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Menu Planning: Latin American Style

Menu Planning: Latin American Style

Succulent, melt-in-your mouth pork transcends borders to enhance menus across Latin American cuisine.

The beaches of Puerto Rico. The streets of Cuba. The rainforest of Bolivia. The Mexican coastline. Latin America comprises many different locales as well as cultures, but they all share one powerful protein — pork. Pork seems to be everywhere in Latin American cuisine. Pulled, grilled, juicy, crackling and versatile, it's the star in countless cocinas.

Covering a region including South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, Latin America is regarded as one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world, and the rich, colorful cuisine reflects that. Just a taste — the sampling you'll find here — of a few tasty pork dishes can inspire more culinary exploration.

Basking in the Spotlight

In Puerto Rico, pork is a celebration just about each and every time it's consumed.

“Although lechoneras are frequented year-round (especially on weekends), December and January is when they truly bask in the spotlight. Holiday revelers travel from every corner of the island to enjoy a juicy piece of pork and fresh cuerito or chicharrón (crispy pork rind), as well as indigenous holiday music, local tchotchkes to take home and maybe even a bit of dancing if the mood strikes.” (from the “Experience Puerto Rico” website

Delicious roasted pork is also associated with special occasions in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, with pernil. This mouth-watering pork dish consists of a shoulder of pork marinated in garlic, vinegar, oregano and cumin. It's then slow-roasted until golden brown on the outside and juicy on the inside. It's traditionally served in slices and drizzled with the cooking juices.

Either on its own or just as a component of a dish, pork is nothing if not versatile. In Chile, pork is a favorite filling for empanadas, pastries filled with bits of meat, carrots, black olives, raisins and hard-boiled eggs, seasoned with similar seasonings to pernil. (from Food Culture in South America by Jose Rafael Lovera — a good source for information and recipes).

Miami-born Food Service Supervisor Michelle Perkins, SNS, of Okeechobee, FL, County Schools, wanted to get the “Cuban flavor” of pork served in the district just right, so she worked with a manufacturer for more than two years to develop just the right taste.

She ended up with a pre-cooked “Cuban-style” pork item with a vinegary sauce that can even be reworked into Carolina- or Texas-style barbecues when desired.

“The Caribbean Bowl is a result of having sent USDA commodity pork to be further processed into Caribbean style pork (lechon asado),” Perkins says, adding that her son-in-law's mother, who is Cuban, shared with her a recipe for black beans, which includes a sofrito base of green peppers, onions, minced garlic and tomato sauce. Her high school student customers have been choosing the bowl — for its flavor and good perceived value. The 12 oz. bowl has a dome lid and is layered with rice, then beans, then pork, and served with a garlic bread stick.

Many students in Okeechobee County, a rural, agricultural community, are Hispanic with Mexican roots, but Perkins says any Latin dish generally does well, “if well prepared,” she adds.

Related Recipes

Cabo Tacos
Jamaican Pork Roast with Caramelized Onion and Fruit
San Miguel Jalapeno Pork and Black Bean Tamales
New Cuban Ham, Canadian Bacon & Wisconsin Cheese Sandwich
Papas Bravas
Pork Bocadillos
Pulled Pork Sandwich with Mango Barbecue Sauce

Latin American Sides to Try

Plantains: baked, grilled or fried

Arroz con Habichuelas (rice with either pink or kidney beans)

Arroz con Gandules (rice with pigeon peas)

South American Fresh Corn Areapas (like corn fritters with brown sugar)

Mofongo: mashed plaintain or yucca seasoned with garlic

Avocado: in a side salad, or stuffed with mayo, tomato, onion and cilantro

Yuca with Garlic Sauce (Yuca con Mojo): Mild yucca root with onions and garlic

Old Slippers: South American chayotes (like squash) stuffed with cheese and nuts

Peruvian Potato Salad: new potatoes with Serrano chiles, hardboiled eggs and olives

Plantains: baked, grilled or fried

Mexican Style Slaw with jicama, cilantro and lime

Black Bean Salad with mango, citrus and jicama

Frijoles del Cordon (Cuban Green Beans) with cubed ham, garlic, onion, cilantro and lime

Sopaipillas (Northern Mexican fried bread)

Cantaloupe Salad

Fried Bammy (Jamaican cake made from Cassava Root)

Tacu Tacu (Peruvian rice and lentils)

Chilean Fruit Salsa (with peaches, plums, kiwi, and/or nectarines and cilantro, avocado, jalapeno and red onion)

Pan de Banano (Guatemalan banana bread)

Pork and Pirates of the Caribbean: “From Beard to Tail”

French-speaking pirates helped originate the word “barbecue.” They called the Caribbean pig roast “de barbe et queue,” which translates “from beard to tail.” The pork feast “reflected the fact that the hog was an eminently versatile animal that could be consumed from head to toe.”
The National Pork Board/Pork Checkoff (for more pork facts, visit

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