Glossary of Latin Cooking Terms

Navigate Latin American markets and menus with confidence and ease.

Acarajé: An Afro-Brazilian street food made with black-eyed peas and dried shrimp.

Achiote: Brick-red seeds with a mildly acidic, earthy flavor. They're often used as natural coloring to give a yellowish tint to foods such as butter and cheese.

Adobo: Marinade. Dry adobos are spice rubs for meat, fish or poultry.

Ajiaco: A South American chicken and root vegetable soup.

Aji: Also known as the Peruvian hot pepper, this is a unique species of chile, containing several different breeds. Commonly ground into powders, they come in different colors and have a distinctive, fruity flavor. Aji is also a term for a South American salsa that's served with stews and soups.

Ajo: Garlic.

Albóndigas: Meatballs.

Arepas: A corn-based bread from the northern Andes in South America.

Arroz con Gandules
: A festive Puerto Rican rice dish made with pigeon peas.

Arroz con Leche: A Latin American sweet rice pudding sometimes made with sweetened condensed milk or coconut milk.

Arroz con Pollo: Translated as "rice with chicken" in Spanish, this traditional dish is common throughout Latin America.

Avocado: Botanically a fruit, the avocado is usually treated as a vegetable. Avocados have been widely used in Latin America since the time of the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas.

Bacalao: Dried salt cod that is popular throughout Latin America.

Bacon: Any certain cut of meat taken from the sides, belly or back of a pig that may be cured and/or smoked.

Batidos: Milkshake or smoothie usually made with fresh fruit.

Bell Peppers: Large, bell-shaped fruits that come in different colors, such as yellow, red, green and orange, and lack the heat of many other varieties of chiles.

Boniato: Tuber also known as white sweet potato, Florida yam and camote. It looks like a sweet potato, but is shorter and rounder with a white, slightly sweet and mealy flesh.

Buñuelos: Doughnut-like fritters flavored with a syrup or honey and often anise and cinnamon.

Caipirinha: Brazilian cocktail made with Cachaca (brandy made from sugarcane), sugar and lime juice.

Calabaza: A large, round, sweet squash. Often called a West Indian pumpkin because it resembles a pumpkin in size and coloring.

Canela: Cinnamon.

: Roasted pork served with corn tortillas and salsa. Translated, it means "little meats."

Cazuela: A hearty meat stew found in Chile and other South American countries.

Ceviche: Raw fish or seafood pickled and "cooked" in the acidic juice of citrus fruit. Ceviches are often flavored with herbs, chiles and other ingredients.

Champurrado: A warm, thick, chocolate-based Mexican drink.

Chicharron: Puffy fried pork rind eaten as a snack.

Chicharron de Pollo: Fried chicken, popular in the Dominican Republic.

Chimichurri: Pesto-like condiment from Argentina that's made with a base of parsley, garlic and olive oil and often used with grilled meat.

Chipotle Pepper: Smoked jalapeno chile. Available canned, in a sauce and dried.

Churros: A Latin American dessert, similar to a donut or cruller.

Chocolate: Processed foods that are produced from the seeds of the cacao tree. Native to lowland, tropical South America, cacao has been cultivated for 3,000 years in Central America and Mexico.

Chorizo: Spicy pork sausage. Mexican chorizo uses fresh pork; Spanish chorizo uses smoked pork.

Chupes de Corvina y Camarones: A striped bass and shrimp stew.

Cilantro: Also called coriander, this leafy herb is essential to Latin American cooking, particularly Mexican, Andean and Brazilian.

Cinnamon: Mexican cinnamon. Also known as Ceylon cinnamon for the island where it originated.

Coconut: A fruit that arrived in Bahia, Brazil in 1553 and from there, spread throughout South America. Latin American cuisine uses both its milk and meat.

Cotijo: A Mexican cheese also known as Queso Anejado or "aged cheese." Sold in small rounds or large blocks, this salty, pungent cheese can be moist with a texture like Feta or very firm for grating. Criumbled cheese can be used in tacos, soups, salads or over beans.

Cumin (Comino): This strongly aromatic, distinctive spice is used in the foods of North Africa, Mexico, India and western Asia.

Dulce de Leche: Refers to both a sauce and caramel-like candy.

Empanadas: A stuffed, savory pastry of Spanish origins.

Feijoa: A subtropical fruit native to the grasslands of southern Brazil and part of Paraguay and Uruguay. A close relative of the guava, it has an oval shape, thin green skin and semi-soft, juicy, cream-colored flesh with a sweet, aromatic flavor.

Flan: A custard dessert coated with caramel, similar to crème caramel.

Frijoles: Term for beans, typically used in Mexico.

Guava: Subtropical fruit with green skin and sweet, pink flesh that is popular throughout Latin America.

Jalepeño: A medium-hot to very-hot chile that is popular in Mexican cooking.

Jicama: Also known as the Mexican potato or Mexican turnip, this large crispy root vegetable is good both raw and lightly cooked.

Locro: A hearty, thick stew that always contains corn.

Mango: This fruit has fragrant, juicy, sweet flesh when fully ripe. Native to Asia, it is popular in Latin American cooking.

Manteca: Lard.

