If you’re looking for culinary inspiration during these pre-spring weeks of limbo  before edible gardens start growing and markets begin to fill up with local produce  try looking south of the border. 

Most Latin American dishes are simple to prepare with fresh and bright or deep, complex flavours, and yet most are based on ingredients available right here in Alberta.

If you’re looking to source authentic Latin products and produce, try La Tiendona Market, just off International Ave at 1836 36 St. S.E., or the Unimarket, at 128 50th Ave. S.E. or 2405 Edmonton Trail N.E.

Ceviche Tostada

Cody Willis of Taco Or No Taco shared the recipe for his uber-popular ceviche tostadas, the favourite item at their pop-up taco and luchador wrestling event in December. He says you can use any super fresh white fish, shrimp or scallops, whichever you prefer and is available.

His recipe includes formulas for homemade tortillas and salsa de aguacate. I streamlined the process with fresh corn tortillas and salsa verde. If you’re more into eating out, watch for the Native Tongues Taqueria, slated to open later this year in Victoria Park.

  • Canola oil, for cooking
  • Fresh corn tortillas

Ceviche

  • 1 lb fresh fish, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 small red birds’ eye chilis, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, hulled and diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup salsa verde
  • 2 avocados, pitted and diced

In a small skillet, heat about half an inch of oil over medium-high heat; cook tortillas for a few minutes, flipping with tongs, until golden and crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

In a bowl, combine the fish, cilantro, chili and tomato. Add a generous amount of fresh lime juice, and season well with salt. Let the mixture sit — the acid will “cook” it — for five to seven minutes. Don’t leave it too long, or it can overcook and become rubbery. Check seasoning and acidity, and adjust to taste. It should have a very bright, vibrant flavour.

In a small bowl, stir together the salsa and avocados. Spread over the crisp corn tortillas and top with a mound of ceviche. Serve immediately.

Serves eight to 12.

Ceviche tacos

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Slow-roasted pork carnitas with orange and milk

Flavourful and inexpensive, pork shoulder is perfect for braising. This is an easy dish to make in larger quantities, if you’re feeding a crowd or want leftovers to stash in the freezer or have for quick lunches all week.

This dish could be done in the slow cooker, but I love the way the oven produces dark, sticky bits, intensifies flavours and prevents the meat from going mushy. Adapted from Epicurious.

Pork

  • 2-3 lb boneless pork shoulder (butt) or boneless country pork ribs
  • canola or olive oil or lard, for cooking
  • 1 orange, washed and quartered
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Salt and pepper

For serving

  • Corn tortillas, warmed
  • Avocado, diced
  • Finely chopped onion
  • Salsa
  • Sour cream
  • Cilantro

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Cut the meat into a few chunks, heat a generous drizzle of oil or dab of lard in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and brown the meat on all sides, transferring it to a baking dish as it browns. Squeeze the orange wedges over the meat and toss in the rinds alongside; pour the milk over top, then add enough water to almost cover the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake for three hours, until the meat is very tender.

Break or pull the meat apart into smaller pieces, remove and discard the orange rind, and turn the oven up to 375˚F. Roast the meat uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is crisp and brown on the edges.

Place the pot of pork directly on the table and surround with corn tortillas and accessories, let everyone serve themselves by piling pork, avocado, onion, salsa, sour cream and cilantro on their own corn tortillas. Serves lots.

Pork carnitas

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Alfajores

An alfajor or alajú is a traditional sweet found in some regions of Spain and Latin America. In North America, the term alfajores most often refers to shortbread or sugar cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche, a soft milk caramel that’s perfect for spreading on just about anything, but especially on buttery cookies.

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Dulce de leche, jarred or homemade, for filling

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar for three to four minutes, until pale and light. Beat in the vanilla.

Add the flour and salt and beat just until the dough comes together; gather it into a ball, divide it in half, shape each piece into a disk and wrap in plastic or waxed paper. Refrigerate for half an hour or so.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚F. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough out 1/4-inch thick and cut into one to one and a half inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and prick each once or twice with a fork.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once completely cooled, spread half the cookies with dulce de leche or caramel and top with a second cookie.

Makes about two dozen sandwich cookies.

Alfajores

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Shrimp and grits with a fried egg

With native American origin, grits are more southern US than Latin American, but the two often overlap. Grits cook quickly, like cream of wheat; fresh shrimp cook even quicker, which means a delicious dinner could be on the table in under 15 minutes.

Grits

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup grits
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup grated aged Gouda or white cheddar
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Shrimp

  • 1/2 lb. raw, peeled, tail-on shrimp
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. dry barbecue rub (optional)
  • Fresh Italian parsley, torn or chopped
  • Eggs, for frying (optional)

In a medium saucepan, bring the water and milk to a simmer. Slowly whisk in the grits and add the salt; cook, whisking often over medium heat, for five to 10 minutes, or until thickened to the consistency of cream of wheat. Stir in the grated cheese and butter and season with salt and pepper.

Set a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter and oil. When the foam subsides, add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the shrimp and sprinkle with barbecue rub. Cook, turning the shrimp as you need to, moving them around the pan, just until they turn opaque. Divvy the grits between shallow bowls and top them with shrimp. If you like, crack some eggs into the pan (as many as people you're feeding) and cook them sunny side up or over easy in the spicy butter in the pan. Place them alongside the shrimp and dribble any butter left in the pan over top.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately. Serves four.

Shrimp and grits

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)