Viva Vegan – a cookbook review

July 8, 2010 in cookbook, Food Porn, latino, review, vegetable


When I was offered an opportunity to review the book “Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers” by Terry Hope Romero I was intrigued. Knowing latino cuisine as I do, the thought of a vegan adaptation of this heavily pork laden foodway boggled my mind. You can see from the traditional Colombian recipes that I have blogged about on this site, meat often figures heavily in our cuisine.

It should not have boggled my mind but it did. One has to banish the thought of chicharrones from one’s mind to be able to grasp vegan latino food and that seemed like too dear a price to pay! (winks)

When I got the book and browsed the recipes I had a huge head-bonking “I get it” moment.. of course! Latino food is at its VERY best when you eat the freshest ingredients and that doesnt really encompass chicharrones but avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, corn, platanos (plantains), yucas (casava), lime, and so much more.

When you remove the pork and replace it with olive oil you still have the beautiful flavors of latino foods. I would not recommend the margarines that the author does but she is trying to recapture some of the magic of butter that veganism bans. Any vegetable fat that is solid or semi-solid at room temperature is in some way modified (hydrogenated) and that is not good for your body. The best solution here is coconut butter – organic only and produced by a company that you trust and KNOW isnt using benzenes to purify their product.

The book consists of two parts and within those two parts a broad array of basic knowledge about vegan cooking and the adapted recipes:

Part One:

  • The Vegan Latin Pantry
  • Kitchen Tools (or How do I slice a mango)

Part Two:

  • A Few Essential Latino Vegan Recipes
  • Salsas and Condiementos
  • Bocadillos, Snacks, and Appetizers
  • Ensaladas
  • Beans and Rice, Los Dos Amigos
  • Vegan Asado: Tofu, Tempeh, and Seitan
  • Complete Your Plate: Vegetables, Plantains, and Grains
  • One Pot Stews, Cassaroles, and Cazuelas
  • Super Fantastico Latin Soups!
  • For the Love of Corn: Arepas, Pupusas, Tortillas, and More
  • You, Too, Can Tamale
  • Empanadas!
  • Drinks
  • Desserts and Sweets

For this review I intentionally chose a recipe that uses a common vegetarian/vegan ingredient that is relatively foreign to latino cuisine – tempeh – so that I can see if the author had been successful at making the translation. I prefer authenticity and loathe fake meat concoctions (tofurky?). I like tofu for its tofu-ness and would never eat it hoping to feel like I am eating meat.

What is tempeh? Trust me the following description might sound a bit – umm – revolting and it kept me from trying it for a long time but also trust me that tempeh is in fact really quite delicious!

“Tempeh, or tempe in Indonesian, is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. Tempeh is unique among major traditional soy-foods in that it is the only one that did not originate in China or Japan. It originated in today’s Indonesia, and is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh’s fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It has a firm texture and strong flavor. Because of its nutritional value, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine; some consider it to be a meat analogue.” Source

I bought the organic three grain tempeh for this recipe (in addition to whole soybeans – brown rice, barley and millet). I can highly recommend this product – quite delicious!

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Just a quick side note: The notion of “stuffing” an arepa is most popular in Venezuela versus Colombia. In Colombia, generally, arepas are not stuffed but eaten simply with butter and salt. I am sure now a days the propensity to “stuff” them is also spreading into Colombia (its not immune to change!). I qualify the term “stuff” here because the arepa isnt really suited for stuffing because it falls apart. Its not a pita bread. You cant really form a hinge by cutting half way through it and then stuffing it. Its more like you cut the arepa in half and then make a sandwich sort of thing.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

The Recipes

For today’s review I worked from the following recipes (with some modifications based on availability of ingredients):

  • Pan-Fried Tempeh with Sofrito (page 112)
  • Basic Onion-Pepper Sofrito (page 32)
  • Black Bean – Corn Salsa Salad (page 72)

Feedback: I can tell you ahead of time, before we go through all the recipes, that my non-vegan chicharron-eating family (3, 6, 13, adults) reveled in the deliciousness of this tempeh dish. I was fully ready for the kids to reject this new food (and I didnt tell them how it is made, they just need to trust me that its edible) but they LOVED it.

The tempeh has a unique nutty flavor (a stretch for our family too, we have extreme nut allergies here) and had a great mouth feel. My 13 yo said it tasted sorta like meat (likely with respect to the texture). They also gobbled down the corn-black bean salsa.

It was a definite hit here! I hope you give it a try and see for yourself. You do not need to be vegan or vegetarian to love these foods, they are a way to expand your own personal food habits and expose you to new flavors!

