Cuisine a way of staying rooted for Hispanic families

Editor’s Note: This article is the last in a five-part series recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15).
    Like all dimensions of Latin American culture, the Hispanic culinary tradition is really a mosaic of different national styles, influenced by colonial history and indigenous peoples.
    For many Americans who don’t come from a Hispanic background, the most frequent way that they come into contact with Hispanic culture is food. Mexican food especially has been embraced in the U.S. Southwest, where immigrants blend American cuisine with the styles of northern Mexico.
    Local resident Claudia Lopez learned how to cook Mexican food from her parents before immigrating to the United States when her husband found work with Seaboard Foods.
    At the age of 13, Lopez began to learn cooking from her father, who prepared food for parties and neighborhood gatherings.
    “My dad did all of the hard work back then, we mostly just helped with the preparation,” she said.
    Her mother also cooked, and Lopez said she remembers her making quesadillas in particular. Quesadillas are one of Lopez’s favorite things to cook today.
    Lopez said the blend of ingredients such as ground avocado leaves, corn leaves, cinnamon and pepper in Mexican food distinguishes it from other Latin American cuisines.
    Lopez has one daughter, and said her daughter’s favorite food is spaghetti noodles with a salsa that Lopez makes from cilantro, green peppers and sour cream.
    Although in the U.S., Latin American food is usually associated with Mexico, in other parts of Central and South America, local cuisine looks and tastes very different.
    Isabel León immigrated from Ecuador to the United States in 1973 and came to Holyoke with her husband in 1981. She learned to cook from her mother, after marrying her husband in Ecuador.
    León grew up with her mother’s cooking. She said she started learning how to cook with easy dishes like beans.
    León said her favorite dish to make is a local variant of empanadas, which she learned from a book of Ecuadorian recipes that belonged to her mother. The empanadas are fried and include pork, olives, onions, tomatoes and raisins.
    “People here in Holyoke love this kind of empanada,” she said. “For me, cooking is all about enjoying my food with other people.”

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