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Terry Hope Romero's book Viva Vegan! comes as a nice surprise to those who think Latin American food consists primarily of parilladas, feijoada, carne asada, and other meaty dishes. Viva Vegan! contains easy, creative recipes for vegans who love Latin American cuisine, or are dying to try it. And the book does take the term "Latin America" seriously: it includes recipes from Mexico to the tip of South America, without forgetting the Caribbean. It is also comprehensive in another way: it does not restrict itself to entrées -- it covers all aspects of Latin American vegan cooking, including drinks, salads, starters, snacks, soups, and desserts.
For those who are new to Latin American cuisine, Viva Vegan! is a primer which contains a very helpful glossary, a list of basic kitchen tools you will need, as well as tips for ingredient substitution, in case some products are not easily available to the reader. What is actually worthy of note is the fact that very few recipes call for "obscure" ingredients one can only find in specialized stores. Overall, if you have a good grocery store in your area, you should be able to find most of items Romero's recipes call for. The only exception to this may be seitan. A lot of Romero's recipes have this wheat-gluten meat substitute as their main ingredient -- one which is not that easily found in all regular grocery stores, but is often available at specialty stores. And Romero also teaches you how to make your own seitan, which makes things easier for those trying to follow recipes to precision and have trouble finding this major ingredient.
Seitan, however, is not a must-have ingredient for vegan Latin American cooking: TVP (textured vegetable protein, also known as TSP, texturized soy protein, or simply "soy meat") can be used instead. The advantages of Romero's pointing out the many uses of seitan are especially appreciated by those who are allergic or sensitive to soy (although it is certainly not a good choice for celiacs, or people with some kind of gluten intolerance).
Another aspect in which this book is especially good is that each recipe includes some information on food allergies and/or sensitivities it is suitable for: gluten-free and soy-free. I always find it extremely positive when authors of vegan cookbooks take into account these other dietary restrictions and are able to work around them and offer good, nutritious alternatives. Romero's book, thus, definitely deserves the merit of appealing to vegans, celiacs, and people who are sensitive to soy.
Yet, the allergy/sensitivity disclaimer should not be taken too literally, as there are a number of recipes in the book which are gluten-free, but have not received Romero's "gluten-free" label. Fortunately, I did not find any examples of recipes when the opposite occurs, that is, there were no recipes that were wrongly given "gluten-free" or "soy-free" labels, so celiac and people with soy hypersensitivity should not be too worried. Anyone concerned with such additional food restrictions, however, should, as I assume they would in most other cookbooks, simply peruse the recipe they would like to try and make sure it is indeed suitable for them.
Viva Vegan! also features four interesting appendices. The first one (A) has suggestions for full meals and menus for dinner parties, organizing them by country of origin -- which will help you avoid any faux-pas if you decide to throw, say, a Mexican party, and want to make sure you won't accidentally add in a Cuban dish and call it mexicano. The second appendix (B) has a shopping list to help you make sure you have all ingredients you'll need to make the most of this book. Appendixes C and D are more technical and introduce a glossary of cooking terms and techniques, and measurement conversions (as most Latin America uses the metric system), respectively.
A fair warning is in order: despite all the step-by-step cooking instructions and the thoroughness of the appendixes, I would not fully trust the bits of Spanish which the author uses here and there. Some of them are a bit off. But you are not buying a vegan Latin American cookbook to learn a language, anyway. My one real criticism to the book, however, concerns its layout, which, for this type of book, is quite important. Viva Vegan! has a number of recipes split into two pages. The problem is that most people often keep their cookbooks open to follow the recipe while they are cooking -- so having the whole recipe (i.e. the ingredient list and cooking instructions) on the same page makes a cook's life (especially the beginner cook's) a lot easier.
Leaving aside that layout inconvenience, Viva Vegan! is one of the greatest ethnic additions and to a vegan's cooking library, with recipes that require a minimum level of culinary skill and taste as delicious as they look in the colorful picture insert found in the middle of the book.
© 2011 Aline Medeiros Ramos
Aline Medeiros Ramos, PhD candidate in philosophy, Université du Québec à Montréal firstname.lastname@example.org