Regional Cooking: Latin America

Imagine trying to tell someone from another country about American food. The dishes, spices and herbs, proteins and cooking methods are so diverse. They are regional. The places they come from tell us about the geography, religion, commerce, climate and history of that region. That is the same with any other country.

We will explore an overview of food from several regions around the world. Included for each region will be a one week menu with a pantry list, recipes with nutrition information. The recipes will be low cost and all will meet EFNEP’s nutrition policy requirements. Healthy!

Latin America

Latin America is rich in culture and history. The food is amazing. Using the resources of diverse climates and geographical regions like oceans, mountains, desserts, Amazon jungles and the tropics, regional cuisines developed based on the ingredients available. During the 1400's and 1500’s the Spanish colonized much of the Caribbean and Latin America. They brought new foods to the new world and took back foods from the new world to their home country. Fusion food is nothing new! We will see this for each region we visit.

The Pantry

This is by no means a complete list! You do not have to have all of these items. Please continue to explore in your own kitchen.

We are so lucky! We do have stores in Ulster County that sell groceries from several South of the Border countries.

Tortillas, corn, white or whole wheat

Beans, dried or canned

Herbs, fresh or dried, thyme, bay leaf, epazote, marjoram and oregano

Spices, whole allspice, peppercorns, cumin, cinnamon, achiote (annatto seed)

Rice Medium or long grain

Masa Harina or corn flour


Fresh, frozen or canned corn, corn husks or banana leaves, canned tomato products or fresh Roma tomatoes, cilantro, plantains, white onion, garlic, limes, oranges, tomatillos, avocadoes, coconut, jicama, fresh or frozen papaya and mango. What I have listed is a drop in the bucket. Please explore fresh, frozen, canned and dried options for more fruits and vegetables eaten in Latin American countries.


Queso Fresco, a mild, soft, and crumbly cheese similar to feta, pot cheese, farmer cheese. It is usually made with raw cow's milk and occasionally with goat's milk too; versions produced in the United States start with pasteurized cow's milk. It's lower in fat and sodium than most aged cheeses and extremely versatile.

Queso Oaxaca, a mild, stringy cheese that's sold, like fresh mozzarella, in balls, as well as in ropey braids. It melts beautifully and brings rich, creamy flavor to dishes like molletes, bean-and-cheese sandwiches.

Cotija, a hard, aged cows' milk cheese, has a salty flavor like feta. It's grated and sprinkled over savory dishes as a garnish

Crema, a mild-tasting cultured cream used to enrich soups and sauces and to garnish any number of dishes. You can also substitute sour cream, thinned with a little milk to get the right consistency for drizzling.

Chiles, fresh and dried. There are many types readily available to explore. You might start with Guajillo chilies. They are a mild dried chili. Guajillos add a signature deep-red color to enchilada sauces, salsas, chilaquiles, moles, tamal fillings, and stews. They are a powerhouse of flavor. As with all dried chilies, Guajillos are generally stemmed and seeded before use, at which point they can be toasted, fried, or placed directly in water to hydrate. Once the skin is soft and/or the chilies have released their essential fragrance, they are mixed with water or stock. Aromatics such as onions and garlic, and an acidic element such as tomatoes, are then blended into a sauce. When purchasing, choose chilies that are soft and pliable whenever possible. Brittle chilies are old and won't have as much flavor. Store dried chilies in sealed plastic bags, in a dry, cool area.

1 whole Guajillo chili = 1 teaspoon of chili powder

If you use dried chilies you can experiment and make your own blends.

Pantry Odds and Ends

Nuts and Seeds, Peanuts, pecans, Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and chia seeds

Vinegars, mild fruit vinegars like pineapple or banana


Fat, Corn or olive oil


Flour, Chickpea, yucca, white, corn, cassava, tapioca

Grains, Rice, quinoa, amaranth

Menu for one week

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Sunday Empanadas cheese / eggs Chicken soup/tortillas Carne asada


Monday Cereal/milk/berries Quesadilla/refried

beans, leftover pork

Enchilada casserole

Fruit salad

Tuesday Cereal/milk/banana Salad/leftover chicken Mex. squash/tomato

cheese, quinoa salad

Wednesday Toast/sliced avocado, cheese/salsa Quinoa salad/leftover

beef, veggies

Beef empanadas

salad, plantains

Thursday Veggie omelet /toast


Mini veggie tlayudas Carnitas, pickled onion,

cabbage slaw

Friday Cereal/milk/peaches Black bean soup

tortillas/fruit salad

Tilapia tacos,plantains
Saturday Quesadilla/refried beans/cheese Empanadas refried beans/cheese Chicken enchilada


Don’t forget the churros for dessert or snacks! Serve with fruit, milk or coffee.

Menu Plan Strategy

I started with breakfast. I think it is the easiest meal to plan.For some reason most people do not mind eating the same breakfast more than once a week.

Then I planned the dinners.

Lunches are all mix and match foods from the dinners.

Mix and match side dishes and condiments for variety

I shop each week so I plan the menu for one week at a time.

Different salsas, sauces, fruits and vegetables give each meal its own taste while using some ingredients from a previous meal.

You would never have to prep the whole menu. You may already have some empanada dough in the freezer you made before. You might make homemade tortillas to save money and have fun with children; or you might buy already made. That is the same for many foods.

I will choose my recipes, then make my shopping list. My menu may be based on the sales that week, especially regarding meats and poultry

I will check in my cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what I already have, then cross those items off my list.

Fresh, frozen and canned fruits, vegetables and beans are all good options. Choose low sodium and no sauce beans and vegetables and fruits in their own juice or water.

Always use the unit price, pictured below, to save money. In this example, the price of yogurt containers of different sizes is compared in oz. (ounces) The measurement will vary depending on the product. You can use this on almost everything that comes in a box, bag, bottle, jar or can.


List of Recipes

Read the recipe all the way through. Look for the amount of servings, the ingredients, how much time the recipe will take and what equipment is needed. When you are ready to cook, set up your equipment and have the food you need out and ready to go.

Sauces, Side Dishes and Condiment Recipes

These can be made ahead in large batches. They can be use at any meal. Great for mix and match meals.

Pineapple Vinegar

5 Minute Enchilada Sauce

Authentic Red Enchilada Sauce

Corn Tortillas

Salsa Verde

Spicy Salsa Tatemada

Pickled Jalapeños or Red onions

Whole Wheat Empanada Dough

Mexican Rice


Refried Beans


Fried Plantains

Main Meals

Enchilada Casserole - Vegetable, Chicken, Pork, Beef

Carne Asada Beef

Mini Vegetable Tlayudas - Seafood, Chicken, Vegetable, Pork, Beef

Carnitas Taco with Pickled Red Onion (Pulled Pork)

Tilapia Fish Tacos - Seafood and Shellfish, Pork, Chicken, Beef

Empanadas - Beef, eggs, cheese, chicken, pork, vegetables

Last updated July 3, 2023