Our Essential South and Central American Recipes

Spice up your life with the traditional flavors of Latin America and Brazil

By SAVEUR Editors

Published on May 22, 2017

Central and South American cuisines fuse a rich tradition of using native ingredients along with influences from Europe, Africa, and Asia. From the mountainous Andes, whose terraces have grown potatoes, corn, chiles, and cacao, to the coastal regions boasting a world of fresh seafood, the vastly diverse region is worth getting to know (and taste) in your own kitchen. One of our favorite comfort foods is turkey stew from Guatemala, a land of ancient food traditions. But we also love traditional sandwiches, like the panes con pavo of El Salvador. Using recipes that call for cornmeal? Try your hand at making your own from scratch—once you've done it, you'll never go back to the store-bought stuff. And let's not forget about chocolate drinks and chocolate desserts from the home of cacao itself. Ready to explore the culinary wonders of Central and South America? Here are our best Central and South American recipes, from Peruvian soup to Chilean pork shanks and Nicaraguan tres leches.

Chimichurri, a kind of spicy, vinegar-laced pesto, is the condiment of choice for steak in Argentina. Get the recipe for Rib-Eye Steak with Chimichurri »

Lime juice adds zing to this simple crudo from chef Ignacio Mattos. Assemble it right before serving, so the juice doesn't cook the fish. Mattos uses sea bass, but snapper also works well. Get the recipe for Uruguayan Sea Bass Crudo »

This adaptable stew is from the Brazilian state of Bahia, where Iberian, indigenous, and African foodways intermingle in one of the country's most dynamic cuisines. Usually bread is used to thicken it, but some cooks use manioc flour. Sometimes there are ground peanuts, sometimes cashews. Onions, tomatoes, ginger, okra, and chiles might go into the pot, along with chicken, salt cod, or shrimp. But there's always coconut milk and palm oil, which provide a luxurious texture and signature floral notes.—Neide Rigo. Get the recipe for Brazilian Shrimp Stew (Vapatá) »

This gently spiced sandwich is a unique and tasty way to serve turkey. Pack some up to satisfy a crowd for a day of tailgating. Get the recipe for Salvadoran Turkey Sandwich (Panes con Pavo) »

Popular throughout Latin America, this milk-soaked cake is thought to have originated in Nicaragua. Get the recipe for Tres Leches Cake »

Meant to be a catchall for the day's available seafood, rundown showcases whatever's freshest at the fish market along with tubers in a slightly sweet coconut milk broth. Get the recipe for Nicaraguan "Rundown" Seafood Soup »

In José Andrés' Peruvian take on sushi, briny sea urchin rests atop rolls of ají-amarillo–infused potatoes, stuffed with batons of crunchy jicama. Lime and yuzu add a bright pop of citrus while fried quinoa provides irresistible crunch in this flavor-packed appetizer. Get the recipe for Potato–Jicama Rolls with Uni »

With a base of pisco, a Chilean spirit distilled from the country's native grapes, the After the Snow, a fresh sour cocktail, can be found at the Awasi Lodge in Patagonia. Laced with celery and grapes, which are muddled and hidden under a drift of crushed ice, the drink has a brisk, vegetal note as fresh and delicate as spring's arrival. Get the recipe for After the Snow Cocktail »

This rustic turkey soup—often served when christening a new home in Guatemala—has a sweet-sour broth made from puréed tomatoes, tomatillos, and lots of garlic. Classically, the vegetables are toasted on a comal or griddle over fire, then crushed into a purée using a grinding stone, but a cast-iron pan and blender work just as well. Serve kak-ik like the locals do: with a small bowl of chile paste on the side to customize your own spice level. Get the recipe for Guatemalan Turkey Soup (Kak-Ik) »

Chef Jose Garces uses a batter of rice flour and vodka to produce shatteringly crisp fish bites that he then stuffs into warm tortillas and tops with cool, crunchy slaw. Get the recipe for Jose Garces' Fish Tacos »

Scallops might not be the heartiest, but when you combine them with a chickpea stew you're guaranteed to stay cozy on cooler nights. Get the recipe for Scallops with Stewed Chickpeas and Tomatoes »

In Santiago, Chile, chef Juan Pablo Mellado Arana serves these pork shanks, burnished red from merkén and piquant red pepper paste, with rice for a substantial lunch. Get the recipe for Chilean Spice-Rubbed Pork Shanks »

