee

To be honest, every meal that we have hosted thus far was never planned in advance. I mean, there is planning for the feast, but the actual thought of “ah, let’s have a party” was always picked up randomly from the clouds. Don’t ask me how we decided to hold a South American inspired barbecue, was it the hot weather, or the desire to drink margaritas and chew on smoked ribs?

South America is one huge continent, and to generalise South American food is the same as saying the French and Russians eat croissants for breakfast. What we did was borrow different dishes from different countries from Colombia to Chile (and a little Mexican). But we need to understand that even within a country, different regional cuisines exist so we really did just generalise Latino food. (I’M SORRY!)

I grew up reading Gourmet magazine until their very last publication in November 2009 (I still have the last copy). One of the editorial spreads that was seared into my memory was Maricel Presilla’s Latino barbecue: the smoke, the char-grilled meat, the dark sticky sauces, the vivid colours of the partygoers’ clothes. The atmosphere portrayed was exotic and almost intoxicating. It became our point of reference as we slowly did our research. There were so many things that came into play, like “can we get these ingredients”, “can they be cooked over barbecue”, and “would our guests like the flavours”.

The menu showcased probably the most familiar South American dishes, including the typical tortillas and a variety of salsas. We managed to get our hands on specific ingredients (sourced from a local specialist Mexican grocer) such as lovely dried pasilla peppers, habanero peppers, and black beans.

Looking at the menu on paper, it didn’t look like it would fill the stomachs of ten persons. But when you have these ten said individuals under the scorching hot sun by the pool, you would realise that the drinks would be gone before the food was gone. And that people would be floating in the water than be by the grill.

Handcrafted Mexican papel picado bunting in pastel colours were hung up to enhance the mood. (We are very superficial and yes, we know that the paper craft is usually used for religious events, not barbecues.) What we loved about this was the ease of feast, every one could personalise their tortilla wraps, do up their own burgers, sauce up their grilled corns and mix their alcoholic concoctions. Plus, it was a joy to buzz around the table and just lapping food onto the plate.

Despite the simplicity of the actual feast, plenty of preparation actually happened behind the curtains. Ned and I busied ourselves in making the condiments, marinations and meat patties a few days before. (We did think of making our own tortilla wraps, but the work load would be too much to bear.) The stinging sensation of the chillies and peppers was intense, I probably died a few times when Ned excitedly pushed the cup of blended spices into my face.

Most of them were homemade (because we are anal) and really, the end results were pleasantly good. Without further ado, behold the menu of our South American feast:

Chilled Gazpacho

Leafy Salad with Pomegranate and Feta

Quinoa Salad with Mint and Mango

Chile-Smothered Shrimp Skewers with Lime

Mushroom Quesadillas

Refried Black Beans

Guacamole

Fresh Tomato Salsa

Homemade Mexican Crema

Salvadoran Grilled Corn (Elote Loco)

Babyback Pork Ribs Adobo

Dominican Chimichurri Burgers

Dulce le Leche Ice Cream with Pecans

Cucumber Cooler (Agua Fresca de Pepino)

Margaritas and Tequilas

(Okay it does look like a lot of food now.)

Like the previous Hobbit Day breakfast we held a year ago, there was no greater joy to bring all your friends together to appreciate good company, food and a little bit of crazy in the kitchen a few nights before. If we brought back anything from this little barbecue party, it was that it’s alright if the beef was overcooked or that the mushrooms ran out faster than the wraps, because at the end of the day, it was too freaking hot to care. Yes, our next feast will probably be during sunset.

(All recipes are below the break.)

Gazpacho
By Felicity Cloake

Makes 4 cups (960ml)

50g slightly stale crusty white bread, soaked in cold water for 20 mins
500g very ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 ripe red pepper and 1/2 green pepper, deseeded and diced
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed 75 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt, to taste

Directions

Mix the diced tomatoes, peppers and cucumber with the crushed garlic and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Squeeze out the bread, tear it roughly into chunks, and add to the mixture.