Pan-Fried Tempeh with Sofrito (page 112)


  • 1 (8-oz) cake of tempeh
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • vegetable oil, for pan-frying
  • 1/2 cup Basic Onion-Pepper Sofrito (pg 32)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup white wine, vegetable broth, or beer
  • olive oil for pan-frying


Slice the tempeh cake in half lengthwise, slice into thirds (I cubed it). You now need to steam it in a steamer basket, a covered saucepan with 1 cup water or in a microwave (covered dish, 1/2 cup water, nuke about 5 minutes). Drain all the water and then sprinkle with the soy sauce (I also sprinkled with lemon juice). Set aside.

Make your sofrito (see below).

Pan fry your tempeh on medium high in small amount of oil until golden on all sides.

To the hot pan add the following: sofrito, tomatoes, wine vinegar, cilantro, cumin; fry all until tomatoes are soft – 6-8 mins. Add in the tempeh and stir to coat and warm, ~ 5 mins. Pour the wine over this until almost absorbed, some sauce remaining. Serve in arepas, as shown.

Note on my modifications: We do not drink so we have no wine on hand, didnt add that. I also didnt add vinegar but added a splash of lemon juice.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Tempeh before preparation.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Steamed tempeh on to toast.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Golden tempeh

Basic Onion-Pepper Sofrito (page 32) (note – I made a few key changes to this recipe for this review)


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 2 pounds green bell peppers, seeded, chopped finely
  • 2 pounds yellow onions, diced
  • generous pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper


Saute peppers, garlic, onions, salt and ground pepper in a heavy pan on medium heat for about 10 mins. Lower heat and continue to cook for some 20 – 30 mins until all is soft and reduced to a 1/3 original volume.

Use immediately or cool and store in the refrigerator as a condiment.

Note on my modifications: In Colombian cuisine, we call the analogue to this “Hogao” and it doesnt include peppers or black pepper and would NEVER be made without cumin or cilantro. I had no peppers on hand so I made more of a traditional hogao versus this version. This means I also added cumin and tomatoes. Green onions are also especially good in this.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan



  • 1 C “La Venezolana” or “ArepaHarina” precocida masa harina (extremely fine precooked corn meal – you simply can not use any substitutes here, find this ingredient)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 C boiling hot water


Mix arepaharina with salt and hot water, mix well. Set aside for 5 – 10 mins. Shape into small balls (larger than a golf ball, smaller than a baseball) and then flatten into pucks (smooth edges).

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Toast in a hot pan until brown on sides, put into 350 F oven until ready to serve. Poke holes on top and slather with butter and sprinkle with salt or prepare as per desired recipe.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Black Bean – Corn Salsa (page 72) (I am leaving out the salad part as I only made the salsa portion)


  • 2 cups roasted fresh corn
  • 1 (14 oz) can organic black beans (2 cups cooked black beans)


Drain the can of beans, add the roasted corn.

Note on my modifications: I added 1 tablespoon chopped vidalia onion (raw), 2 plum tomatoes (chopped), salt, good sprinkle of cumin, 1 teaspoon minced garlic.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Bring all of this together for a delicious meal! In a traditional latino home, this would not be served without rice (I recommend organic brown rice) but we are dealing with a nasty heat wave here in the Northeast (104.7 in the shade the other day, 109 with heat index) so cooking and eating rice was the LAST thing we wanted or needed. As it was, making these arepas and hot hogao and roasting corn – it all made my kitchen hot and I was POURING with sweat – not a happy picture, that.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

There are MANY more very delicious recipes in this cookbook. I recommend it for all – vegan or not. I also especially recommend it to the Latino/a who is considering or is a vegan and would like a taste of home with not so much pork in it!

Product Details:

  • Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books; 1 edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738212733
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738212739

MSG free latino cuisine

January 4, 2010 in ingredient, latino


Goya and other latino food purveyors have “latino” style flavorings and spice useful to quickly add a certain flavor to foods that some interpret as “latino”.

(Note that I never think of myself or refer to myself as “hispanic”. The term “hispanic” was a broad class term coined by the infinitely odious Richard Nixon because he could not tell us latinos apart from one another.)

One such product is “Sazon” (with various permutations or variations). If you are latino/a you likely know this well, if you are new to this cuisine and have been experimenting with latino recipes, you will very likely come across recipes asking for it.

Do yourself and your family a great favor and either throw away any Sazon you have on hand or simply never buy it in the first place.

Sazon is MSG with annatto. MSG is not a food, its not a spice, it is a neurotoxin, especially when its used as directed in the case of Sazon.

