Celebrity chef Gaby Melian shares kid-tested recipes from new cookbook for Hispanic Heritage Month

The Buenos Aires-born chef shared some of her favorite Latin American recipes.

September 28, 2022, 4:04 AM

Celebrity chef, recipe developer and cookbook author Gaby Melian has long found food the perfect medium to share her passion for the culinary arts.

The Buenos Aires-born chef shared a glimpse into her new cookbook "Gaby's Latin American Kitchen: 70 Kid-Tested and Kid-Approved Recipes for Young Chefs" with "Good Morning America" to help celebrate regional flavors during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

"I am a professional chef. I have also been a teacher, a nanny, a street vendor selling empanadas, and a test kitchen manager," she wrote in the introduction. "Long before I became a chef, I learned to cook by watching and asking questions. This is the cookbook I wish I had growing up. I am writing it for my young self, and for you, to teach you about my past and the world outside your door."

The new book is also the first "America's Test Kitchen" title by an outside celebrity chef and includes Melian's take on traditional dishes from Argentina to Cuba to give young cooks hands-on experience with cultural cuisine.

Check out a few recipes from Melian's book below.

Chilaquiles Verdes -- Tortilla Chips with Green Salsa, Cheese, Beans and Fried Eggs

PHOTO: A plate of homemade chilaquiles verdes.
A plate of homemade chilaquiles verdes.
Kevin White

Ingredients

For the salsa verde

1 pound tomatillos, husks and stems removed, rinsed well and dried

2 poblano peppers

1 jalapeño pepper

1 small onion, peeled and cut into 6 large chunks

3 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems

For the chilaquiles

15-ounce can refried beans

2 tablespoons water

Fried eggs

8 ounces tortilla chips

1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco (2 ounces)

1/2 cup crema (or sour cream)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, torn into pieces

Directions

For the salsa verde: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the tomatillos, poblanos, jalapeño, onion and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.

Use oven mitts to remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on a cooling rack (kids, ask a grown-up for help). Increase the oven temperature to 450 F. Use tongs to transfer the tomatillos, onion, and garlic to a blender jar and set them aside.

Flip the poblanos and jalapeño. Use oven mitts to return the baking sheet to the oven and continue to roast until the peppers are blistered, 20 to 25 minutes.

Use oven mitts to remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on the cooling rack. Use tongs to transfer the peppers to a medium bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the broth, oil, salt, and 1/2 cup cilantro to the blender jar.

Put disposable gloves on. Uncover the bowl with the peppers. Use your hands to peel, stem, and seed the peppers. Add to blender.

Place the lid on top of the blender and hold it firmly in place with a folded dish towel. Turn on the blender and process until well combined, 30 seconds to 1 minute. (The salsa verde should be liquid-y, but you should be able to see some tomatillo seeds and tiny green flecks of the rest of the ingredients.)

For the chilaquiles: Put the refried beans and water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the beans are warm, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan with a lid to keep the beans warm.

This is a good time to cook the huevos fritos -- fried eggs -- if using.

Spread the tortilla chips on a serving platter. Dollop half the refried beans on top, then pour 1 1/2 cups salsa verde all over the chips. Add the remaining refried beans.

Sprinkle the queso fresco evenly over top, drizzle with the crema, then sprinkle 1⁄2 cup cilantro over top. Place the eggs (if using), sunny-side up, on top. Serve with extra salsa verde. (The extra salsa verde can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.)

Empanadas de Pollo -- Chicken Turnovers

PHOTO: A platter of homemade chicken empanadas.
A platter of homemade chicken empanadas.
Kevin White/America's Test Kitchen Kids

Ingredients2 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped1 green or red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped (1 cup)1/2 teaspoon kosher salt1/2 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 cups shredded rotisserie or leftover chicken (about 10 ounces)1 cup chicken broth1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika1/2 teaspoon ground cumin1/4 cup pitted green olives, rinsed and chopped 1 large eggTwelve 4 1/2-inch store-bought hojaldradas-style empanada dough rounds

Directions

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat for about 1 minute (the oil should be hot but not smoking). Add the onion, bell pepper, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the onions just start to brown and peppers are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the saucepan, until the tomato paste gets darker in color, about 1 minute.

Add the shredded chicken, chicken broth, paprika, and cumin and gently stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the saucepan with a lid, and cook for 6 minutes.

Use oven mitts to remove the lid. Gently stir in the olives. Turn off the heat and slide the saucepan to a cool burner. Season with salt to taste. Transfer the chicken mixture to a medium bowl and place it in the refrigerator to cool completely, about 45 minutes.

While the filling is cooling, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Fill a small bowl with water. In the second small bowl, lightly beat the egg with a fork. When the filling is cool, fill and shape the empanadas following the photos below.

PHOTO: How to properly fold an empanada from Gaby Melian's technique in her new cookbook.
How to properly fold an empanada from Gaby Melian's technique in her new cookbook.
Kevin White/America's Test Kitchen Kids

Use a pastry brush to paint the tops and sides of the empanadas lightly with the beaten egg. Place the baking sheet in the oven. Bake until the empanadas are golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

Use oven mitts to transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack (kids, ask a grown-up for help). Let the empanadas cool for 10 minutes. Serve. (The chicken filling can be frozen for up to 3 months. When you are ready to try your luck with the empanadas, thaw the filling in the refrigerator overnight.)

