In my other incarnation, I’m also a radio program host. I interview a lot of authors, but it’s still a rare occasion to have an opportunity to interview the author of a cookbook. On August 12th, I get to do just that when the Nomad Cook will join me to talk about writing her cookbook, Healthy Venezuelan Cooking. You can listen to the program, Gia Scott’s Dawn of Shades, right here from 8-10 p.m. Central on Tuesdays.
I’m no expert on the cuisine of Central or South America. I’m also not a Latin American cuisine expert. The closest I come is a strong connection to the cuisine of Southwestern America, with its strong influences from indigenous Americans, as well as a heavy influence of immigrants from Europe and Asia. I know a lot more about Sonoran style cooking than I do about anything further south in its origins.
With that said, the recipes and photos in Healthy Venezuelan Cooking were appealing.
The cookbook advocates a lighter, healthier style of preparation using healthier ingredients than more modern ones, even if I don’t necessarily agree with some of the ones advocated. (I’m not a fan of canola oil, which is from rapeseeds…and I’ve also done entire programs on GMOs that included a lot of canola seed oil information.) Finding healthier oils is a real problem, and my best solution so far has been to simply use as little as possible, along with a heavy preference for olive oil whenever possible, which is also recommended for use in Healthy Venezuelan Cooking. It also focuses on low gluten and gluten free recipes, which is fantastic for those with celiac disease.
With that said, while I really like the cookbook, for those in the Gulf Coast region, there will be one serious problem in making most of the recipes.
We don’t have access to many of the ingredients.
There are far too few health food stores that carry organic groceries, and farmer’s markets are often our best sources. That means that grass fed or range meats are nearly impossible to get without mail ordering them or raising them ourselves. It also means that we are limited in access to a lot of the other ingredients, from seafood to fruit.
Granted, the Gulf Coast has access to fresh seafood galore, but…what is found here is not the same as that available in Venezuela. I’ve never seen octopus or squid sold fresh here. We also don’t see clams or mussels.
Then, there are the meats. While I used to live where seeing chevon (goat meat) and mutton (adult sheep meat) were commonly found in grocery stores, it is not common here. My family typically would roast goats in a pit for large family gatherings, and when telling someone about these events, they were horrified. For some reason, they assumed that cooking a goat was some kind of satanic ritual, a connection that still mystifies me. Goat meat is slightly stringy, usually lean, and has a mild flavor that I regard as somewhat similar to that of elk meat. We also always ate either does or males that had been castrated at least 90 days prior to slaughter—I was always told that male goats (bucks) had a strong, unpleasantly gamey flavor if they were not castrated and fed for this period before slaughter, but I can’t swear that this statement is true.
Goat meat isn’t the most exotic meat included though. There is a recipe using chiguire, which we know as capybara. For those who are unfamiliar with the animal, it is the world’s largest rodent and is semi-aquatic. I have never seen this for sale anywhere I have lived in the U.S.A. Probably the closest thing available in the Gulf Coast region is the nutria, although since I’ve never eaten either one, I couldn’t swear to it being a good substitute either. They are just similar animals, with the nutria being much smaller and more aquatic in its habits than the capybara is. Even for nutria, to obtain it for cooking would require either hunting it yourself or getting someone else to do it for you—you won’t find it at the farmer’s market!
There are a lot of other foods that are completely unfamiliar to me, such as tostones, arepas, and corn flour P.A.N. Other foods, while I have seen them in the grocery store or may have tried them a few times, are still not frequent stars in my own kitchen, such as plantains.
Overall, I found the cookbook fascinating, and I particularly like the personal touch of the accompanying stories putting the dishes into the context of life for the writer as anecdotes are shared. This is something that few cookbooks do, but it can bring the foods to life for the reader. While many of the recipes may be difficult to put together as written, with some adaptation, the overall feel of the recipe can be maintained as the style of cooking is adapted to available ingredients. There are also numerous photos showing the dishes, and the directions included with the recipes are clear and easy-to-understand. It is definitely a book that any serious foodie would enjoy, despite the difficulty in creating the dishes in many regions of the USA.
Healthy Venezuelan Cooking is currently available as a paperback through Amazon for $26.12 right here. It’s a great idea for a gift for the foodie in your life as well.