World Chefs: Garcia adds Latin flair to comfort food

NEW YORK Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:22pm EST

Chef Lorena Garcia poses in Miami on December 11, 2010. REUTERS/Quentin Bacon/Handout

Chef Lorena Garcia poses in Miami on December 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Quentin Bacon/Handout

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chef Lorena Garcia is showing home cooks how to add the flair and versatility of modern Latin cuisine to comfort food.

In her first cookbook, "New Latin Classics," Miami-based Garcia provides recipes for all occasions, both indoors and out.

Garcia had a busy year in 2011. She opened a restaurant and appeared as a judge on the U.S. television show, "America's Next Great Restaurant."

The 42-year-old Venezuelan native spoke to Reuters about her passion for cooking and her decision not to become a lawyer.

Q: What is your goal with your first cookbook?

A: "It's really about my culture. That's what it boils down to, how to represent Latin cuisine in the food that we all know. I am an American. I have been here for 20 years. We have such a melting pot of influences when it comes to Latin cuisine. I take Latin cuisine and apply it to the food that we are all comfortable with, very comfy, in recipes people could enjoy with their family."

Q: Why are the recipes grouped by occasions, not courses?

A: "If you see the book, the chapters that I write are based on the state of mind ... It's how I feel when I'm cooking. Am I relaxed? Am I at home? Is this the food I'm going to make? ...

"I live in Miami so I cook outside. Being outdoors is part of my culture. I have recipes for picnics, on the beach, at the pool. I also have recipes that are very successful at my restaurants, or to impress or to cook for your family and friends. There are recipes that are health-conscious, which are very important during the week. So I touch upon those types of moods when you are cooking and presenting them in a way that is representative of my culture as well."

Q: What makes your dishes unique?

A: "I try to represent my personality and my characteristics through food. In my case, you would see very bold, bright colors in my food and in terms of flavors that are layered out. Spices and herbs are main factors in my cuisine. There is a simplicity in ingredients as well."

Q: Why did you switch careers to become a chef rather than a lawyer?

A: "I think I would be a lousy lawyer ... Being in a kitchen and being in different countries and picking up ingredients and finding out what my style is, that's what I'm passionate about. It's a risky move. I had a chance to work for one of the biggest law firms here in Miami. I switched gears and I'm going for what I'm passionate about. It's the best decision ever I would have to say.

Churrasco steak and arugula with candied pepper chimichurri (Serves 4)

For the chimichurri

1/2 cup finely minced candied red peppers

1/4 cup candied pepper liquid

1/2 cup brine-packed capers, rinsed and finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

6 garlic cloves, very finely minced

2 shallots, very finely chopped

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the steaks

Four 8-ounce skirt steaks

2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1 tablespoon plus 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 cups baby arugula

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

For candied red peppers

1 cup sugar

1 cup distilled white vinegar

2 large red bell peppers, halved, seeded, and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a medium pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the bell peppers, garlic, cinnamon stick, and star anise and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the bell pepper strips are glazed, candied, and somewhat transparent, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer the bell peppers and liquid to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one month.

1. To make the chimichurri, place the candied peppers in a medium bowl with their liquid, capers, parsley, cilantro, garlic and shallots and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the mixture is thick and emulsified. Set aside.

2. Prepare a hot charcoal or gas grill.

3. Season both sides of the skirt steaks with 2 tablespoons of the salt and 1 tablespoon of the black pepper and set on the grill. Cook without moving until there are grill marks, about 5 minutes. Turn over the steaks and cook the other side until there are grill marks and the steaks are cooked to your liking, about 3 minutes for medium- rare, 4 minutes for medium, and 5 minutes longer for medium- well. Use tongs to transfer the steaks to a large platter and set aside.

4. While the steaks rest, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper in a large bowl. Add the arugula and cherry tomatoes and gently toss to coat.

5. Arrange the four steaks on a large platter in a circular shape. Fill the center of the circle with the arugula and tomatoes and serve with the chimichurri on the side.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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