Updated: Aug 5
When I first became vegan it wasn't because I didn't like cheese. Oh man, I miss cheese so much! It was for health reasons so I wasn't super gung-ho about it to be honest. I thought I had to give up all the delicious Mexican dishes I loved from growing up. To me, food is so much more than just sustenance.
Its the scent of roasting bell peppers on a gas burner while your abuela tells you how she used to drive the family truck into town at twelve years old to get her mother from work.
Its the sound of bubbling menudo on the stove in the morning, the kitchen sharp with the fragrance of fresh diced onion, as your cousins share chisme about the neighborhood.
Elote, or corn on the cob with all its trimmings, conjures memories of Dia de Los Muertos street food where we walked and laughed and remembered. Its wrapping tamales at Christmas time with music and laughter and family you haven't seen since the last time you gathered in the kitchen. Its who I am and where I came from.
Every so often, I love to make the kinds of meals that take forever, have multiple steps, and are absolutely worth it. My husband is an Irish New Yorker transplanted to Southern California as a teen.
He fell in love with Mexican food when he moved here. A huge fan of my cooking fits that take all day and seemed to use every pot or dish we own, he gets right in there and helps.
When we had to go vegan to control a health issue of mine, I thought my fiesta food days were over. Au contraire, or as we say in Spanish, Al revés!
It took some tries. Some near misses and disasters, but we've racked up quite a few traditional dishes with a twist. From jackfruit to mushrooms to TVP we've figured out how to make some old favorites friendly again. The quarantine has prompted some adventurous tries at street food. We recently made a dish called Queso Taco Birria which is basically a hybrid between a taco and a quesadilla that you dip in a savory broth. It. Is. Delicious. Its also usually takes chicken or beef but we used jackfruit. And you know what? It was great!
I got to explain the different dried chilis and what we use them for to my daughters. I showed them my tia's technique for making the smoothest sauce out of the peppers and garlic. *Psst, its a really fine strainer* I told them when I first had that amazing savory consommé broth on a tiny porch at my Tio Joe's apartment for some three-day weekend celebration. They'd never met him. He died when I was a teenager and I hadn't talked about him in years. Not until the tang of sizzling sauce on the grill hit. Like a whispered echo, it came to me...his boisterous laugh from across the table.
As an author, I strive to write authentic characters who share those same kinds of lovely family memories with the reader. I include real dishes we've made and the kinds of conversations we've had around a rickety table in a hot kitchen.
News of an impending engagement or career updates shared over coffee and pan dulce. This, of course, is an excuse to make all kinds of yummy treats and call it 'research' for my book. I'm currently on a chili-mango journey that's quite strange. I'll keep you posted.
If you're interested in making the extraordinarily tasty Queso Taco Birria that our family made, here's a link to the recipe video. The channel, Airam's Vegan Vida, has so many great tasting traditional Mexican dishes. I highly recommend checking her out.
This coming week I plan to hash out the Dia de Los Muertos scene in my current work in progress. I think I may have to recreate the churro 'experience,' you know, for authenticity? Until next time, be well.
Translations: abuela - grandma, chisme - gossip, elote - corn on the cob (on a stick), Dia de Los Muertos - Day of the Dead (Holiday), quesadilla - tortilla with melted cheese inside, pan dulce - sweet bread, tio/tia - uncle/aunt