Completos Chilenos -- Chilean Hot Dogs

PHOTO: A plate of Chilean hot dogs.
A plate of Chilean hot dogs.
Kevin White/America's Test Kitchen Kids

Ingredients1 ripe avocado, halved and pitted1 tablespoon olive oil4 hot dog buns, toasted if desired1/4 cup mayonnaise4 hot dogs2 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces3/4 cup sauerkrautKetchupMustard

Directions

Place the avocado flesh and oil in a small bowl. Use a fork to mash until the avocado is mostly broken down. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Split the hot dog buns open. Use a butter knife to spread the mayonnaise evenly over each bun; set aside.

In a 10-inch skillet, add the hot dogs and cover them with water until it measures about 1/2-inch deep (the hot dogs should be about halfway submerged in the water). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When the water starts boiling, cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Use tongs to transfer 1 hot dog to each hot dog bun. You can top your completo any way you like! I recommend spooning the tomatoes, sauerkraut, and mashed avocado over top. Then, drizzle with ketchup and mustard and serve.

Pupusas -- Corn Cakes with Bean and Cheese Filling

PHOTO: Homemade pupusas with beans and cheese.
Homemade pupusas with beans and cheese.
Kevin White/America's Test Kitchen Kids

Melian calls these thick, filled and griddled corn cakes from El Salvador "cousins of arepas" or gorditas.

"I ate pupusas for the first time when I was driving near my home in Jersey City and saw a restaurant called La Pupusa Loca (The Crazy Pupusa). Of course I had to stop," she writes in the cookbook. "After my first bite, I knew I had to learn how to make them myself. It took a few years, but I finally made a friend from El Salvador who could teach me! This recipe is for simple pupusas filled with cheese and beans."

Ingredients2 cups (8 ounces) masa harina 1 teaspoon kosher salt1 1/3 cups room-temperature water, plus extra if needed3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)3/4 cup canned red kidney beans, rinsed2 tablespoons vegetable oil, measured separately in 1-tablespoon portions

Directions

Use scissors to cut along the side seams of a large zipper-lock plastic bag, leaving the bottom seam intact. (Your bag will open like a book!)

Put the masa harina and salt in a medium bowl and mix well with your hands. Slowly add the room-temperature water to the bowl and mix with your hands until you have a moist, soft dough.

Make a golf ball-size ball of dough and gently press it flat to test. If many large cracks form around the edges, the dough is too dry. Stir in more room-temperature water into the bowl of dough, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the dough no longer cracks when you press it.

Divide the dough into 6 equal portions, roll each one into a ball, and place on a plate. Cover with a clean dish towel.

In a small bowl, combine the mozzarella and beans.

Shape and fill 1 pupusa, flattening each ball of dough before adding filling. Repeat shaping and filling with the remaining dough and cheese and bean mixture to make 5 more pupusas (there should be 6 total). Gently flatten each filled pupusa in opened plastic bag, with your hand.

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat for about 1 minute (the oil should be hot but not smoking). Swirl the skillet so that the oil covers the bottom evenly. Add 3 pupusas and cook until they are browned on the first side, 3 to 4 minutes.

Use a spatula to flip the pupusas. Cook until they are browned on the second side and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer the pupusas to a serving platter. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and repeat cooking with the remaining 3 pupusas. Turn off the heat. Serve the pupusas warm.

Agua Fresca de Limón -- Lime Water

PHOTO: Lime agua fresca from Gaby Melian's new cookbook.
Lime agua fresca from Gaby Melian's new cookbook.
Kevin White/America's Test Kitchen Kids

This sweet and tangy fresh fruit beverage, popular all over Mexico, is a great addition to any kitchen while cooking or eating.

"I use entire limes in this recipe so that you get the limiest possible flavor from both the juice and the peel," Melian wrote alongside the recipe.

Ingredients1/4 cup sugar 4 cups water, measured separately in 2-cup portions3 limes, cut in quarters, plus lime slices for servingPinch kosher saltIce

Directions

Combine the sugar and 2 cups of water in a blender jar. Place the lid on top of the blender and hold the lid firmly in place with a folded dish towel. Turn on the blender and process until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 15 seconds. Stop the blender.

Add the lime quarters to the blender jar. Replace the lid and process for just 5 seconds -- no more! Stop the blender.

Set a fine-mesh strainer over a pitcher. Pour the mixture from the blender through the strainer and discard the solids. Add the salt and the remaining 2 cups of water and stir with a large spoon until well combined.

Place the ice in serving glasses and pour the agua fresca over the ice. Add the lime slices and serve. (Agua fresca is best served immediately, but it can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Recipes reprinted with permission. "Gaby's Latin American Kitchen: 70 Kid-Tested and Kid-Approved Recipes for Young Chefs." Copyright © 2022 by America’s Test Kitchen All rights reserved. Distributed by Penguin Random House.

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