Lorena Garcia, the passionate judge from "America's Next Great Restaurant," offers her take on Latin American cuisine in her first book, "Lorena Garcia's New Latin Classics" (Ballaintine, $32.50), to be released in late September. (For complete coverage of the TV competition and the winning restaurant, Soul Daddy, at the Mall of America, see www.startribune.com/nextgreat. The recipes reflect her preference for big flavors, which she learned as a child growing up in Caracas, Venezuela. "... the soul of Latin food is flavor," she writes. "It's the punch of cilantro, the brightness of acid from freshly squeezed citrus, and the hit of heat from a jalapeno."
Her mother traveled internationally for work, and Lorena went along on trips to Italy, Germany and Japan, among other destinations, which expanded her taste for flavors beyond South America. After graduating from law school in 2000, she and her family moved to Miami, where her passion for food brought her to Johnson & Wales University for a culinary degree and apprenticeships in France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Thailand and China.
And then she got really busy. By 2004, she had opened two Miami restaurants, hosted a TV show on Telemundo and Univision, opened a restaurant at the Miami airport, and launched a healthy eating initiative for kids called Big Chef, Little Chef. As part of the CNN series "Latino in America," she got facetime beyond Miami, which led to her role in "America's Next Great Restaurant."
Lorena's book reflects this international culinary experience, though the Latin flavors dominate. This means there is a pasta recipe -- Spicy Orecchiette Verde -- along with Oven-Fried Chicken with Collards, and Stir-Fried Pork with Eggplant Picante, and Prosciutto Telitas Pizza, as well as recipes that one would expect to see in a Latin cookbook: Arepitas Stuffed with Carne Mechada, Chilled Shrimp and Peruvian Corn Salad, Snapper Taquitos With Jicama-Apple Salsita.
Each week on "America's Next Great Restaurant," Lorena spoke emphatically of the need for passion in restaurateurs. This book clearly reflects her passion and wide-ranging culinary interests and skills.
Here's a taste from the book (remember, it's not out until September, though it's available for pre-order ). Lorena notes that this recipe is for a sauteed tenderloin, which is a classic Peruvian-style stir-fry of steak and onions. It's marinated in rice vinegar, soy sauce and oyster sauce, which reflects the Asian immigrants in South America.
Lomo Saltado With Grilled Papayas
For the marinated beef:
1 garlic clove
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. vegetable oil
4 tsp. rice vinegar
4 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. oyster sauce
1 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 lb. beef tenderloin, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch wide slices
For the lomo saltado:
1 large papaya, halved and seeded
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 c. halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 shallot, very finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, very finely minced
3/4 c. red wine (such as merlot)
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few sprigs for serving
To make the marinade: Finely chop the garlic, sprinkle with salt and mash mixture together with the flat side of a chef's knife. Continue to mash and chop until the mixture is a paste. Scrape the paste into a medium bowl and whisk in the vegetable oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, cumin, pepper and paprika. Add the beef, turn to coat in the marinade, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 2 hours or overnight (Lorena prefers overnight for extra flavor.)
Prepare a hot charcoal or gas grill.
To make the lomo saltado: Coat each papaya half with some vegetable oil and then place them cut side down on the grill, cooking the papaya until it has grill marks and is browned 6 to 8 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the papaya to a plate. Set aside to cool while the cook the steak. (Alternately, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place oiled papaya halves in a grill pan cut side down and roast in the oven until the cut side is golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.)
Heat the olive oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Once the oil starts to smoke, add the steak and onions and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute. Stir in the cherry tomatoes, shallots and garlic and cook, stirring often, until tomatoes start to collapse, about 4 minutes.
Pour in red wine, soy sauce and honey, and cook until sauce is slightly thick, about 4 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro. Cook for 2 minutes longer to bring the flavors together and then turn off the heat.
Place the papaya halves on a platter and divide the lomo saltado between the halves. Finish with the cilantro sprigs and slice lengthwise into wedges to serve.