La Latina

Grace Ramirez has a new book out – and it’s full of spice and all things nice, i.e. cocktails.

My Kitchen Rules judge Grace Ramirez is proud of her strong Latin heritage. So proud, she has just put out a book showcasing Latin food, La Latina.

Tracing her culinary roots back to her Venezuelan great grandmother who believed that the “superpoderes” (superpowers) of the kitchen enabled her to create great meals from humble ingredients, Grace has kept her family recipes alive with this book.

But it also features her own take on the food of Latin America, with some recipes simplified and many others adapted so you can find the ingredients right here on our own two islands.

Within 280 pages of sumptuous recipes sumptuously photographed, you’ll also find a series of fiesta menus – such as the Mexican one pictured above. But what’s a fiesta without a cocktail or two? We’ve nabbed a couple of our favourites from the book so you can have a fiesta of your own.

Hibiscus Margarita
Serves 4

Hibiscus water
1 litre water
¼ cup dried hibiscus flowers, or 3 hibiscus tea bags
For the rims
1 tbsp chilli salt
2 tsp freeze-dried raspberry powder
1 lime wedge
50ml lime juice
250ml tequila
100ml triple sec
250ml hibiscus water (see above)
150ml simple syrup (see right)
750ml ice (crushed or cubes)

Hibiscus drinks, with or without alcohol, begin with a beautiful plum-red tea made from dried hibiscus blossoms. Hibiscus brews are fruity with an acidic edge, indicating ample vitamin C on board. That tart flavour says, for my tastebuds at least, “sugar needed”. So sweeten things up just a bit, with sugar, agave nectar or honey.

Bring water to a soft boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Turn heat off and add dried hibiscus flowers or teabags. Let them infuse for about 10 minutes. Strain into a container. Cool in the refrigerator.

Combine chilli salt and raspberry powder in a small bowl. Spread onto a small plate. Coat rims of chilled glasses with the juice from the lime wedge. Dip rims into chilli salt/raspberry mixture.

Combine margarita ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth, or stir together with a wooden spoon. Pour into prepared glasses and serve immediately.

Chef’s note: This recipe makes more hibiscus water than is needed. You can use it to make a bigger batch, keep it in the fridge for up to a week, or add lemon and sugar to make a hibiscus lemonade.

Pina colada
Serves 4-6

1 cup rum
1 ripe fresh pineapple, ½ juiced (about 2 cups) and the rest chopped lengthwise for garnish
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup coconut cream
Simple syrup (see opposite page), to taste
2 cups ice (crushed or cubes)
Mint leaves and edible flowers to garnish

Put half of all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Repeat with the other half (to avoid overflowing). Combine and serve, garnished with chopped pineapple, mint leaves and edible flowers. Chef’s note: You can use simple syrup in place of the sweetened condensed milk; it will just be less creamy.

Simple Syrup
Makes 2 cups

2 cups sugar
2 cups water

Put sugar in a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir for a minute or two until sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and cool to room temperature. Store in a very clean jar; any solid particles may cause crystals to form. Refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to a month.

Reproduced with permission from La Latina, by Grace Ramirez. Published by Random House (NZ). RRP $60.00. Text copyright ©Grace Ramirez, 2015. Photographs copyright ©Garth Badger, 2015.

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