Blend until smooth, then add the salt and vinegar to taste and stir well.

Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, mix well and then cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Serve chilled, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle freshly grounded black pepper.

TIPS

It is best to make the gazpacho the night before serving, as the longer the gazpacho sits the more the flavours develop.

It is important to use good white bread, instead of sliced white bread, as it adds to the flavour. Soaking the stale white bread helps the consistency of the gazpacho.

Chile-Smothered Shrimp Skewers
By Lourdes Castro (Simply Mexican)

Serves 5

For the Red Chile Paste
4 dried ancho chiles
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 1/2 pounds (680g) large shrimp, peeled and deveined, then placed in ice water
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper
2 limes
Cilantro

Directions

To make the Red Chile Paste, cut or tear the chiles into flat pieces and remove the seeds and veins. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and roast the chiles on both sides until they begin to release their aroma and soften up a bit, about 1 minute.

Transfer roasted chiles to a blender and fill with boiling water. Allow the chiles to soak for 30 minutes, making sure to keep them submerged under water. (You may need to wedge the blender top into the opening to help keep the chiles under water.)

Return the same skillet used to toast the chiles to the stove and place over medium heat. Add the garlic and roast, turning often, until the skin blackens and the garlic begins to smell toasty, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and peel. Set aside.

After 30 minutes of soaking, pour the water out of the blender jar, leaving behind the rehydrated chiles. Add the garlic along with cinnamon, bay leaf, cumin, pepper, oregano, salt and vinegar and puree until smooth.

Transfer to a serving bowl if using right away, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate if storing. This paste can be made well in advance and kept almost indefinitely in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To make the Chile-Smothered Shrimp Skewers, soak several wooden skewers for 10 minutes, to prevent them from burning on the barbecue pit. Thread the shrimp onto the skewers, leaving a small gap between each shrimp, which will allow them to cook evenly. Place the shrimp skewers in a large plastic freezer bag and spread the chile paste over the shrimp. Seal the bag, making sure to remove as much air as possible. Work the bag to evenly distribute the paste and rub it onto the shrimp. Place the bag refrigerator and allow the shrimp to marinate for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.

Remove the shrimp skewers from the freezer bag. Drizzle both sizes of the shrimp with 2 tablespoons of oil and season with salt and pepper.

If using a grill, preheat to medium high for 10 minutes. Oil the grill pan or grill grates with the remaining oil. Grill the shrimp for 5 minutes on each side.

If sauteing, place a large pan over medium high heat and add the remaining oil. Add the shrimp skewers and cook for 5 minutes on each side.

To serve, spear a lime wedge onto the tip of each skewer and top with sprigs of cilantro.

TIPS

If you have sensitive hands, you may want to wear rubber gloves when handling chiles. If you chose to work with them with bare hands, make sure to wash your hands well before touching your eyes or other sensitive skin.

Dry roasting or toasting dried chiles before rehydrating them adds an incredible richness to their flavour. However, you must be careful not to burn them, which will turn the chiles bitter. Since the chiles are dark, you cannot reply on their colour to judge if they are ready. Instead, pay attention to their aroma and texture. As soon as they begin to release their scent and become soft and pliable, they are ready.

Placing the prawns in ice water will help to create crunchy and succulent prawns.

Salvadoran Grilled Corn (Elote Loco)
By Maricel Presilla

Serves 12

1/4 cup (60ml) Dijon mustard
1/4 cup (60ml) mayonnaise
1/4 cup (60ml) ketchup (optional)
12 ears corn in husks
1 1/2 cups (360ml) coarsely grated queso blanco (5 1/2 oz) or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Stir together mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup.

Pull back husk of each ear of corn, leaving it attached like a handle, and tie back with a strip of husk. Discard silk.

Grill corn, turning occasionally until ears are well-browned and tender, about 10 minutes. Serve corn brushed with mustard mixture and sprinkled with cheese.

