I will read anything Illyanna Maisonet wants to write. She is like a breath of salt-tinged fresh air in a stuffy room. Reading Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook is a no-brainer for me. I want her to have the resources to write whatever she wants to write.
On almost every page of Diasporican I found myself muttering, “I love her.” This is one of the most quotable cookbooks I’ve read. I cannot share as many quotes as I’d like because I’m working from an advance reader copy, but I will share a couple. The water to rice ratio lie was one I came to grips with during my first professional (ish) cooking stint, so when I read this passage I threw my fist in the air:
And the 2:1 Eurocentric ratio most of y’all have been taught is a fucking lie.”
Maisonet’s cooking is rooted in her life and the lives of her grandmother and mother:
Margarita, Carmen, and I became cooks out of economic necessity. We did not have the privilege of cooking for pleasure or joy. Our story is one of generational poverty and trauma with glimpses of pride and laughter, all of which have been the catalysts of ample good food in my life.”
In the introduction and throughout the book, Maisonet shares glimpses of her life, the fusion of cultures at the heart of Puerto Rican cooking, the immigrant experience that makes her cooking Diasporican, and her experiences in Puerto Rico. She also points out places where Puerto Rico has been shaped by Spanish colonialism, slavery, and US Imperialism.
Some of the recipes were familiar to me because my bff is a Jewish Puerto Rican vegetarian who taught me how to make sofrito and arroz con gandules. (I will never forget the time she made bacalao when we were studying for finals and forgot to rinse the salted cod. It was still delicious and I was obsessed for years.) Sofrito is magical, though the recipe I have from my bff is different from Maisonet’s. Not all of the recipes are going to be accessible to everyone, because not all the ingredients will be accessible. Sometimes this bothers me in cookbooks, but it didn’t here. I think that was mostly because I found the cookbook such an engaging read.
I’ve ordered a hardback copy which has not arrived yet. I already plan to make Salmorejo, which is not tomato soup in Puerto Rico, but a crab dish served over rice. I have made Pinchos (chicken skewers) with Guava BBQ sauce and it was the perfect blend of sweet and spicy.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed Press and NetGalley. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.