Sazon and nasty MSG

I have written about MSG and how fantastically bad it is for you, from the scientific perspective in this post: Monosodium Glutamate: Bad for your brain, your figure, and your health.

Just step away from the Sazon.

You might ask then, how do I get that rich saffron yellow color without the sazon?!

You could invest in saffron.

I don’t, I just do not have that sort of food budget.

You could do what most latina grandmas and their mamas and abuelas have done BEFORE Goya – not be lazy and make a sofrito or hogao (as we Colombians call it, recipe at end of this post).

If you do not want to go to the trouble of making an hogao (it will add enormous flavor to your food, natural non-toxic flavor) then you can choose to use the coloring agent in Sazon that is not MSG -> ground annatto seeds.

annatto seeds

Annatto seeds are seeds from the Achiote tree, grown in tropical Central and South America.

The Wiki says:

It is an important ingredient of cochinita pibil, the spicy pork dish popular in Mexico. It is also a key ingredient in the drink tascalate from Chiapas, Mexico.

Annatto is the red coloring you find on the rind of muenster cheese and cheddar cheese!

annatto seeds

You can grind the seeds (shown here) and use pinches of it in recipes that call for Sazon or you can soak the seeds in water a bit to release the powdery coating on the seeds which is what colors things.

To grind annatto seed

To grind annatto seed

Annatto has been indicated in adverse reactions for some people so go easy on using it in the beginning. In all cases, never use a whole LOT of this or any spice, be moderate and find just the right amount that you need, no more.

Ground annatto seeds

Let me know if you make the switch!

Always be vigilant about MSG in your food. Its quite literally everywhere.


  • 5 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 bunches of green onions, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cominos
  • Pinch of ground annatto seeds
  • 1/2 cup of packed, chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • salt to taste


Saute the listed “hogao” ingredients in the olive oil until wilted, set aside.

Mix the harina and salt and then add the boiling water. Mix until incorporated and set aside for 15 minutes.

Fermented Colombian Sausages: Salchichas

October 10, 2009 in Colombian Food, latino, recipe


When I went to see Sandor Ellix Katz speak about Wild Fermentation (Sandor Ellix Katz and the Wild among us) I heard him mention that he was getting into wild fermented meats.

This reminded me of my childhood when we would make Colombian fermented sausages called salchichas or chorizos. I wrote to Sandor about this recipe, I think he will enjoy it as he is quite an intrepid culinary explorer! Besides, these sausages are just amazing!

At first, the idea of fermented meat might seem revolting or alien to Americans – we are constantly bombarded by Big Ag, USDA, and FDA message about cooking meat until charred (but not to on the other FDA hand because char = carcinogens).

We hear about the woman, in the New York Times, who was poisoned and then paralyzed by the E coli in her cheap and utterly crap hamburgers from a big box store (E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection). She got a strain of E coli that is a product of CAFOs that Industrial Big Ag, the USDA and the FDA works so hard to protect.

Had she eaten free range grass fed beef from a small producer she would still be teaching dance to little kids. Its not a philosophical or economic thing – its a biological thing. The profoundly unhealthy diet of a CAFO steer encourages the human-toxic E coli while grass fed steers do not (its a matter of rumen health, bacterial ecology, and proper pH).

Thats all about bacterial issues that arise in the living animal.

There are also issues that can arise in foods that have been contaminated after butchering from bacteria in the ambient environment. As I just mentioned, our modern CAFO environments contaminate our meats with super bugs that we have not evolved to manage. There are also bacterial species that will colonize your food (raw or cooked) that come from your local environment.

In environments where such foolishness are not the standard, like Colombia, the meat is not pre-tainted with these toxic bacteria (also, obviously, meat you source from ethical farmers who feed their steers the correct diet of grass, 100% of the time).

Remember that Colombia is a tropical country, it is also considered 3rd world. When we lived there, back in the 1960s, it was certainly quite different from the US. My mom, who is American – a Illinois farmer’s daughter, tells of how the meats in the market would be hung out in the heat, without refrigeration, with insects buzzing about it. If you watch No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, you will often see shots of meat markets just like this. Meat isnt left out like this for long. They butcher enough for that market day. Needless to say the meat was already beginning to ferment before you bought it.

Fermenting is the same as aging. When you buy expensive aged beef, its beef that has begun to ferment.

This fermentation is essentially the same as that you find in pickles, cheese, sourdough bread, etc. The main bacterial species is the lactobacillus. This bacteria begins to digest the food and a waste product (we in science call it a metabolic product) is lactic acid. This lactic acid acidifies the food and then inhibits other human-pathogenic bacteria.