Refried Black Beans
By Lourdes Castro (Simply Mexican)

Serves 8-10

1 pound (454g) dried black beans
8 cups (1920ml) water
1/2 cup (120ml) olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 to 4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 bay leaf
6 strips bacon
1 small onion, chopped
3 cups (720ml) of homemade black beans
1/4 cup (60ml) quesco fresco or feta cheese

Directions

Rinse the dried beans with water and pick through them, removing an pebbles or debris you find. Combine the beans and the water in a large saucepan, cover with a lid and allow to sit at room temperature for 8 hours, or overnight.

The next day, place the saucepan with the soaked beans and water over medium heat. Simmer the beans, uncovered for 1 hour, or until tender.

Test one bean by pinching it between your fingers. If it easily caves to pressure, the beans are ready. If the beans are still rough, continue simmering until they soften. This requires judgement on your part; you ultimately decide how soft you want the beans to be. If you continue cooking, there is no need to add more liquid, just make sure to stir the pot often.

Once the beans are tender, saute the onion and garlic. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook them slowly over low heat, for about 10 minutes. You want to sweat the vegetables – not brown them. When ready, they will be very soft and translucent.

To the simmering beans, add the onion mixture along with the salt, pepper, oregano, and bay leaf. Mix well and simmer, uncovered for another 45 minutes. At this point, the liquid in the pan should barely be skimming the top later of the beans. Remove from heat.

** At this point, the beans can be made up to 3 days in advance and will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. You can also freeze the beans after they have been cooked. Frozen beans will keep for up to 2 months in an airtight container. Just remember to freeze in small useable portions; a large tub of beans will take a long time to defrost.

Place a skillet over medium high heat and add the bacon. Allow the bacon to cook slowly and melt its fat. As the bacon gets crispy, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. You can serve the bacon with the beans or save them for another time.

Keeping the skillet on the stove, decrease the heat to medium and add the onions. Cook the onions slowly until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. (The bacon fat can burn easily, so make sure you do not increase the heat too high.)

Once the onions are soft, add half of the beans with their broth to the pan and stir to combine well. Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the beans until most of them are crushed. Add the remaining beans with their broth and continue mashing until you achieve the consistency of a coarse puree. Stir to blend the mixture well.

Continue cooking over medium heat until any liquid that remains has been absorbed and the mashed bean mixture is creamy. Be careful not to burn the beans as that results in a bitter flavour.

Transfer the refried beans to a serving bowl and top with crumbles or quesco fresco and crispy bacon.

TIPS

If you forget to soak your beans overnight or if you decide at the last minute to make them, bring a covered pot filled with the beans and water to a boil, remove from the heat and let sit for 3 hours. The continue with the recipe to simmer beans over medium heat for 1 hour.

It is important not to add salt to the beans until they have softened. Adding salt too early in the process will increase the time it takes for the beans to tenderise. This will substantially add to the cooking time.
One thing for sure: refried beans should be made with an animal fat. Purists will only use lard when making these beans, however bacon drippings is an alternative.

Donʼt be tempted to render bacon fat over high heat. Make sure you set the heat no higher than medium high. Animal fats tend to have low smoking points, which can lead to an undesirable dark colour and off flavours.

The recipe can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Guacamole
By Lourdes Castro (Simply Mexican)

Serves 4

1/4 white onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 jalapeno, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
3 Hass avocados 1 plum tomato
1 lime, juice

Directions

Put the onion in a mound in the center of your cutting board. Top it with the jalapeno and then the cilantro. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the salt on the vegetables. Using your knife, chop and crush the vegetables until they are very finely chopped. The salt will cause some of the moisture to be drawn out from the vegetables, which will help to blend their flavours. Transfer the vegetables to a large, shallow bowl.

Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the seed. Using a spoon; scoop out all of the flesh and place it in the bowl with the vegetables. Mash the avocado with a fork until you achieve the consistency that you want.

