What to Get at a Latin / Hispanic Grocery Store
Shopping at a Hispanic market or Latin grocery store can be intimidating for some, but if you know what to look for and how to say certain words, you will find treasures you cannot find anywhere else. Let me give you my secret shopping list to what you MUST get:
Alfajores are small and round, they consist of two sweet cookies joined together with mousse, dulce de leche or milk caramel, and coated with black or white chocolate, or simply covered with powdered sugar. They come in different flavors, depending on the country of origin. Stock up on these for snacking, for the kids lunch boxes, or for serving with coffee at the end of a meal in place of cookies.
Once you try them, you can't live without them. Empanadas are small turnovers or mini "calzones", filled with beef, chicken, ham & cheese, onion & cheese, sweetcorn, spinach, etc. This is a great "to go" food option, since you can pack them for lunch at work, in your kids lunch boxes, and take them to picnics or even serve them at birthday parties. They are usually served as an appetizer in Latin America, but you can also have them as a main course. They taste much better if served hot, but they are also delicious at room temperature. Some stores sell them frozen and packed in sets of a dozen, ready to be put in the oven and cooked as needed. I recommend getting them frozen, since they are crispier and taste better when eaten right off the oven. If you can't find empanadas at your local store, you will definitely find the prepacked "dough" (La Salteña and Fargo are the best brands). Go ahead and make them at home, following our delicious recipe here.
DULCE DE LECHE
A staple in any South American household, dulce de leche or milk caramel is delicious on pancakes, crepes, waffles, toast, cake fillings, and of course on its own. In my case, if I try one tiny spoonful of dulce de leche, I won't be able to stop until I finish the whole jar. Beware: it is very addictive.
This is the best kept secret to an outstanding "asado" or barbeque. In Argentina, this is the ONLY seasoning used for meat. This kind of salt is a little more coarse than regular table salt. It looks like tiny crystals when sprinkled on your meat, and the way to do it is to season the meat before placing it on the grill. Once the meat goes on the grill, the salt will "melt" leaving behind a unique crunchiness. I personally use this kind of salt for everything, from salads, to veggies and meats.
Chorizos are the Latin American version of the hot dog. They are usually made of pork and can be more or less spicy. I like the less spicy ones since they are a great option for the whole family. Chorizos are perfect as an appetizer when you have guests at home, and even for the kids, as they are fast easy to eat and delicious. They are super easy to grill on any bbq. Follow our instructions here on how to grill and serve the perfect Choripán.
I remember when I used to co-own a very successful Argentine steakhouse in San Francisco, my Chef always insisted in getting his Oregano from Latin America. It turns out that South American oregano has a different flavor from European or local grown oregano: it is spicier, less sweet and more herby. Oregano is one of the main ingredients in the delicious chimichurri salsa.
Again, this South American spice is unique. I always look for the crushed red pepper from Argentina. Mild but packed full of flavor - very different from crushed chillies which is what you usually get here in the U.S. Almost every recipe, from empanadas fillings, to chimichurri sauce, contains ají molido.
Chimichurri is a classic South American herb sauce to have with steak, chicken, seafood, empanadas or just as a dip with some bread. Some stores carry the Chimichurri spice mix from Argentina - a versatile dry spice mix that can be used as a seasoning or rub, or can be simply mixed with olive oil and white wine vinegar to make chimichurri sauce. Some other stores make their own, or carry some pre made brands. You can also make your own homemade chimichurri by following our delicious recipe.
The best for last. This traditional Argentine brewery was founded in 1888 in Buenos Aires by a German immigrant. Cerveza Quilmes is now a national symbol in Argentina. This crisp pilsner is perfect for a hot summer day at the pool, or for a warm evening Asado al fresco.