Lactobacilli have been our friends from the beginning (pre-modern human to be certain) and it continues to help us when we make our traditional foods.

The sausages I am writing about today have an enhanced flavor BECAUSE they are fermented or partially digested by lactobacilli.

If you would like to try this recipe without the fermentation step, it will still be delicious but it will not have the characteristic tangy flavor that the lactic acid brings.

I remember my mom and my grandma making this when I was a child. I remember watching them string the sausages up high in the kitchen. I can see in my minds eye the sausages hanging there and how I felt so fascinated by it all. I also remember how delicious they were.

When I mentioned to my mom that I wanted to make these, she surprised me by sending me a meat grinder and then pork casings!

The sweetest part of this all was having my three kids at my side, peering over the edge of the counter in the case of my 3 year old son, watching me use the grinder and watching the meat filling up the casings. They were not grossed out, they were fascinated and they all wanted to give it a try!

It melted my heart, it was a perfect moment for me.

This is the recipe as I got it from my mom. I thought I would share the way she wrote it because it sounded great!

In her voice ….

As I remember, in Colombia, the meat in the chorizos were very finely minced by hand…however, I think you can do this with the food grinder attachment. Even when I grind the meat in the grinder machine, I used the coarse blade so that it would mimic this “hand-minced” meat.

Colombian Sausages: served

Colombian Chorizos (Salchichas) (Antioquia)

(The kind we used to hang in the kitchen! :-)


  • 2 lbs of pork, lean, minced
  • 2 lbs of beef, lean, minced
  • 1/2 lb of pork fat, minced
  • 1/2 lb of mild chile peppers, minced ( Poblanos are good)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp of hot cayenne pepper (ground)
  • 1 tblsp of oregano and cilantro, finely minced
  • 1 tsp of ground cominos (cumin)
  • Salt and pepper to your taste
  • Pork casings

Mix everything together, except the casings. Put it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. (I like longer for the tangy taste…but if you’re weirded out with aging meat, don’t do this). Then comes the tricky part, filling the casings. If you have the sausage making attachment to the machine, this is a piece of cake..if not, you have to do it by hand..I’ve done both.

Colombian Sausages: grinder

Grinder, in use.

Colombian Sausages: casings

Casings, soaking.

Colombian Sausages: meat to grind

Chunks of meat, just before being fed into the grinder.

Fill the casings with the mixture, giving it a couple of twists with every 4 or 5 inches. When done filling, stab each link with a toothpick to let it release air.

To do this, you need to slip a length of casing onto the sausage tube attachment on your grinder.

Colombian Sausages: loading casings onto sausage tube

Colombian Sausages: tying off the end of the casing

Colombian Sausages: grinding and stuffing the casings

When you come to the end of the sausage casing, tie it off (string or with casing) and then make links by twisting.

Colombian Sausages: ready to age

At this point you can make them or you can age them. To cook them, put them in a pan, cover with water, bring to a simmer, simmer until the water is gone (might want to flip them at some point) and then allow them to continue to cook/fry to caramelize the outside.

Colombian Sausages: add water to simmer

They brown up perfectly!

Colombian Sausages: Ready to serve!

If you are ready to go to the next level to get that unique tangy flavor, you do not cook them but you hang them up.

Hang the links on a clean twine in a nice cool airy place for a day or so.

Colombian Sausages: strung up to age

Colombian Sausages: strung up to age

Colombian Sausages: strung up to age

After a day mine really had no odor at all. They were drier, perhaps shrunk a bit, concentrating flavor for sure.

Colombian Sausages: aged but still raw

Like before, you cook them up like any other sausage…first with a little water in a fry pan with a lid, then let them brown.

Colombian Sausages: on to simmer

We also made arepas and yucas fritas (fried yucas) as well as rice to go with this.


Colombian Sausages: sides - arepas

Arepa masa

Colombian Sausages: sides - arepas

Shaped arepas

Colombian Sausages: sides - arepas

Cooking arepas in the pan.

Colombian Sausages: sides - arepas

They then go into a 400 F oven.

Colombian Sausages: sides - arepas

Yucas Fritas

Colombian Sausages: sides - boiling yucas

Boil frozen yucas 20 minutes (MUST DO THIS).

Colombian Sausages: sides - yucas fritas

Remove yucas from water, cool and allow to dry a bit, then break chunks up into bite sized spears.

Colombian Sausages: sides - yucas fritas

Deep fry until golden.

Colombian Sausages: sides - arepas y yucas fritas

Delicious arepas and yucas fritas are our sides!

Colombian Sausages: served

Colombian Sausages: served

It would have been more correct to also serve this with lots of cilantro, avocados, lime, etc but I didnt have those things!

