To many of us, Latin American cuisine comprises food from just one region - Mexico. However, the region is filled with culinary inspiration, from the tropical flavours of Jamaica, to the starch-heavy cooking from Peru.
Next weekend, home chef Rachana Shah Sony will whip up a few dishes from the continent, in an all-vegetarian avatar, at a pop-up presented by home dining venture Commeat.
"My aunt lives in Jamaica. Over the last couple of years, she had been sharing authentic recipes with me. Since the food of the region relies heavily on meat and seafood, and I don't eat either, I had to recreate every dish to appeal to a vegetarian palate," says Shah Sony.
Empanadas. Pics Courtesy/ Rachana Shah SonyThe Grant Road resident has been hosting pop-ups and catering for private events for the last five years, but her repertoire was limited to Italian and Mexican food. "I wanted to try something new. And, after I started experimenting with the Jamaican recipes, I was interested to see what else is out there. So, I browsed through many recipe books to come up with a few dishes that could be made without any non-vegetarian component. It was quite a challenge," she admits.
She spent a year-and-a-half trying and failing, until she had perfected the dishes. The most unique iterations have made it to the pop-up menu. "Empanadas are a type of fried pastry that are usually stuffed with beef. My version replaces this with minced vegetables and cheese," says Shah Sony, adding that similarly, the traditional skirt steak will be made using sweet potato, and paired with a homemade chocolate mole. Even the Tres Leches, a three-milk cake, is prepared without eggs.
Sweet Potato and Queso Fresco Steak with Home-made Mole
One of the most interesting items on the menu is of Peruvian origin and is called Ocopa Arequipena. This potato bake comes with a spicy cheese and walnut sauce, which is then topped with red peppers and olives and served with warm homemade tortillas. The home chef will also be serving Arepas, which are corn griddle sandwiches popular in Venezuela and Colombia.
Sourcing ingredients was another challenge that Shah Sony faced as some of the produce used traditionally is not available in India. For some exotic items, she relied on family members and friends living in the US.
Rachana Shah Sony
"Some dishes called for the use of ingredients like heart of palm (a vegetable harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees), which aren't freshly available in the city. So, I either dropped those dishes, or, in some cases, found substitutes such as yam," she says.
Does she plan on visiting Latin Americas anytime soon? She laughs, "I wish I could! It would be lovely. Maybe I will, someday soon."
ON: May 27, 7.30 pmAT: Churchgate (address to be provided on booking)EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.orgCOST: Rs 1,200
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