Growing up in a Cuban family my normal food was rice and beans with a bit of over cooked veggies on the side and whatever meat was available. Later after immigrating to the U.S with my parents in the 70's other foods came into the picture. The 70's in New York city was a time when fast foods and TV Dinners had taken hold of the culture and claimed to fill the gap that housewives had left when they joined the work force; it was the modern way. Coming from a country that had been isolated since the late 50's, seeing colorfully plastic packaged food and treats, that were cheap and readily available symbolized freedom and capitalism. The new food was beyond temptation, it was the way to go. My family went from eating simply cooked rice and beans with whatever tiny piece of meat was available, prepared at home by my grandmother to a pantry filled with sliced white plastic tasting bread and a fridge filled with 2 liter bottles of Coca-Cola and frozen tv dinners my mother would warm up after coming home from work. I still remember the sound of her panting breath as she climbed the stairs to our fourth floor apartment in N.Y carrying a big supermarket shopping bag filled with sugary cereals, milk, frozen vegetables and a box of supermarket pie (not the kind any proper baker made but rather an assembly line sort of artifact). We were experiencing progress, modernity, liberation from drudgery or so I thought. At that time I couldn't have had a better treat than to go across the street to a newly opened McDonald's. A paradise of colorful plastic furniture, very sweet, salty and greasy foods cutely wrapped in disposable packaging. What emancipated and struggling 70's working mother had time and energy to make an apple pie from scratch which resembled the warm, crunchy gooey apple pie you could get for a couple of cents at the Golden Arch across our apartment building?
Well, it turns out the kids are resilient and in spite of those regular McDonald trips my brother and I grew up relatively unscathed. It was not until years later that I came across the idea of trying to understand the art of cooking and of not eating meat as a possibility. After several attempts during my college time to avoid eating meat, which led back to eating meat and many tasteless meals my friend Ellen sent me a book that I still cherish: The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, by Molly Katzen. This book was my entryway into consistent vegetarian cooking and paved the way to a healthier and more conscious approach to cooking and eating. The Enchanted Broccoli Forest led to more books and more books, now I must have about 300 cooking books. These books have been my cooking university. Just like with any teaching or study the end goal is to liberate yourself from the teacher. I have liberated myself from the need to use any of the books to prepare meals and I have realized that that is when the fun really begins. I still love all of my books and would dare say that I know what's inside all of them.
In the last 20 years I have developed a real love for helping people find ways to get creative with cooking and not to see it as a chore or an activity which one has to free oneself from. One of my missions is to inspire people to embrace cooking and to see it as their everyday work of art.
Here is a recipe adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, which I use almost daily in my restaurant.
1. 90 grams (3/4 cup) flour 2. 35 grams almonds (1/4 cup)
3. 2-3 tablespoons coconut sugar 4. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
5. 6 tablespoons coconut oil 6. 60 ml. (1/4 cup) water
Process the first 5 ingredients in the food processor.
Add the water through the feed tube a bit at the time until the dough sticks together
Roll the dough on baking paper and transfer to a pie form
Fill pie with whatever fruit you like.
Make sure you mix the fruit with 3-4 tablespoons of Maizena or Arrowroot to bind the liquid. If you want add a bit of sweetener, cinnamon or vanilla.
Bake for about 20 minutes at 180 c. degrees