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2021 Year in Review
A look back at stories, essays, recipes, conversations, and more
This month’s newsletter takes a look at the stories, essays, and recipes I’ve worked on this past year. I also share conversations on food and decolonization, newsletters that inspire me, and cookbook projects.
TASTE published these stories about uniquely Peruvian dishes and ingredients that have a cultural connection to the Americas and beyond:
Pasta and Potatoes, the Peruvian Way — The iconic combinado of spaghetti with red sauce alongside cheesy potatoes sums up Peru’s Italian and Andean roots in one plate.
A Stuffed Avocado for Every Century — The recipe has been remixed and reimagined across history, from Mexico, to Peru, to the Caribbean, to the United States.
The Coca Story Goes Way Beyond the Cola — To Americans, the leaf is a symbol of unhealthy habits, but in the Peruvian Andes, it’s a source of nutrients, energy, and flavor in food and drinks.
In the combinado story, I share my family’s tradition of cooking spaghetti for beach picnic outings. After interviewing Andrea Aliseda about Mexican recipes for the avocado story, we’ve been exploring a collaboration that brings together our interest in the foods of our Indigenous ancestors. And the coca story earned personal praise via email and social media from readers who recognize the cultural value of the sacred plant.
Two popular newsletters also mentioned the coca story:
Soleil Ho wrote this for the San Francisco Chronicle newsletter: “I’m sure you’ve tried Coca Cola at least once in your life, but do you know what coca even is? Learn about the leafy plant’s cultural import for Peruvians in Nico Vera’s latest piece for TASTE.”
Joshua Gee wrote this for his Snack Cart newsletter: “TASTE publishes a lovely essay by Nico Vera. In America, Coca leaves have two main associations: cocaine and Coke. Vera outlines their place in Peruvian culture and cuisine, which is much more interesting and complicated.“
In Emolientes: Peru’s Creole Elixirs for Salt & Pepper’s wellness issue, I drink a pisco-spiked medicinal drink with my uncle. Three Generations of Fathers, One Timeless Afro-Peruvian Breakfast for Food52 is about a rice and beans dish that connects me to my father and grandfather. In the long-form essay, Preserving Peruvianism in the Quinto Suyo for Huellas, I describe how my immigrant parents kept their cultural identity.
Chifa comes from the Cantonese 煮飯 (zyu faan) — “to cook rice.”
For a long time, I’ve been wanting to write about chifa, the Chinese-Peruvian comfort food I grew up with. I learned to cook chifa dishes from my mother, I’ve taught a Chinese New Years cooking class that featured a chifa menu, and I travelled to Hong Kong to explore the Cantonese roots of chifa. So I was delighted to work with The Cleaver Quarterly on Chifa Diaries, my essay about Chinese-Peruvian cuisine and Lima’s Chinatown.
I see chifa as frozen in time—a snapshot of two worlds coming together in the early 1900s in Lima: the cooking of Cantonese immigrants and Lima’s creole families in Barrio Chino and Mercado Central. That’s what makes chifa a profoundly nostalgic cuisine.
VegNews, the leading vegan and plant-based magazine, published my recipe for a Vegan Afro-Peruvian Carapulcra Spicy Chickpea Stew. The TASTE combinado story launched their new Don’t Call it Comfort Food column, and it included my recipes for Vegan Tallarines Rojos and Vegan Papa a la Huancaina. And Food52 published my Tacu Tacu recipe to accompany the story about an Afro-Peruvian breakfast dish.
I also taught my first Zoom cooking class that featured my recipe for Palta Rellena / Avocado Stuffed with Chickpea Salad.
Chefs Sean Sherman and Nico Vera talk about some of the advanced agricultural systems, trade routes, and cooking techniques that unite a precolonial food history across both North and South America.
— Anna Hezel, TASTE Editor
It was a pleasure to chat with Sean about the food of our Indigenous ancestors. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation for TASTE, Indigenous Cuisine Tells the Story of Connected Continents:
Sean: Our Indigenous communities spent thousands of generations gaining knowledge to be able to utilize an extremely diverse food system, which was highly nutritional, highly plant diverse.
Nico: I grew up with the traditional Peruvian food, comida criolla, the creole dishes. And as much as I love all that food, I have to acknowledge that it’s a product of colonization, right?
Sean: So, you know, for us, we cut out things like dairy, wheat, flour, cane sugar, beef, pork, and chicken, because those ingredients didn’t exist here before colonization.
Nico: We could probably come up with a really interesting menu for people to discover or rediscover and reconnect with Indigenous food cultures from North and South America. And that would be a beautiful thing.
In the near future, I hope to visit chef Sean’s restaurant in Minnesota, Owamni, to collaborate on an Indigenous pop-up dinner.
I also enjoyed being interviewed for two podcasts. The Pulso Podcast asked me about decolonizing Latinx food, and I also chatted with Natalie Love Cruz of Food for Thought about cooking mishaps for her Burnt podcast.
I launched The Vegan Peruvian Kitchen in July 2021. To date, my free monthly newsletter has covered the Pisco Sour cocktail, the culinary legacy of Italian immigrants in Peru, the food history of the stuffed avocado, cultural identity and Latinx Heritage Month, and how Peru celebrates Day of the Dead.
Newsletters that inform, educate, and inspire me include:
Dianne Jacob’s Newsletter has great tips for food writers, as well as current trends, plus interviews with chefs and authors.
Illyanna Maisonet’s Newsletter is about Puerto Rican food culture, recipes, life in her NorCal home, and her forthcoming cookbook, Diasporican.
Andrea Aliseda writes from her Los Angeles home about the food culture of her native Mexico as a vegan and an immigrant.
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy is replete with stories on food culture and politics, plus plant-based recipes from her base in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Food for Thought is a diary by Natalie Love Cruz who is exploring foods from countries around the world, from A to Z, from her New York home.
Throughout 2021, I’ve continued to pitch my cookbook proposal for The Vegan Peruvian Kitchen to several publishers and agents. Unfortunately, for various reasons, they have all rejected my proposal. Someone once told me that only 1% of cookbook proposals get accepted, but that hasn’t stopped me from pursuing my goal.
I am confident that The Vegan Peruvian Kitchen and my plant-based recipes inspired by Peru’s Indigenous, European, African, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines need to be shared with the world—and I am the chef to write it.
In the meantime, I am honored to contribute to other cookbook projects.
The London-based editors of the Plant Based Planet curated recipes by contributors representing 110 countries, and they invited me to submit a recipe from Peru for a cinnamon-spiced quinoa oat milk pudding.
Joe Yonan, author and Washington Post food editor, invited me to develop Peruvian-themed recipes for his next cookbook, Mastering The Art of Plant-Based Cooking. Ten Speed Press is the publisher and the cookbook will include 300 recipes with contributions by several recipe developers.