By Flavor & The Menu
March 1, 2020
No matter how far we push into new flavor frontiers, the draw to look directly south of our border for menu inspiration is incredibly strong. “Americans gravitate toward the familiarity of Latin cuisine. There is something rustic, real and simple about it that diners here love,” says RJ Harvey, RDN, CEC, culinary director with Potatoes USA.
Given that foundation of diner enthusiasm, a number of Latin American dishes serve up ideal platforms for innovation—especially in the world of plant-forward menu development. “Plant-based eating is not going away and as long as customers are craving global flavors, it’s up to us as chefs to come up with great ways to introduce flavor without relying on animal proteins,” says Harvey. We asked him to translate three Latin dishes into modern American menu items, giving them a plant-based positioning while keeping craveability in sharp focus. The potato was Harvey’s inspiration, showcasing both its versatility with global flavor play and its ability to take on a desired meaty mouthfeel. The following three dishes demonstrate creative, original interpretations of Latin dishes that promise differentiation on menus.
Consumers are drawn to dishes that surprise them with unexpected flavors or use familiar ingredients in unexpected ways. This Potato Ceviche works well on both counts. Yellow potatoes are first cubed and cooked in a savory broth until just fork-tender, then marinated in a bright, clean combination of citrus, spices and chiles. “In this dish, the acid not only balances the earthiness of the potato, but it also reacts with the starch, giving the potato a slight chew that makes it seem meatier,” says Harvey. “The citrus marinade flavors the potatoes giving them this ultra-lightness that makes the potato ceviche craveable and memorable.” The marinated potato pieces are combined with avocado, olive oil, cilantro and green onion, then finished with a fun garnish of chile-lime sorghum.
Acidic ingredients, like vinegars and citrus fruits, work well with potatoes, says Harvey. “Crispy potatoes almost always pair well with citrus. Patatas bravas are elevated with a squeeze of lemon juice. Potato tostones are wonderful with chile-lime salt, and even in potato tamales, just a squeeze of lime juice makes a rich dish more balanced,” he says. “Acid is important in all forms of cooking, but particularly in plant-forward cuisine, where you must think of ways to introduce as much flavor as possible.”
Chilaquiles are one of those superstar dishes from Mexico that offers a lot of room for interpretation, thanks to its straightforward build, along with a dialed up crave factor. “Chilaquiles are deceptively simple,” says Harvey. “They’re crispy chips tossed in a smoky and flavorful chile sauce eaten with eggs. The texture, the flavor and comforting aspect just screams for a potato adaptation.” Potato Chilaquiles offer a Mexican mash-up, with the classic rich Mexican flavor combinations, but use crispy potatoes instead of tortilla chips as the foundation. Potato slices are tossed in chile powder, vinegar powder, garlic and other spices, and then baked until super crispy. Next, they’re simmered in a skillet with a chile verde sauce, topped with Cotija, a sunny-side egg, avocado, Mexican crema, radish and cilantro.
A topping of flavorful potato “chorizo” ensures this dish’s positioning as a plant-based option—baked “tater drums” are shredded and tossed with chile de árbol, paprika, pepper, granulated garlic salt and vinegar powder, then drizzled with oil and baked until crispy. “The ‘chorizo’ is a great way to add texture and flavor,” says Harvey. Applications extend beyond the chilaquiles. He suggests adding it to breakfast burritos, tacos, salads, or atop elotes.
Featuring potatoes in a chilaquiles build not only lends a creative spin, it can also help curb food waste. “You may have a partially slack-thawed bag of tots. Why not use them for this instead of discarding it?”
Global mash-ups are a menu mainstay today, thanks to a passionate segment of diners who love flavor intrigue and discovery. The traditional Mexican tamale serves up a great platform in this realm, offering a canvas for bold flavor combinations. Here, North African Potato Tamales demonstrate a global twist on this comfort-centric dish. They also highlight the potato’s versatility, relying on its ability to carry flavor and its functional components that help the tamale retain moisture, resulting in a fluffier texture. The dough sees a mixture of slightly toasted corn meal, vegetable stock, lard, baking powder, salt and potatoes flakes. As it steams, the flakes rehydrate and contribute to an incredibly moist dough.
For inspiration on the tamale’s filling, Harvey looked to North Africa. “In Africa, there’s a dish called fufu, which is a cornmeal porridge,” he says. “A tamale is basically fufu that is steamed into a cake.” He builds on that synergy by incorporating North African ingredients into the filling. Collard greens, cinnamon, allspice, ayibe (an Ethiopian farmer’s cheese) and almonds are combined with the tamale’s base ingredients of yellow potatoes, vegetable stock and onions. The North African Tamales are garnished with currants and baby greens and served with a swipe of harissa. “These are all simple flavors reminiscent of Mexican cuisine—the heat of the chiles in a salsa are similar to the heat in harissa, the sweetness of the currants are similar to dried fruits routinely used in Mexican moles, and ayibe, a staple in Ethiopian cuisine, is very similar to Cotija or queso fresco,” says Harvey. By creating a flavor bridge with familiar profiles, flavorful, unique dishes like this pique diners’ interest.
For more great plant-forward ideas, visit Potatoes USA.