Whether you are new to Latin cooking or a seasoned pro, this comprehensive list of pantry essentials will help you to create authentic tasting Latin Caribbean food from scratch.
I wanted to pick only 7 must have ingredients in a Latin kitchen, but honesty it wouldn’t be fair!
Latin Caribbean foods are a mixture and fusion of flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques from Africa, Europe, India, and Latin America plus the Creole and Cajun cuisines. To limit this list to a small number of ingredients would do a disservice.
Why keep a stocked pantry?
Keeping a well organized and stocked pantry means that you have everything on hand when you want to cook. No last minute runs to the store or stressing because you don’t have the right ingredients.
I always have these items on hand because they are so commonly used in Latin dishes. Before I go to the store, I check if I’m running low on anything and stock up accordingly.
Will I need anything else?
These ingredients will give you a good base pantry and help you to create wonderfully flavored Latin dishes. These ingredients will supplement fresh produce like meat, fish and vegetables that you will buy more regularly.
I have included some fresh produce in this list, but ones that I use several times a week.
What can I cook with these ingredients?
Once you have your pantry set up ready to go, you will be able to cook so many delicious Latin dishes! Underneath each ingredient you will find some recipe suggestions to really showcase it!
Must have Ingredients in a Latin Kitchen
This is a super powerful coloring agent. Just to give you an idea: the hallaca dough is kneaded with annatto-colored lard. All Latin abuelitas use the annatto, achiote or onoto seeds to color the oil they use to cook. Because the annatto seeds have a unique taste, they are also used as a seasoning, especially in Mexico and Central America, where they cook with a deep red annatto paste.
Recipes using annatto
Black beans, red beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas, you name it, and we love them all. There is no Latin pantry lacking dry or canned beans in all shapes and colors.
Recipes using beans
This is, among all the fresh herbs on Earth, the favorite in our Latin cuisine. We use cilantro in mojos, salsas, salads, dressings, soups and stews. We use cilantro to season, and as a topping too. We do cilantro margaritas! Trust me: no doubt cilantro is our herb!
Recipes using cilantro
- Creamy Avocado Cilantro Dressing
- Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Picadillo and Cilantro Lime Sauce
- Cheese Stuffed Yuca Balls & Cilantro Dressing
This is a staple spice in the Latin kitchen, especially in the Central American and Caribbean cuisines. There is no country in the Caribbean basin where cumin is not mandatory.
Recipes using cumin
Garlic is so pivotal to our Latin kitchen that it deserved a post on its own in this blog.
Recipes using garlic
- Grilled Garlic Cilantro Chicken Skewers
- Chipotle Chicken Wraps
- Rabo Encendido (Spicy Dominican Oxtail Stew)
Of course we love habaneros, cubanelle, serranos, chipotles, and all sort of ajíes picantes (chili peppers), but we must admit jalapeño is king: affordable, available everywhere and flavorful! Thanks México lindo y querido for such contribution to the Latin kitchen!
Recipes using jalapeño
We people from the tropics, love plantains, and for that, they are a staple in our kitchen. I personally love them so much that I devoted one post in this blog just to tell you about this wonderful ingredient.
Recipes using plantains
- Tostones (Fried Plantains)
- Fried Sweet Plantain Slices (Plátanos Maduros Fritos)
- Stuffed Plantain Cups (Tostones Rellenos)
Another staple in our Latin pantry, especially when we cook pork. Mix it up with cumin and garlic and you will be in heaven!
Recipes using oregano
- Dominican Rice with Sausage (Locrio de Longaniza)
- Dominican Braised Chicken (Pollo Guisado)
- Cuban Style Roasted Pork Shoulder
The word recaíto comes from the word recao. This is the name given in Dominican Republic and in Puerto Rico to culantro (coriander). This delicious edible plant has long leaves. Its flavor is similar to the cilantro one. If you like cilantro, then you’ll love recao. A long story short: recao is the base of recaíto. This is a mixture of coriander, sweet peppers, green bell peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro and oregano, all finely chopped or processed in a food processor. Recaíto is the base of the flavorful sofritos, which are the signature of the flavorful Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban cuisines.
Recipes with Recaíto
We cannot live without rice. We eat rice with chicken, fish, pork, and beef. We prefer rice to any other carb in the world: more than pasta, potatoes or yuca (cassava). We like it simply white, green, seasoned with sofrito, red (a la Mexicana), with cilantro and lime (Chipotle-style), and even burnt like in the crispy Dominican concón. And of course, we adore rice-based dishes such as moros y cristianos, arroz con pollo, arroz con gandules, paella, and risottos.
Recipes using rice
- Chicken and Rice Mexican Style (Arroz con Pollo)
- Fried Rice (Dominican Chofán)
- Arroz con Guandules (Pigeon Peas Rice)
Sazón in a Spanish word that means condiment. Thank God companies selling spices these days have a wonderful mixture of seasonings called sazón or “complete seasoning”. This is a glorious blend of salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, and other dry herbs and spices that will make any taste like if abuelita was cooking at home.
Recipes using sazón
Sofrito is a mixture of aromatic ingredients mainly used in Spanish and Latin American cooking. It includes peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, green onions, and cilantro (recaíto).
Recipes using sofrito
Like sazón but with flavors of Mexico, taco seasoning can be bought at the store or homemade. This a powder seasoning made with chili powder, garlic and onion powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper. We use taco seasoning to enhance the flavor of pork, beef, fish chicken, and even veggies when we are going to eat them in tacos, burritos, and so on.
Recipe using taco seasoning
And that’s it! Stock your pantry with these essentials and you will be cooking an array of Latin food in no time at all!
Do you have any other pantry essentials for Latin cooking or any favorite recipes? Please share them with us in the comments below. 🙂