As a novice cook with vegetarian leanings, I was thrilled when we received a copy of the new cookbook, “Every Day an Adventure, Every Meal a Feast,” featuring creative, meat-free dishes with Costa Rican ingredients.
Author Tao Watts is a longtime resident of the OsaPeninsula on the southern Pacific coast, and her inspiration for many of the dishes is that remote part of the country. She defines Osa cuisine as “a mix of international cultures, with an emphasis on fresh, colorful and flavorful whole foods, presented with a tropical flair.”
The cookbook exemplifies this fusion by including several classic Costa Rican dishes as well as recipes inspired by Indian, Thai and Indonesian cuisines. She even includes a family recipe for shoofly pie from the Pennsylvania Dutch of the United States.
The result is a collection that will inspire both beginners in the kitchen and experienced chefs, especially those new to the country who have spent time struggling to figure out what to do with some of the more exotic produce on offer.
Many of the creative recipes feature tropical fruits and vegetables, such as carambola salad dressing, made from star fruit, and chayote squash vinaigrette.
Traditional Tico dishes are also represented.
Recipes for gallo pinto, that classic dish of rice and beans, patacones (fried plantains) and vegetarian tamales can also be found.
A lifelong vegetarian who has worked as a professional chef, Watts pulls from a wide variety of experience. Classic meat-free items, such as veggie burgers and vegetable curry, are included along with a recipe to make your own meat substitute, seitan. International foods such as samosas, hummus and vegetarian sushi roll-ups will likely be hits with carnivores as well.
Desserts often include the use of local tropical fruits such as manzana de agua (water apple), mango and pineapple. And the shoofly pie recipe calls for tapa dulce, a type of brown sugar commonly found here.
Recipes are provided in English with Spanish words used throughout; a glossary of terms can be found at the back of the book. Those with limited Spanish or Costa Rican experience may find the flipping back and forth inefficient; providing the recipes in Spanish on one page and English on the other may have been more user-friendly.
On the upside, expat chefs may be able to increase their Spanish vocabulary and use the terms as a resource at the grocery store.
Some editorial errors and typos pepper the collection, though experienced chefs will probably not be tripped up by the small oversights. In a yuca (cassava) pie recipe, for example, several vegetables are called for in the ingredients and then not mentioned again in the instructions. As I fall into the beginner category, the preparation of the chayote squash concerned me.
Should it be peeled? How long to sauté, or should it be steamed? The end result was a pie with vegetables of various doneness, though I plan to try another version, as the overall dish was promising.
These small details may leave novice chefs a little uncomfortable, but on the other hand it may encourage experimentation and the confidence to improvise with the recipes. It is clear that rather than a prescription to be followed to the letter, Watts offers the recipes as suggestions or starting points from which to explore the great variety of flavors that can be found in Costa Rica.
Along with the recipes, Watts has included related information for those interested in the OsaPeninsula and vegetarianism. An informative section about the Osa and its incredible biodiversity is in keeping with the author’s commitment to the region. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to help community projects sponsored by the Women of the Osa organization, a group of volunteer women who live in the OsaPeninsula and surrounding areas.
Resources for vegetarians include a section entitled “How to Win an Argument with a Meat Eater” and a list of Spanish phrases to help convey dietary requirements in restaurants.
Overall, the creative dishes in “Every Day an Adventure, Every Meal a Feast” offer inspiration for cooks – nonvegetarians included – looking to spice up their cuisine.
“Every Day an Adventure, Every Meal a Feast” retails for $18 and is available at 7th Street Books in downtown San José; at selected hotels and shops in the northwestern province of Guanacaste; at La Buena Nota in Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast; at Jagua Gifts, Café la Onda, Natura and Luna Lodge on the Osa Peninsula; or direct from the author at [email protected]. Wholesale rates are available for distributors.