Viva Vegan: A great way to add a little “sabor latino” to your next meal

Venezuelan-American cookbook author Terry Hope Romero (Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook) makes Latin food vegan-friendly in Viva Vegan! This collection of 200 vegan recipes includes offerings from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. You’ll find updated favorites like tostones and mofongo (Puerto Rico), stuffed arepas (Venezuela and Colombia), tamales and tortas (Mexico), ropa vieja (Cuba), ceviche (Peru), and more.

If you’re new to vegan and / or Latin cuisine, fear not! Romero thoughtfully includes a primer on the vegan Latin pantry, along with numerous sidebars, suggested menus (The Buena Vegan Social Club, Colombian Colors, Buenos Aires Potluck, Sofrito So Good, etc.), and a quick-start shopping list (which can be printed at the author’s website) that’ll have you whipping up vegan delights with Latin flair in “sólo unos minutos” (okay, maybe un poco más for some of the recipes). Quirky Spanish phrases pepper the book; they may not be grammatically correct, but they’re likely already familiar to non-Spanish speakers.

Recipes are straightforward and in easy-to-read typeface; recipe names are in all-caps red, while the ingredients and steps are supplemented with tips, uses, and variations. You’ll find animal-free versions of staples like dulce de leche, chicharrones (instead of deep-fried pork rinds, Romero uses Chinese-style tofu; I would imagine that tofu skins would also crisp up nicely), masa dough (using vegan margarine and vegan shortening to replace the lard used in traditional tamales), and chorizo (there’s an included recipe for seitan chorizo, but Field Roast makes a very good (and spicy) chipotle vegan sausage that could be substituted). If you don’t live in a city with a large Hispanic population, some of the items such as guava paste, masa harina and cleaned corn husks for tamales, frozen yuca chunks, and aji panca paste may be difficult to find.

I loved the recipes I tried: the very Spanish Swiss chard with raisins and capers was fantastic! I substituted kale for the chard and golden raisins for the dark raisins and increased the fruit to ½ cup. Absolutely delicious! The oil crisps the garlic and coats the greens (I reduced the oil to 1 tablespoon), and the capers add a delightfully salty tang that contrasts beautifully with the raisins’ sweetness.

My second attempt was the sweet and nutty roasted stuffed plantains. They were divine, filled with a sweet-salty combo of sea salt, brown sugar, and walnuts (I’m vegetarian, not vegan, so I used a sprinkle of queso fresco during the last few minutes of cooking). Make sure if you’re roasting plantains (as opposed to frying, which works better with unripe green plantains) that their peels are almost completely black; if your plantains aren’t fully ripe, they won’t soften up as you bake them (lesson learned!).

Like most vegan cookbooks, Viva Vegan! relies heavily on soy and wheat meat substitutes, including tofu, TVP, soy creamer / soymilk and seitan. If you’re allergic to soy or wheat, there are plenty of wonderful veggie and grain-based dishes like gallo pinto, red beans with Dominican-style sazón, potato-chickpea enchiladas, and spicy tortilla casserole with roasted poblanos that you can enjoy.

To help you wash down your newly-veganified Latin cuisine, the author provides recipes for sangria, michelada (ice-spiked beer, lime, salt and hot sauce), and the ubiquitous mojito. Sweet endings include pineapple-raisin sweet tamales (the fruit is worked into the dough), deep-fried churros con chocolate, and tropically-inspired gems such as majarete (sweet coconut corn pudding), dulce de batata, papaya-lime sorbet and sweet corn ice cream.

The verdict: Viva Vegan! is a great addition to any kitchen and a great way to add a little “sabor latino” to your next meal!

(Review copy courtesy of Da Capo Lifelong Books)

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