August 2010 Issue
Fiesta of Flavors
Festival Latino in Columbus delivers a cross-cultural experience of tastes.
Recipes: Seco de Carne (beef stew); Salpicon de Res (cold beef salad)
When Venezuela-born Jeyi Moreno moved to Columbus from Miami, Florida, three years ago, she struggled to find the flavors of her culture that were so readily available in southern Florida’s largely Latino population.
“I think [in Columbus] people tend to think of ‘Latino’ as just Mexican,” she says. “And there are so many other nationalities that make up that group.”
Which is how she and her husband, Alex, a native of Puerto Rico, discovered Festival Latino in downtown Columbus. Moreno says the couple attended last year’s event, hoping to find empanadas, tequenos, fried plantains and other foods that their palates craved. “We found some foods — pork dishes and Puerto Rican foods — but there could be more,” she says.
Representing the foods of as many Latin American cultures as possible is one of the festival’s main goals, says Chris Skinner, Festival Latino’s vendor coordinator. “It’s true, everyone immediately thinks ‘Mexican Festival,’ but from a food standpoint, we’re definitely more than that,” he says. The food at this year’s festival, Aug. 14–15, will include dishes from Peru, Columbia, Cuba, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Mexico, among others. “I’m also really focused on getting more desserts,” Skinner says, pleased to be able to count freshly made churros — ridged, sugar-coated fried dough desserts that are popular in many Latin American countries — among this year’s additions.
Festival Latino’s food comes from a mix of local restaurants as well as vendors from other states. Among the local favorites, you’ll find Guillermo Perez, owner of Si Senor restaurant in downtown Columbus. Perez, who hails from Lima, Peru, says his menu represents a mix of traditional Peruvian staples with other Latin influences.
“Along the coast, there was a lot of immigration, so we have Chinese, Italian, Japanese, French and even Arabic influences in our food,” he says. In the past, he’s served the traditional Peruvian dish lomo saltado (which translates as “jumping beef”) to festivalgoers. “Lomo saltado is a dish cooked in a wok, made from thin slices of beef stir fried with onions, tomatoes, hot peppers and vinegar,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s served with french fries on top.” Perez also features a “jumping beef” sandwich on his restaurant’s menu, which combines sliced beef, sautéed onions, tomatoes and melted manchego cheese, topped with avocado mayonnaise. “I modeled mine after the way my mother made it,” he says.
Hungry crowds were also treated to Perez’s papas a la huancaina — grilled potatoes topped with a mild cheese sauce made with aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow peppers) — another Lima staple. “Peruvian food is not known for being spicy,” he explains. “We use lots of mild pepper flavor.” He classifies this dish as Peruvian street food. “Growing up, we didn’t have a McDonalds, so we had lots of street vendors selling things like hot dogs mixed with french fries and corn and potatoes topped with different sauces,” he says.
Like Perez, festival vendor Leticia Vazquez-Smith uses her business, Azteca Catering (aztecacatering.com), to bring the flavors of her native Mexico City to her customers. “In central Mexico, the pre-Spanish diet was focused on vegetables and corn [which is why in central Mexico you have a corn-based tortilla, but in northern Mexico you have a flour-based tortilla, she notes], chili peppers, and insects for protein, because there wasn’t a lot of meat available,” she says. When the Spanish came to Mexico, they infused the local diet with rice, chicken and fish. “People always think rice is from Mexico, but it’s not,” she says.
Vazquez-Smith says she focuses on healthy dishes made with organic ingredients (a local farmer grows her chili peppers) and spices she brings back from her frequent travels to Mexico. Most of her recipes have been passed down from her mother and grandmother.
At last year’s festival, Vazquez-Smith’s menu, which included cactus salad, six different types of tamales and jamica water (water flavored with hibiscus) showed attendees a less-familiar side of Mexican cuisine, one they clearly welcomed. “People were very curious,” she says. “I sold out both days.”
Festival Latino is Aug. 14–15 at Genoa Park in downtown Columbus. In addition to food vendors, the event features local, national and international Latin-American music acts, as well as merchandise, dance demonstrations and dance instruction. Admission is free. For more information, visit festivallatino.net.
Seco de Carne
(Latin-style beef stew)
Recipe courtesy of Guillermo Perez, Si Senor restaurant
Growing up, Perez says his family would eat this stew year-round, usually with rice.
He says the secret to the dish’s rich flavor is cooking the cilantro.
2 pounds beef chuck,
cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon aji amarillo pepper (Peruvian yellow pepper, available in specialty markets)
1 cup fresh cilantro, pureed
2 cups beef stock
1 cup beer (Perez says he uses what he has on hand, provided it’s not dark)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 medium carrots, diced
1/2 cup peas
Season the beef with salt and pepper. In a heavy-bottom pot, heat the oil to medium high and brown the meat. Remove the meat from the pan and add the onion, garlic and pepper. Saute over medium heat for about 4–5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the cilantro puree and sauté 3 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and add the beef stock, beer and cumin. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the meat is tender, about 1-1/2 hours. Add the carrots and peas and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning.
Salpicon de Res
(Cold Beef Salad)
Recipe courtesy of Leticia Vazquez-Smith, Azteca Catering
Vazquez-Smith says this dish is perfect for summer entertaining because it can be made a day in advance and served cold.
2- to 2-1/2-pound beef flank
or skirt steak
1 medium onion, peeled and
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
sea salt, to taste
3 medium beefsteak tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 avocados, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cups romaine lettuce, shredded
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef and onion to a large pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until meat is very tender. Remove the meat and reserve the stock for soup or other recipes. Shred the meat with your fingers when it is cool enough to handle.
In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, oregano and sea salt. Toss the tomatoes and sliced onion with the vinaigrette. Set aside for a few minutes to let the vegetables marinate.
Gently toss the shredded beef with the avocados and marinated vegetables. Add in the cilantro and lettuce, and adjust seasoning. Spread on a serving platter and serve chilled or at room temperature with warm tortillas.