¡Buen Aprovecho!

As an aside, after I posted the photos of these sausages on flickr I got an email from someone asking to order 200 of them! I guess thats the ultimate compliment!

I do not sell these although I understand the request – its hard to get these in the US, ones that taste authentic. This is the first time I have ever made sausages – very easy – but certainly not something I can do as a business proposition! (that is, unless someone wants to get met set up in a rent-free commercial kitchen!)

Arepa de huevo (Arepa with egg)

March 23, 2007 in breakfast, Colombian Food, cooking, deep fry, Food Porn, ingredient, latino, recipe

[Sorry for the annoying copyright symbols on these images but there are too many people downloading and stealing these images. I am working on a downloadable for-a-fee document where you can get the whole “picture” and I do not lose all photo rights and revenue.]

Arepa de huevo - after final frying

Arepa de huevo is a Colombian food that I remember from my childhood. Other countries may do this but I do not know much or really anything about other varieties. Arepas are made from a very finely ground corn meal. I will put a recipe or guideline below for making that as well as how-to photos on how to make the arepa with egg below.

My first experience with it was when we visited Colombia 25 years ago. As in other latin american countries, street vendors sell all manner of things. We were on foot somewhere in Bogota, Colombia, and literally by the roadside there was this large woman sitting next to an enormous wok-like pot filled with boiling hot oil. She also had dozens of eggs and arepas. I didn’t really know what to expect when we walked up. I watched her cut open a large arepa (size of your hand, I am used to seeing them more like 1/2 that size), break an egg into the steaming middle of the arepa, pinch it back closed, and slip it quickly down the side of the wok-pot down into the boiling oil. Next thing I know, I am holding a napkin with a steaming hot arepa de huevo inside, tasting it for the first time.

Truly fantastic.

I have always respected the potent possibilities of food poisoning and GI upset that can happen when you eat things in a region where you have not acclimated yourself to the local bugs in the water. On this trip, I experienced food poisoning also for the first time but it was NOT from the Arepa de huevo I had from the street vendor.


Arepa de huevo

Because this treat is deep fried, making it less likely to be a vector for forborne illnesses.

More important than all of that, it is very delicious!

I had not eaten one in all that time until just the other day, when I finally got down to making them in my own kitchen. They came out so much better than I had anticipated. I hope you will try them too!

Arepa de huevo



  • 1 C “La Venezolana” or “ArepaHarina” precocida masa harina (extremely fine precooked corn meal – you simply can not use any substitutes here, find this ingredient)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 C boiling hot water
  • 4 eggs (or more, depending on how far your masa goes)


  • 5 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 bunches of green onions, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cominos
  • Pinch of ground annatto seeds
  • 1/2 cup of packed, chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • salt to taste


Saute the listed “hogao” ingredients in the olive oil until wilted, set aside.

Mix the harina and salt and then add the boiling water. Mix until incorporated and set aside for 15 minutes.

Arepa de huevo ingredients

Dough ball

Wet hands with cold water and shape hand sized pancakes of harina (about 1/6 inch thick) or use a tortilla press. I used the press in this case but I think I would prefer to recommend the hand method as you get a thicker arepa. With the press, its a delicious crispy thing, just a bit different than I remember.

To use the press:
Put a ball of masa on the press (which you have lined with a freezer ziplock bag, cut to size).

Arepa de huevo - on press to be flattened

On the press, with plastic

Gently push down on the press so that you mash it flat but not TOO thin.

Arepa de huevo - squished flat

First pressing

Open the press and rotate the arepa 180 degrees and press just slightly more to try to even the thickness all around.

Peel back the plastic and either toast in a hot pan like you do with most arepas (below shown with smaller ones), or slip the raw arepa into the hot oil until it puffs up.

Arepa de huevo - after smashing flat

Ready for first stage cooking

Remove and allow to cool.

Carefully cut into the side of the arepa to form a pocket.

Arepa de huevo - fried once, opening pocket

Slicing the hole

Put a spoonful of hogao in the bottom of the fried arepa.

Put an egg into a small cup and then slip the egg into the pocket.

Arepa de huevo - pouring in the egg

Small expresso cup used to put egg in arepa

Arepa de huevo - after the egg has been poured in

Egg in the arepa, quick go to the next step!

Mend the edge with raw dough and then slip it back into the hot oil for a couple of minutes (until it hits the color you want, light golden brown).

Arepa de huevo - mending hole at edge with a bit of raw masa

Mending the edge before frying

Enjoy hot!

Arepa de huevo - right out of the second fry

Ready to eat!

Related Posts: