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Nueva Cuban cuisine will wow your family

Equal parts conversation, cookbook and memoir

by Kimberly Shellborn
The cover of To Cook is to Love by John Verlinden.
To Cook is to Love is a collection of recipes sprinkled with Cuban culture. — Photo courtesy what!design, Inc.

To Cook is to Love is a delightful cookbook full of authentic Cuban recipes combined with the story of a remarkable woman.

Author John Verlinden describes this book as “equal parts conversation, cookbook and memoir.” The book was inspired by his mother-in-law Aida Luisa Gonzalez de Mondejar, or Mama Aida. The stories told in this book are based on Mama Aida’s life. 

To Cook is to Love takes you into the kitchens of rural Cuba in the 1950s and immerses you in the rich and loving culture of a pre-Castro Cuban lifestyle. The stories and the recipes start when Mama Aida was a young girl. She tells of some of her favourite dishes that her mother made, or dishes used on special family or community occasions.

When she got married, she took on the adventure of learning to cook for her own household. Her first meal involved not only cooking a chicken, but butchering, plucking and preparing it for the meal. She discovered she loved to cook and offering meals became a way of offering hospitality and love.

Verlindin said Cuban cuisine is “rich, deep and diverse—full of international influences from all of the people who’ve played a role in her history. It features the healthy natural ingredients of the Mediterranean diet plus the bonus of the island’s natural bounty of tropical fruits and vegetables."

Verlindin takes these traditional recipes and “redesigns them into equally delicious but easier to prepare and healthier to consume alternatives.” He calls the result Nueva Cuban cuisine.

I took To Cook is to Love home with me and read it, stories and all, in one evening. I tried a couple of the recipes that night for dinner and wowed my family. This book is a fun combination of easy to prepare ethnic food peppered with amusing and interesting memories of Mama Aida.

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