Sandra Gutierrez: The Julia Child of Latin American Cuisine

“Latin American Cuisine is like a house. I see Mexico as the front door with all the dishes we are most familiar with. But once you open and walk through that door, you can see twenty other kitchens full of food, vibrancy and amazing ingredients.” Sandra Gutierrez

Sandra Gutierrez and I met in the White House Garden in 2015 during an International Association of Culinary Professionals conference. We have become dear friends throughout the years on our respective culinary journeys. Sandra has written four cookbooks and is an award-winning journalist. In 2019, her work was recognized as part of the permanent FOOD exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. On September 15, 2021, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Sandra was honored by the Smithsonian Institute as a Woman to Know and one of seven Latinas Who Shaped American Culture.

Sandra Gutierrez is known as The Julia Child of Latin American Cuisine. Just as Julia brought authentic French recipes to the home cooks in America, Sandra has brought authentic recipes from Latin America to the homes cooks in America. Further uniting them in culinary history, Julia and Sandra even share the same publisher, Knopf. Sandra’s new book, “Latinisimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America” is the book she has had in her heart for thirty years. During our Kitchen Chat, Sandra provides insights into and recipes reflecting the cultural fusion through food across Latin America. She begins in her grandmother’s kitchen in Guatemala and takes us on a delicious journey of shared ingredients that are prepared in ways that reflect the uniqueness of each country throughout Latin America. Sandra explains how the recipe for Lomo Saltado, the national stir-fry of Peru, depicts cultural culinary fusion with ingredients from Inca (potatoes and tomatoes) beef tenderloin (loco) brought by Europeans and soy sauce (sillao) from Asia.

On a side note, I especially enjoyed the Brazilian recipes in Sandra’s cookbook. During my graduation school days, I actually lived in Rio de Janiero and enjoyed eating the fejoida and other delicious meals there. As the Brazilians so beautifully say, “Aproveite” which is my life’s tagline to Savor the Day. Enjoy this delicious journey with Sandra Gutierrez in her latest book, LATINISIMO and discover the flavors of Latin America. Enjoy this delicious recipe for Picadillo de Nikki featured in LATINISIMO by Sandra Gutierrez and printed with permission from Alfred A. Knopf with featured photography by Kevin J. Miyazaki.

El Picadillo de Nikki
Ground Beef with Olives and Capers
Cuba | Yield: Serves 4– 6 | Diculty Level: Easy | Total Cooking Time: 30 minutes
This is a Cuban- inspired picadillo that features the grassy flavor of cumin, brininess from
salty olives, and a touch of piquancy from capers. Picadillo literally means “minced,” and ever
since the Spanish colonizers arrived with recipes for ground beef dishes, Latin Americans have
been adapting them to suit each country’s culinary traditions. There are so many versions of
picadillos in Latin America that it’s hard to keep them straight. In Chile and in Argentina, they
include hard- boiled eggs; in Guatemala, they include carrots; in Costa Rica, you’ll find them
with potatoes, chayotes, and green beans. I developed this recipe (which tastes even better the
next day) for my daughter Nikki so she could make it for her Cuban husband, who especially
loves it ladled over Fufú de Plátano (page 304). I based it on several traditional Cuban recipes I
inherited from my grandmother’s old recipe collections.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup (115 grams) finely
chopped yellow onions
1⁄2 cup (140 grams) stemmed,
cored, seeded, and finely chopped
red or green bell peppers
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste
11⁄2 pounds (680 grams)
lean ground beef
1 cup (280 grams) peeled, seeded,
and finely chopped plum tomatoes
11⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin
20– 25 (60 grams) manzanilla olives

1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium- high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers,
and garlic; cook, stirring often until they are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato
paste and stir for 30 seconds. Add the beef and cook until it’s no longer pink, about 5 minutes
(all the while making sure to break it up with a wooden spoon). Add the tomatoes, cumin,
olives, capers, salt, and pepper. Cover the skillet and lower the heat to low; simmer for 10 to
12 minutes or until all the flavors have melded together.
Var iation: To make Cuban empanadas, place 1– 2 tablespoons of chilled picadillo in the
middle of a store- bought empanada wrapper (find them in the frozen section of any Latin
grocery store). Bake or fry them according to the directions on the package.

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