I’m Greek, and grew up with traditional Greek food like Mousaka and Pastitzo. By the time I met my husband, I could whip up our typical meat and pasta dishes with ease. But when I started dating Pedro, who was born in Guatemala and raised in El Salvador, I had to learn to cook in a totally new way. We’ve been together for 31 years and we’ve had a lot of fun, and funny, adventures in the kitchen. Here's some of what I've learned.
Tortillas Are the Truth
My journey into Latin cooking started with mastering tortilla making because store-bought ones may be fine for someone else but not my finicky husband with a well-trained palate. And like most Salvadorans, Pedro eats tortillas with everything.
At first, I couldn’t make a round one to save my life. Pedro would laugh and say they looked like chancletas. I got lots of great tips—my neighbor showed me a trick using the backside of a round dish and saran wrap—but then Pedro found this cool contraption at a Mexican shop that helps make them nice and round.
Once I got the shape down, texture was next and the best advice came from my mother-in-law: the trick is mixing using warm water with the masa. Then you’ve got to let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes so it can absorb. If they rise while you’re cooking them, you're good.
“In the beginning, I couldn’t make a round tortilla to save my life. Pedro said they looked like chancletas.”
The Not-So-Little Things
Rice was a staple in my house but it was totally different from Pedro’s. The way I grew up it was plain white, but his has to have color and veggies. It’s a whole thing. Imagine onions, tomatoes, Goya chicken flavored bouillon and sofrito and if I want to use culantro, forget about it. It’s so hard to find!
And límon—Pedro puts it on everything. I make a Greek meatball soup and I take an egg and put lemon juice on it and put it in the soup. To him, lemon and lime are the same thing. I can’t put lime juice in the Greek soup!
Now this might sound like sacrilege, but in the beginning I didn’t know what the heck to do with an avocado. I had never eaten one before and the first time I cut one open I see there’s a big pit in the middle and I’m like, ‘Now what do I do?’ So I start peeling it and one of Pedro’s friends sees me and says, “Take it away from her, she’s ruining it!” I was wasting all of the good stuff. I had no idea, we’re Greek; we don’t eat this!
Give and Take
I’ve learned a ton over the years, thanks in large part to Pedro’s helpful friends and family who showed me the ropes. What’s really cool is how all of the new foods and flavors had an impact on my own family. During the holidays, Pedro makes a mean turkey with a special sauce from El Salvador: Salsa de Horneado. My family calls it “the Spanish turkey” and they ask for it every year.
And those tortillas…Pedro likes to have them with milk sometimes, he’ll just break them up and put them in. He did that at my mother’s once and my nephew who was eight at the time was, ‘Is that Spanish cereal?’ He just had to have some and he loved it. My family actually prefers tortillas to the old bread and dinner rolls we used to eat. And I’m proud of mine. I went from making ones that looked like old slippers into delicious, homemade ones that can satisfy my discerning hubby. Pedro teases me that we’re going to retire to El Salvador and we’ll have a little tortilla store. Hey, you never know!