Decolonize Your Diet is a cookbook, but it is also a history, an exploration of food as medicine, and above all, a counter to the colonialism that runs through the food cultures of the Americas. It’s a reclamation of a food heritage by two Mexican-Americans, in the context of where they live and eat.
The book challenges the limits of what many of us in Canada and the States believe Mexican food to be, identifying indigenous ingredients and those introduced from elsewhere. The recipes spring from Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel’s heritage and from their exploration of the health benefits of the Meso-American diet.
The recipes themselves range from simple and comforting to dinner party fare. They include traditional recipes and contemporary vegetarian meals that incorporate heritage indigenous plants. There are recipes for stocking your refrigerator with salsas, flavoured vinegars, hot sauces, and other condiments. Another chapter covers pantry ingredients, equipment, techniques, and base recipes.
The headnotes for the recipes might share history, health benefits, or politics, alongside serving suggestions and flavour descriptions. But the recipes are playful, meant to encourage creativity in cooking healthy foods. There’s an emphasis on eating what is local, fresh, organic, and available and the authors encourage cooks to adapt their recipes.
For many of us, that playfulness could be satisfied for a long while just by exploring the flavours and techniques shared in this cookbook. You might start out with a simple recipe like their Old School Pinto Beans, then find yourself sourcing cone piloncillo and queso Oaxaca to complement your homemade corn tortillas in their recipe for pumpkin mole enmoladas.
I’ve been given permission to share a recipe with you, for a simple and earthy lentil soup that is full of flavour.
Abuelitas’ Lentil Soup
Lentils are not indigenous to the Americas, but both of our grandmothers (abuelitas) made delicious and soul-warming sopa de lentejas. We flavor our soup with yerbaníz (also called “grandmother plant”), which has many medicinal properties, including being good for respiratory conditions and soothing to the stomach. The final squeeze of lemon sends the iron from the lentils to your body and adds brightness to the flavor.
Makes 6 servings
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
2–3 jalapenos, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 bunch green Swiss chard, stems diced, leaves cut into thin ribbons
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 cups (2 L) vegetable stock or water
2 cups (500 mL) brown lentils, rinsed
2 tbsp chopped fresh yerbaníz or 1 tbsp dried yerbaníz or 2 tsp dried French tarragon
2 tsp sea salt
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp chia seeds, ground (optional)
juice of 1–2 lemons, to taste
In a large pot on medium high heat, sauté onions in oil until lightly browned, about 7–8 minutes. Add jalapeño, carrots, and chard stems and cook for 5 minutes, until vegetables soften. Add garlic and freshly ground pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add stock, lentils, and yerbaníz. Bring mixture to a slow boil. Reduce heat, and cook at a slow simmer until lentils are barely tender, about 25 minutes. Add salt, chard leaves, and cilantro and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add ground chia seeds, cover partially, and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, or lemon juice until soup has a nice balance of flavors.
RECIPE CREDIT: Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing by Luz Calvo & Catriona Rueda Esquibel. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015.
PHOTOGRAPHS, PROP STYLING & FOOD STYLING CREDITS: Tracey Kusiewicz | Foodie Photography foodiephotography.com
I didn’t follow the recipe precisely, substituting kale for Swiss chard and a mix of marjoram, thyme, and oregano for yerbaníz. I skipped the ground chia seed, as the soup seemed thick and rich enough without it. It’s a filling soup that was welcome in the cold weather we’ve been having here. The flavour is beautifully balanced, with the subtle heat from the jalapeños and the sweet acid of the lemon being especially welcome notes against the earthiness of the lentils. Unlike many soups, it didn’t have me reaching for bread or cheese to complete it. It’s sufficient and satisfying just as it is.
Arsenal Pulp Press has been generous enough to offer a copy of Decolonize Your Diet to a Canadian or American reader. You can find the giveaway here and enter until December 17th: Win a copy of Decolonize Your Diet*
Many peoples, especially communities of colour and indigenous communities, are reclaiming their food heritage alongside their cultures and histories. In a time when the importance of healthy, whole foods is being recognized, along with food systems that promote sustainability and biodiversity, the work of this book’s authors is timely. They stand with people like Bryant Terry and Michael Twitty, and organizations like Vancouver Island’s Indigenous Food Network, documenting and expanding the food histories of this continent beyond the colonial narrative.
Gift Giver’s Guide: For anyone who wants to eat in concert with the the foods indigenous to this continent, but especially for First Nations and Latinx people who want to eat closer to their roots.
Come back next week for a review of a book that will fill your pantry with vegan goodness.