This is chef Ignacio Mattos' version of a hearty cheesesteak sandwich that is served in restaurants and cafés throughout Uruguay. Get the recipe for Chivito (Uruguayan Cheesesteak) Sandwich »

This obscure regional dish can be tracked down only in the agricultural valley town of Almolonga in Guatemala. Adapted from a village native, Francisca Siquaná de Cotoc (who insists that a food processor could never achieve the same texture as grinding seeds by hand), this recipe is meat-focused, but its creamy, nutty sauce would pair well with any cooked vegetable. The level of spice will vary depending on the type of dried chiles used. Get the recipe for Choc'a »

Known as chupe de centolla, this Chilean crab gratin borders on a cheesy crab dip. While similar South American chupe are always prepared with milk-soaked bread and any combination of shrimp, scallops, shellfish, meats, and cheeses, Patagonia's version relies solely on the massive local king crabs, the hallmark of fishermen's kitchens along Chile's southernmost coast. Get the recipe for The Ultimate Crab Dip »

This hearty dish of beans and pork is the quintessential Brazilian comfort food. It is traditionally served with garlic rice, sautéed collard greens, a tangy vinaigrette, and farofa, toasted cassava flour. Get the recipe for Brazilian Beans with Smoked Pork, Rice and Collards (Feijoada) »

To cook these ribs indoors, brown them in a 12″ cast-iron skillet and then roast them in a 350° oven until the meat is tender. Get the recipe for Grilled Beef Ribs with Charred Vegetables »

A steaming pot of Suban-Ik, a hen stew local to San Martin Jilotepeque. Get the recipe for Spicy Guatemalan Pork and Chicken Stew (Suban-Ik) »

Variations on this elegant cookie can be found throughout Latin America, but alfajores are associated above all with the cafe culture of Buenos Aires. They're served year-round with coffee, but during the holidays home cooks all over Argentina break out their trusted family recipes—each one unique but always with a decadent filling of dulce de leche sandwiched between two rounds of crisp butter cookie. Get the recipe for Duche de Leche Cookie Sandwiches (Alfajores) »

Spreading mayonnaise on both sides of the bread before grilling yields a perfectly golden brown crust in this recipe from chef Ignacio Mattos. Get the recipe for Crab Toast »

Smoky trout stuffed with cheese and sausage for a full meal. Serve it with pebre, a ubiquitous piquant Chilean condiment that's somewhere between salsa and chimichurri. Recipe adapted from Federico Ziegler of the Awasi Lodge. Get the recipe for Grilled Stuffed Trout with Pebre Sauce »

In his version of Chilean empanadas, chef Rodolfo Guzmán of Boragó replaces lean ground chuck with rich beef short ribs, which make each bite tender. Get the recipe for Beef Short Ribs Empanadas »

At Christmas, Ecuadorians sip this warm cinnamon tea, spiked with a sugarcane-based spirit and sweetened with passionfruit. Get the recipe for Canelazo »

Distantly related to Mexican salsa, pebre is an emulsified blend of tomatoes, peppers, and vinegar traditionally served with bread rolls in Santiago. This recipe, from chef Rodolfo Guzmán of Boragó in Santiago, Chile, uses native green ajè cristal chiles, but you can substitute banana peppers to mimic their very mild, floral heat. Get the recipe for Chilean Tomato and Pepper Sauce (Pebre) »

This sweet corn beverage is doled out warm in Guatemalan markets, often seasoned with cinnamon or vanilla. Corn kernels are pulverized on a grinding stone or metate to achieve the drink's silky, creamy consistency (but you can use a blender). Get the recipe for Guatemalan Sweet Corn and Milk Drink (Atol de Elote) »

This classic custard is ubiquitous in Chile, where it is served in cups for a quick afternoon snack or baked in a larger pan for a family-style dessert. Get the recipe for Baked Custard with Caramel Sauce (Leche Asada) »

Crisp celery and radishes are lightly pickled in lemon juice in this salad from chef Juan Pablo Mellado Arana of Las Cabras in Santiago, which makes a perfect addition to any heavy Chilean meal. Get the recipe for Marinated Celery and Avocado Salad »

The silky garlic cream sauce at Las Cabras, Juan Pablo Mellado Arana's restaurant in Santiago, Chile, adds a welcome zing to this rich stew, but is also a great condiment in its own right—served with fries, slathered on sandwich bread, or spooned over meats. Get the recipe for Braised Beef Stew with Garlic Cream »

For when you can't decide between a boozy nightcap or a creamy hot chocolate. Get the recipe for Venezuelan Chocolate-Rum Drink »

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