Maracuyá: Also called passion fruit. A round, lime-sized fruit with bright orange, highly perfumed and bracingly tart flesh.

Masa Harina: Flour made from dried masa (ground dried corn that has been treated with lime) that is used for tamales.

Malanga: An edible tuber with rough brown skin and cream-colored flesh. It is grown and used in the tropics of the Americas and is an important food in the Caribbean islands and in Venezuela.

Maize: Corn.

Matambre: An Argentinean flank steak rolled with herbs, egg and vegetables.

Migas: A traditional breakfast dish in Spanish and Portuguese cuisine that combines eggs with leftover bread or tortillas.

Mojito: A Cuban cocktail made with rum, lime juice and fresh mint.

Mojo: A hot sauce usually containing at least olive oil, garlic and citrus, plus a mixture of cumin, paprika and other spices.

Mondongo: A classic Puerto Rican and Dominican dish of mashed plantains with garlic and tripe.

Mofongo: A Puerto Rican and Latin American dish made with mashed plantains and pork cracklings.

Natilla: A sweet custard dish.

Nopale: The typical Mexican edible cactus also know as prickly pear. Either the whole plant or the leaf is used. It?s called "nopalitos" when the leaves are chopped into small pieces.

Pabellón Criollo: A Venezuelan dish of pulled beef, black beans and rice.

Papas: Potato: Papas fritas are fried potatoes.

Pastel de Chocio: A meat stew covered with a cornmeal crust.

Pernil: A marinated and roasted pork shoulder dish that's popular in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Picadillo: Typically found in Cuba, Mexico and throughout Latin America, this dish is mainly ground beef mixed with tomatoes, onions, garlic and other regional ingredients and often served with white rice or bread. In Mexico, it is sometimes used as a filling for tacos. It can also be prepared as a stew. The name comes from the Spanish word "picar," which means "to mince" or "chop."

Pina: Pineapple.

Plantains (Platanos): A member of the banana family that is always used cooked. The fruit has a sweet, banana-like flavor and a brownish-black skin when ripe. It can be served either savory or sweet.

Platacones: Plantain chips.

Poblano: Fresh green chile that's especially popular in Mexico and Central America. When dried, it is called the ancho chile.

Pollo Borracho: A classic Cuban and Puerto Rican stewed Chicken dish. Translated, it means "drunken chicken."

Ponche:A celebratory Dominican and Puerto Rican creamy beverage that is similar to eggnog and often mixed with rum.

Pozole: A hearty soup made from hominy and salted pork.

Pupas: A thick corn tortilla often stuffed with cheese.

Queso Fresco Blanco: Salty, firm, white cheese similar to mozzarella or Muenster. Translated, it means "fresh white cheese."

Quinoa: Pronounced "KEEN-wah." A tiny, ancient grain cultivated by the Incas that is still grown extensively in the Andean region of South America. Quinoa is high in protein and nutrients and can be used like rice or couscous, though it is traditionally used in soup.

Recaito: A base for stews, soups and meats that is made with garlic, cilantro, onion, vinegar and spices.

Ropa Vieja: A shredded beef dish of Spanish origin made with skirt or flank steak in a tomato-based sauce and served with rice.

Saffron: The small orange stigmas from a crocus plant that are used in paella and other rice dishes, soups and curries, as well as in some bakery products. Saffron adds to the color and flavor of a dish.

Salsa Verde: Green sauce commonly used in Mexican cuisine.

Sancocho: A South American root vegetable stew.

Sangria: A wine punch typically from Spain and Portugal. The word sangria comes from sangre, meaning "blood."

Sazon: A seasoned salt mixture used in Latin America and Mexico that often includes cilantro, achiote and garlic.

Scallion: A milder tasting onion. Both the white bottoms and the green tops are commonly used. They are called "small green onions" in Brail and "Chinese onions" in Peru.

Sofrito: Mixture of sautéed vegetables, usually including onion, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, herbs and spices. Sofritos are a saucy foundation for many stews and meat dishes.

Sopa: Soup.

Sopa de Mariscos: A Latin American seafood stew.

Sopes: Fried Mexican corn dough topped with beans, meats and cheese.

Spanish Olives: Flavorful green olives that come in a variety of sizes and often are stuffed with pimento.

Spanish Onions: Spanish onions come in three colors — yellow, red and white. Yellow onions are full-flavored and reliable for cooking almost anything. Red onions are good for grilling and fresh uses. With a golden color and sweet flavor when sautéed, white onions are the traditional onion used in classic Mexican cuisine.

Tamales: Corn-based appetizer or snack that is sometimes served plain but typically contains a savory filling. Usually it is wrapped in a dried corn husk and steamed.

Tomatillos: Also called the "Mexican green tomato," this member of the nightshade family is related to the tomato. The tomatillo's papery husk should be removed before using.

Tostones: Fried plantains, smashed and served with garlic sauce.

Tortas: Mexican sandwich that can be served hot or cold.

Trigo: Wheat.

Vatapá: A Brazilian dish of bread, shrimp, coconut milk and nuts.

Yucca (Yuca): Also known as manioc or cassava, this white, starchy tropical vegetable was originally grown by the indigenous peoples of Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.

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