Q&A with Ethnic-Market Maven Terry Hope Romero

Here, the blogger (veganlatina.com), author, and kitchen maestra shares her tips for navigating your local Latin market.

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With Veganomiconand Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, Terry Hope Romero established herself as an urban icon of culinary cool. With her latest offering, Viva Vegan!, she turns up the heat with a leap into the world of Latin cuisine. Here, the blogger (veganlatina.com), author, and kitchen maestra shares her tips for navigating your local Latin market.

Q: What do you like best about shopping at non-traditional food markets?

A: I grew up shopping at ethnic markets as a sort of hobby with my dad. I guess you just have to love grocery shopping. I do a lot of reading and researching of ethnic cuisines, so I tend to geek out when I stumble upon a variety of cardamom pod or Lebanese bread I’ve been reading up on but haven’t tasted yet.

Q: For someone who has never shopped at an ethnic food market, how would you describe the experience?

A: I’ve taken friends who never venture beyond the regular mega grocery store and there’s definitely an air of adventure about the whole thing for them. Most ethnic markets tend to be smaller than supermarkets, and products are often piled on top of one another or the inventory might be very different the next time you visit. If you see something you like and suspect you’ll be using a lot of it, it often pays to stock up.

Q: Have you ever purchased something at an ethnic market only to discover later that it wasn’t veg?

A: I’m a tireless label reader so I’m ridiculously careful about what I buy in ethnic markets and regular supermarkets, too. Definitely keep your eyes peeled for hidden lard in frozen or canned Latin products.

Q: What are your top-five favorite items the Latin grocery store?

A: 1. Dried ancho chilies: A great beginner’s dried Mexican chili. Add to basic red chili sauce or blend into fresh salsa. 2. Masa harina: For corn tortillas, tamales, or my favorite: pupusas. 3. Ají panca paste: For marinating seitan for Peruvian-style seitan skewers. 4. Panela: Grate this raw brown sugar and sprinkle over of plantains before roasting. 5. Annatto (achiote) seeds: Essential for giving that proper yellow color to rice or empanada dough.

?For more tips on navigating the aisles of your nearest ethnic grocery store, pick up a copy of the July/August issue of Vegetarian Times and check out “Passport to Flavor.”

—Aurelia d’Andrea, guest blogger

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