Add the tomato, lime juice and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the guacamole and combine well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

To serve, garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro.

TIPS

It is best to prepare this guacamole right before you plan to serve it as the avocados will brown. It can sit for 1 hour if you place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole.

Fresh Tomato Salsa
By Lourdes Castro (Simply Mexican)

Makes 2 cups

2 large tomatoes (450g), cored and chopped
2 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed and finely chopped
1 lime, juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

Directions

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Allow the sauce to sit for about 5 minutes. The tomatoes will begin to let go of their juices and the salsa will become more liquid. Taste again for seasoning and adjust if need be.

Transfer to a serving bowl if using right away and garnish with sprig of cilantro. To store, cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated.

TIPS

While round red tomatoes is the typical choice, feel free to experiment with different colours and sizes. This recipe works well when using a combination of tomatoes.

This salsa is best made half an hour before you plan to serve it. It can be make a few hours before, but it will begin to get too watery if left to sit longer than a couple of hours.

Homemade Mexican Crema
by Lourdes Castro (Simply Mexican)

Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup (120ml) sour cream
1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rest in room temperature for 3 hours.

Transfer to a serving bowl if using right away, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate if storing. Bring the crema to room temperature before serving.

TIPS

When purchasing sour cream, pay attention to the expiration date. The crema can be made and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for as long as the sour cream would last.

Dominican Chimichurri Burgers
Adapted from Andrea Albin

Serves 4

1 1/4 pound (560g) ground beef chuck
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup (80ml) chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 hamburger buns, split
1 lettuce, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, cut into rings
1 tomato, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon yellow mustard

Directions

Mix together beef, onion, bell pepper, garlic, cilantro, oregano, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Form into 4 (4 1/2-inch-wide) patties. Make an indent in the middle of the beef patty. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the beef patties to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

If barbecuing, make sure the heat is high before placing the beef patties. Cook them, turning only once for 3-4 minutes on each side. Allow the beef patties to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before transferring it over to the buns.

To make the sauce, stir together ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard.

To serve, top the buns with lettuce, onions and tomatoes and then slather generously with the sauce.

TIPS

It is important what cut of beef youʼre using for burgers – it breaks or makes this dish. Most of the supermarkets or butchers in Singapore offer finely ground lean beef that consists of only 10% of fat. There has to be at least a 30 to 40% of fat in these beef patties or they will turn dry and crumbly which defeats the purpose of making beef burgers. If youʼre going to make beef burgers, then make it the best juicy tasting ones! The best solution is to select an awesome choice of meat to mince it by yourself or ask your butcher to do it for you. Avoid lean prime steak cuts like rump. You can use a mixture of cuts – combination of chuck, short rib and brisket. Or just good old beef chuck. You would want to get a coarse grind as finely ground meat are very likely to fall apart on the grill.

Make sure the onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro are finely chopped as large pieces can render the beef patties unstable and it will be harder for them to be cooked.

When making the beef patties; donʼt overwork the meat or it will turn tough; that way the beef patties will stay moist. Pat gently – never squeeze or compress the beef.

Babyback Pork Ribs Adobo
Adapted from Maricel Presilla

Serves 10

9 dried ancho chiles, wiped clean
9 dried guajillo chiles, wiped clean
8 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/8 teaspoon anise star
1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika (pimentón picante)
1/2 cup (120ml) fresh orange juice
1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lime juice
6 tablespoons apple jelly, divided
1/4 cup (60ml) white wine
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar, divided
1814g babyback pork ribs
Barbecue sauce / honey

Directions

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and roast the chiles on both sides until they begin to release their aroma and soften up a bit, about 1 minute.

Transfer roasted chiles to a blender and fill with boiling water. Allow the chiles to soak for 30 minutes, making sure to keep them submerged under water. (You may need to wedge the blender top into the opening to help keep the chiles under water.)

