Monday, January 4, 2010

South American & Caribbean… for a crowd

More than any other cuisines, I definitely cook the most – and know the most about – Caribbean and South American food. I decided to stick with my comfort zone when friends asked me to cater a Christmas party for twenty five people. Since no one I know has sit-down dining space for twenty five, we thought it would be best to make it a finger food extravaganza so guests could graze and move around and eat everything in stages. I created an overly ambitious menu of thirteen courses… oops. In the end, we only were able to gobble down about a quarter of the food I brought! **lesson learned** Good thing these dishes use mostly affordable ingredients and are good as leftovers. Click the names of the dishes for links to the recipes I loosely followed.

We started off with a dish of sugar and spice pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds).

At the party, we just popped them solo as a snack. They keep for over a week in an airtight container, so later in the week, I tossed the leftovers into a salad for some spicy crunch. They also provide a crunch and warm spicy note to desserts – I made Mexican chocolate brownies and served them topped with dulce de leche ice cream and a handful of pepitas.

A crowd favorite at the Christmas party was the chimichurri-marinated grilled flank steak served on crisp toasts and topped with a dollop of chimichurri.

I prepared the chimichurri, toasted the baguette slices, and marinated the steak the day before, so the day of the party all we had to do was grill the meat and set up an assembly line to assemble the dish.

I also served a calabaza and coconut soup with corn relish.

This was an excellent make-ahead dish – simmer the calabaza squash with corn in coconut milk until tender…

Then run it through a food mill to make a smooth soup.

Then the day of the party, make the corn relish and stir it into the soup at the last minute.

We had a nice assortment of dips hanging around with plantain and tortilla chips. Tomato salsa, chimichurri, lime crema, and my favorite, mango-pomegranate guacamole. The pomegranates added a nice festive touch along with some texture and sweetness.

Empanadas are always an economical, make-ahead crowd pleaser. We had Argentine beef empanadas, juicy and bursting with tomato and raisin and olives. I filled them the day of the party and baked them so they were fresh and hot for guests.

It takes some practice to get the roping down pat but after you make a bajillion of these, you get pretty good at it!

We also had bite-size Sanchez special Puerto Rican pork and bean pastelillos.

I use a dough recipe that was passed down from my Mimi to my Dad to me. It is THE BEST empanada dough I have ever had and majorly kicks the butt of any dough you can get in the freezer section of the grocery store. The filling is my Dad’s recipe and I have never met anyone who didn’t think it was the bomb. Pastelillos take a little time to put together, so we’ve always made a huge batch and frozen them so all we have to do is pop them straight from the freezer into the hot oil. You’ll find the recipes for both the dough and the filling at the end of this post.

I made sherried mushroom empanadas for any vegetarians at the party. They were golden and beautiful and a cinch to put together since I used frozen puff pastry dough.

The Peruvian grilled chicken also made it to the table, but by this time folks were really slowing down! I marinated chicken wings and drumettes overnight in a rich sauce of lime juice, soy sauce, garlic and cumin. The morning of the party I covered and baked them so all we had to do that night was throw them on the grill and make the chicken skin crisp and brown and tasty.

A batch of the Sanchez family Puerto Rican rice and beans kept warm throughout the evening in a crock pot. You can find the recipe here.

And now for the dishes that didn’t get served at the party – just no more room in our tummies! Shrimp in a tomato sauce served on yuca-coconut puree… and pupusas (griddled cornmeal cakes) stuffed with cheese and refried beans, served with curtido (cabbage slaw) and tomato salsa. They made a yummy dinner the next day.

Puerto Rican Pastelillos

My Dad’s pastelillos are beyond compare, flaky fried dough pockets stuffed to bursting with a spiced filling of meats, veggies, beans, and olives. Pastelillos are the go-to dish that I take to parties, as they are just as good served at room temperature as they are piping hot.


1 cup water

2 tbsp butter

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 cups flour

3/4 tsp baking powder


1 onion, chopped

1 small green pepper, chopped

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 pound pork sausage, removed from casings

12-oz pork fillet, diced

3 tbsp tomato paste

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 or 3 packets Sazón con achiote

1 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp dried oregano

½ can garbanzo beans (chick peas)

½ can gandules (pigeon peas)

Green olives (to taste)

1 russet potato, boiled, peeled and diced

½ bunch cilantro, chopped

Vegetable oil

For dough:

Place water, butter and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Stir into boiling water. Lower heat to medium low and continue stirring dough for about 30 seconds. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 2 minutes. Use caution, as the dough will be extremely hot. After kneading, place dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for one hour before rolling out to make pastelillos.

For filling:

Saute chopped onion and green pepper in olive oil until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add pork sausage and chopped pork and sauté until brown. Add tomato paste, garlic, Sazón, parsley and oregano and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes. When flavors have melded, add garbanzo beans, gandules, and whole green olives. Add potato and cilantro to filling mixture.

Roll out pastelillo dough and use a bowl as a template to cut into 5 inch rounds. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of each disc, then fold over into a half moon shape and press down on edge with a fork to seal. Fry pastelillos in vegetable oil until golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: pastelillos can be assembled and frozen. No need to defrost when ready to cook – simply remove from freezer and fry in vegetable oil until golden and heated through.


Unknown said...

Glad to see I'm not the only who over does it when I cook or bake for people. Must run in the family. ;)

Cari said...

Yes I think that is a classic Sanchez family move - plus I get it from my mom's side so I guess I had no chance!

mattnmay said...

May and I enjoy reading these. If you are ever keen to come to NZ, we have a good-sized kitchen (and spare bedroom).

Cari said...

Hey guys - LOVE IT that you're reading my blog from the other side of the world! Can't tell you how much we want to come and visit. Who knows, maybe we'll be able to save up some cash and make it happen in 2010?

Sook said...

Wow! Those empanadas look awesome! I love them!