Viva Vegan!: Infusing Latin Flavor into the Vegan Diet

John StavropoulosJohn StavropoulosGrowing up in New England, Venezuelan Terry Romero had struggled with her weight throughout her teenage years and decided it was time to eat healthier. Motivated by her vegetarian friends, the poor treatment of meat market animals and a move to New York during the 90's sealed her decision to become a vegetarian. "After a couple of years of being vegetarian I already wanted to cut out dairy and eggs. Some of the cookbooks at the time, if they didn't have meat, they would put like 10 eggs [into a recipe]. And I was saying to myself, I don't like that either…this isn't really very healthy," says Romero, who wanted her first solo cookbook to show her passion for Latin American cooking. 

Viva Vegan! is born

The cuisine of her ethnic background has so much to offer, she says. As a matter of fact, she had her first vegetarian meal in a Venezuelan restaurant during the 1980's. Impressed by the vegetarian transformation of traditional dishes, Romero felt restaurants the U.S. weren't showing much variety; it was all about brown rice and broccoli. She wanted to have a cookbook full of the flavorful recipes that make you feel like you are there, back in your país.

Do Latinos make better vegans?

Making this type of dietary transition is a very personal decision, says Chef Terry, but Latinos may have a number of advantages already built-into their cuisines. For example, there are a number of fruits and vegetables in the food culture like guanabana, malanga, pana, as well as grain-based drinks like trigo shakes, oat drink Frescavena, alcoholic "chicha" and "horchata". Avocados are a large part of this diet as well as beans and rice-all an integral part of the vegan lifestyle.

A vegan makeover doesn't have to be extreme

DON'T get overwhelmed with all the information: Read, ask questions, get a cookbook and experiment, but don't wait until you know all there is to know before your start trying.

DO learn how to cook: Start small, and keep trying until you get a repertoire of dishes that are satisfying and easy to make.

DO take baby steps: Not everyone is able to cut animal products from their diet right away. Here are a few ideas on how to start.

· Try some "fake meat": From tofu to seitan there are a number of meat-like items you can buy in your local supermarket. They are a great way to help you move slowly away from eating meat.

· Be willing to try new things: As with all new experiences, be ready to be disappointed with some flavors, products or ways of cooking. Don't give up.

· Get yourself a vegan or vegetarian cookbook: A new, healthier nutritional lifestyle depends a great deal on your being able to cook. So, peruse through bookstores and the internet for the cookbook that best fits your lifestyle and tastes.

Angie GaulAngie Gaul

Get started with some of Terry Romero's Latin vegan recipes from Viva Vegan! to help you get started. ¡Buen provecho!

Quick Red Posole with Beans

Creamy Corn-Filled Empanadas

Crepes with Un-Dulce De Leche and Sweet Plantains