Blend chiles with garlic, oil, cumin, oregano, anise star, paprika, orange and lime juices, apple jelly, white wine, brown sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a blender until smooth. Force purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.

Separate pork ribs into 4 portions. Marinate pork ribs with chile mixture and then transfer to a large plastic freezer bag. Allow to marinate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, preheat oven to 150C. Place pork ribs in aluminum foil and slather any left over chile mixture over the pork ribs. Seal up the aluminum foil and bake the ribs for 2 1/2 hours. Remove from heat.

When barbecuing, make sure the heat is high before placing the pork ribs. Slather your favourite barbecue sauce or honey (we used the juices from the pork ribs and mixed honey and apply jelly) over the pork ribs. Barbecue for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until ribs are nicely glazed.

TIPS

For this recipe, we removed the seeds and veins from the ancho chiles but kept the seeds for the guajillo chiles. This resulted in a slightly spicy sauce (which was delicious), however (sadly) the spiciness was lost in the baking. If you would like the ribs to be slightly spicy, I would suggest not removing the seeds nor veins from any of the chiles.

Mushroom Quesadillas
By Lourdes Castron (Simply Mexican)

Makes 12

1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed and chopped
10 ounces cremini mushrooms or any variety, cleaned and sliced 1 teaspoon salt
1 lime, juice
12 (9-inch) flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack Cheese
Cilantro

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and jalapeno and saute until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes.

Add the mushrooms, salt and the lime juice. Increase the heat to medium-high and saute for about 5 minutes, or until all of the liquid released by the mushrooms have evaporated. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a plate and set aside.

Place 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese on the bottom half of each tortilla and top with 2 tablespoons of the mushroom mixture. Fold the tortilla over, creating a half moon.

Place the tortillas on the grill and allow them to sear for 1 minute, then flip over and sear for another minute. Remove from grill.

Serve the quesadillas warm, accompanied with Mexican crema, tomato salsa, guacamole and refried beans. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro.

Dulce le Leche Ice Cream
By David Lebovitz and Mariana Crespo

Serves 5

For the Dulche de Leche (makes 1 cup/240ml)
400g sweetened condensed milk
Pinch of Sea salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425° F (220° C).

Pour the sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish. Stir in a few flecks of sea salt.

Set the pie plate within a larger pan, such as a roasting pan, and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate. Cover the pie plate snugly with aluminium foil and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours. (Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan as necessary).

Once the Dulce de Leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and let cool. Once it is cool, whisk until smooth.

Store in the refrigerator until it is ready to serve. Warm gently in a warm water bath or microwave oven before using.

For the Ice Cream
2 cups (480ml) whole milk
1 cup (240ml) heavy cream
1 pound dulce de leche (about 1 2/3 cups)
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180ml) chopped pecans, toasted

Directions

Bring milk and cream just to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, then remove from heat and whisk in dulce de leche until dissolved. Whisk in vanilla and transfer to a metal bowl.

Quick-chill by putting bowl in a larger bowl of ice and cold water and stirring occasionally until cold, 15 to 20 minutes.

Freeze mixture in ice cream maker until almost firm, then fold in pecans. Or you can top the ice cream with the toasted pecans as we did.

Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, at least 1 hour.
Agua Fresca de Pepino (Cucumber Cooler)

Makes 10 cups, serves 8

2 medium cucumber
4 cups (960ml) cold water
2 cup (480ml) ice cubes
1/2 cup (112.5g) sugar
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Directions

Peel cucumber and cut into chunks. In a blender blend cucumber with remaining ingredients until completely smooth and pour into a glass pitcher. Cooler may be made 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered. Stir cooler before serving.

TIPS

We made do with lime cordial instead of lime juice. Because the cordial is already sweet on its own, lessen the amount of sugar as specified in the recipe. Instead of the common cucumber, telegraphic cucumbers were used – still tasted amazingly refreshing. Use a power blender that allows you to crush ice.

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