The hot weather made me do it. I finally got around to trying Terry Hope Romero’s cookbook Viva Vegan! a tomb of 200 Latin American recipes. I quickly learned in my 3h read through of the book that what I thought was Latin American was actually Tex-Mex, and everything I hate about Tex-Mex has no bearing in authentic Latin American food. It was one of the more expensive library trips for me – what started as a 20-recipe ‘must try NOW’ list plus an additional 20-recipe ‘must make within the month’ resulted in me purchasing the only copy of the cookbook in my city. And thus began the Latin Cooking Extravaganza!
I will be honest, I didn’t know much about Latin American food, aside from the aforementioned Tex-Mex. Tacos, Enchiladas, and Mole sauce and I was out. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with plenty more to be explored! Viva Vegan! is a fantastic resource for the uninitiated and adventurous – such as myself. It has recipes from all over Central and South America, with plenty of tips on how to properly roast chilies, when to use the special ingredients and when you can get away with substitutions (especially important for chili powders!), as well as well written step-by-step instructions on how to make your own Latin kitchen staples, such as tortillas. The best part of cooking Latin was that with my pantry stocked with Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian spices, I could cook almost every recipe in the cookbook without a special trip to the grocery store. But where is the fun in experimenting if it doesn’t come with a trip to the ethnic market? Three kinds of chili powder, two kinds of dried chilies, a bottle of habanero hot sauce, and a Mexican spice called Epazote that smells like gasoline later and I was set.
Opening the fest was Black Bean and Plantain Pupusas (pg. 162), Curdito (pg. 79), and Simple Tomato Sauce (pg. 46). Pulled together in under an hour, Latin weekend opened with a bang of flavour! The Curdito is the same as the coleslaw recipe for the Baja Tacos in Veganomicon, and my favourite coleslaw recipe ever. The Simple Tomato Sauce is exactly that – simple and delicious. It amazed me how something with such few ingredients could taste so fantastic! I used green onions and garlic scrapes from my CSA vegetables which made the sauce fresh and bright even though I used canned tomatoes. I ate the sauce straight from the saucepan, until I deployed some measure of restraint to serve it with the pupusa.
The Pupusas are very easy to make, and require no time at all to cook! The dough is just masa flour and water, which turns into the consistency of homemade PlayDoh making the pupusas very easy (and fun!) to shape, mould, stuff, and close. The filling for this batch was the suggested black bean and plantain filling with a sprinkling of Daiya cheese. This combination was heavenly, and when served with the tomato sauce tasted like a Latin Pizza Pocket, only 100x better! So successful were these pupusas they have inspired my creativity, and I am planning a future themed evening of other variations – including a dessert pupusa. Cocoa powder added to the dough, and stuffed with a cinnamon-nut crumble with plantains. Mmmm… The leftover pupusas froze very well, and were very travel-friendly for meals-on-the-go. Of course, they didn’t hurt with a quick warm-up in the microwave/pan and served with some more sauce!
If you do not have the cookbook, I strongly urge you to check it out of the library. For a taster, the recipes for this delectable meal can be found here: Pupusas, Curdito, and Salsa Rojo. Previews of the cookbook are also available on Google Books, found here: Viva Vegan! You will be surprised at how easy and delicious this seemingly complex dish is. Plus, you get to play with ‘PlayDoh’ dough. So roll up those sleeves, get creative with the stuffing, and enjoy!