How 'SalviSoul,' a Salvadoran cookbook, came into being: NPR

Karla Vasquez, author of The SalviSoul Cookbook.

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Karla Vasquez, author of The SalviSoul Cookbook.

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About ten years ago, Karla tried to teach Tatiana Vasquez how to make her favorite dish: salpicón salvadoreño, a beef salad with radish, mint, lime and salt.

A trained chef and food writer, Vasquez was born in El Salvador, moved to Los Angeles as a baby and grew up eating food from her home country. She thought it would be easy to find recipes.

“I went to the Internet and did a Google search and I found two books, and I immediately thought, 'Wow, this is absurdo,'” Vasquez said.

It felt absurd to her, because there are more of them two and a half million Salvadorans living in the U.S. Many fled the small Central American country during a brutal civil war that lasted more than a decade and ended in 1992. Others left to escape extreme poverty and political instability in the war's aftermath. That history of mass migration made Vasquez think she needed to do something to protect Salvadoran culture.

Her idea became SalviZiel, a platform launched in 2015 dedicated to preserving its traditional food culture through stories, cooking classes and recipes. And now that mission has changed to The SalviSoul Cookbook: Salvadoran recipes and the women who keep them. It will be released on April 30 and is the first American cookbook focused on Salvadoran food from a major publisher.

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The SalviSoul Cookbook, Salvadoran Recipes and the Women Who Save Them

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The SalviSoul Cookbook, Salvadoran Recipes and the Women Who Save Them

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One of the recipes she has collected is a Salvadoran version of the spicy, grain-based drink horchata. On a sunny day in the Adams-Normandie neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, Vasquez showed NPR's A Martinez how the drink is made.

“We'll roast this mixture of seeds. And after they're roasted, we'll put them in the blender. We'll strain it and then we'll sweeten it.” she said, “Almost everything in life is better toasted, I think.”

As Vasquez darted back and forth in her kitchen, she said the book came about from her desire to interview the women in her family and learn their recipes.

But when friends heard about her project, they were excited to share recipes and stories from their families. She looked for stories and recipes from her community and received responses from all over the world.

“I didn't expect people to call me from, say, Minnesota and write me emails from Paris.” she said. “Like there were people as close as Crenshaw District, as far away as people in Abu Dhabi.”

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Karla Tatiana Vasquez (left), interviewed by Morning edition host A Martinez in Los Angeles.

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She always knew there were many Salvadorans in Los Angeles, but this was the first time she got a sense of how far the diaspora extended beyond the city. The interviews she collected were The SalviSoul Cookbookwith 80 recipes from 25 matriarchs.

“The way I absorbed the culture was through the women in my family and they nurtured me.” They also shared lessons about life and love.” So there was the food that nourished my physical form. And as I sat at the table, these stories nourished the part of my soul that longed to connect, that longed to be included to belong.”

Vasquez roasted a mixture of Moro, sesame and pumpkin seeds with cinnamon and cacao pods in a pan on the stove as she recounted to NPR stories she heard around her family's dinner table.

The smell around her was almost like popcorn, but with a deeper richness.

Vasquez struggled to convince agents and publishers that her project was worthwhile. They told her they didn't think there was interest from the broader American public.

“There were other agents I wrote to who said, 'Well, Karla, who are you? Do you have a restaurant? Do you have a really big Instagram page or a really big YouTube presence?'” She also faced with adversity in her own country. community. “I've had some Salvadorans themselves say, 'Girl, don't bother.' Like all we have are pupusas. All Americans want are our pupusas.”

But it was the words of her grandmother Lucy that confirmed her resolve: “Esto se trata del legado de la mujer Salvadoreña.”

“She said, 'This is about the legacy of Salvadoran women.' And she set the standard then and there and there was no going back,” Vasquez said.

Carrying the burden of that legacy involved many tears, she continued, and unpacking the trauma of the Salvadoran community.

“We've been so busy surviving that sometimes we haven't had a moment to assess what we've survived. And I think that's why these storytelling sessions happen at the table.”

She says that for her, the roots of healing from that trauma are also tied to food.

“Having a plate of food in front of you at the table is a promise of satisfaction, a promise of safety.”

She eventually got a contract for it The SalviSoul Cookbook from Ten Speed ​​Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Vasquez hopes the book will serve as a document of her immigrant culture, as well as add context to the history and culture of food in Los Angeles. But she says her publisher's prestige adds no legitimacy to the legacy she is perpetuating.

“It's not about acceptance. It's about holding on to the sazón (herbs) that the women provided. It's about making sure that what took a lot to learn is not forgotten.”

The broadcast version of this story was produced by Paige Waterhouse. The digital was edited by Obed Manuel.

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