Seven Latin American nations celebrate independence this week

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By: Victoria Jacobsen
vjacobsen@elkharttruth.com

SoTex/Flickr

The United States isn’t the only country that likes to mark patriotic holidays with fireworks, parades and lots of food. This week, seven Latin American countries – Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Chile – all commemorate anniversaries of their independence from Spain.

Across the U.S., communities are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins Sept. 15 in a nod to the widespread independence festivities.

The celebrations here in northern Indiana are a bit muted, but there’s no reason you can’t get into the spirit at home. 

Mexico

In Mexico, Independence Day is often called “El Grito” (“the cry” or “the shout”) in honor of a speech made by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the town of Dolores late on Sept. 15, 1810, when he rang the bell at his church and urged the townspeople to rebel against Spanish rule.

The president of Mexico reenacts the “Grito de Dolores” each year at about 11 p.m. on Sept. 15, and many Mexican towns celebrate throughout the evening and into the next day.

Tamales are a classic part of Mexican holidays, and El Grito is no exception. There are plenty of different varieties of tamales (even sweet tamales for dessert!), but this recipe from the Food Network website features spicy pork tamales for a slightly more traditional take.

Guatemala

The Captaincy General of Guatemala, a Spanish administrative district that contained the modern nations of Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico, declared independence on Sept. 15, 1821. The union lasted for 20 years before breaking into the nations we know today, but they all continue to celebrate independence on the anniversary of their break with Spain. 

Today, Guatemalans mark the day by decorating buildings and watching military parades and air shows. You can’t recreate a pass-and-review in your kitchen, but you can make rellenitos de platano, a sweet-and-salty treat of refried beans encased in fried plantains. This recipe from allrecipes.com suggests savoring with sour cream.

Honduras

In Honduras, the patriotic festivities begin with Flag Day on Sept. 6, and the parades and parties continue on the 15th. You can get into the spirit by making pastelitos de carne, a common meat-filled pastry similar to an empanada.

Although different versions are enjoyed throughout Latin America, the Honduran version (also called “paselitos de perro”) tends to be crescent-shaped and seasoned with azafran (saffron, that is.) Although this version from HondurasArts.com calls for a meat, potato and rice filling and a topping of chopped cabbage and cheese, you can substitute nearly any filling you like for lunch or dessert.

Nicaragua

Like the rest of Central America, Nicaragua celebrates Independence Day on Sept. 15, but the national holiday begins on Sept. 14, when the country commemorates the 1856 Battle of San Jacinto, where 160 Nicaraguan soldiers defeated 300 private American citizens attempting to create their own English-speaking colonies.

Patriotic festivities last through much of early September and tend to feature marching bands, dancing and other exhibitions from school children. 

Gallo pinto is not a special treat reserved for holidays — on the contrary, it is a staple suitable for any meal, particularly breakfast. But Nicaragua is particularly proud of the dish, and Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans continue to debate which nation first developed the fried rice and beans specialty.

No matter who had it first, this gallo pinto recipe from seriouseats.com is delicious and cost-effective for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Costa Rica

Costa Ricans still celebrate Independence Day on Sept. 15, even though the news of Central America’s break from Spain in 1821 took a month to reach Costa Rica.

Though Costa Rica is a small country, the cuisine still varies widely, and most people rely heavily on local ingredients. On the eastern side of the country, the diet is heavily influenced by Caribbean cuisine, and coconut-heavy dishes like this flan de coco from allrecipes.com are typical. In the rest of the county, Tres Leches cake serves as the unofficial dessert. 

El Salvador

Like many other Central American countries, El Salvador celebrates its independence with parades and performances from school children, who often begin practicing months in advance. 

On of El Salvador’s signature street food items is the pupusa, a stuffed corn tortilla. This version from AboutFood  is called a “pupusa revuelta” and includes cheese, beans and shredded pork.

Chile

Each year, Chileans celebrate the anniversary of the 1810 proclamation of their First Governing Body on Sept. 18 and honor the army the next day. Together, the celebrations are often called the “Fiestas Patrias” or the “Dieciocho” (meaning the 18th).

Many students and workers will get up to a week off for the holidays, and Chileans will travel to see family, hold rodeos, host barbecues or visit fondas (temporary outdoor markets).

Many families eat empanadas for dinner and indulge their sweet tooth with alfajores. These cookies originated in Spain, where they are shaped like cylinders, and spread to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. This alfajor recipe from Cooks.com is more typical of Chilean cookies, which usually features two biscuit cookies held together with a condensed milk mixture.

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