Illyanna Maisonet's culinary love letter to the Puerto Rican diaspora is a delicious gift to us all.
We definitely had to knock off a point for how difficult ingredients like culantro (not a typo), yuca, yautía, or even plantains and seafood can be to find in some places.
With that said, recipes that aren't open to improvisation are few and far between and Illyanna nearly always provided an alternate ingredient option and went out of her way to give shopping guides for ingredients.
While she can't control global food distribution, she invested more effort than we've ever seen in a cookbook to make the recipes accessible to more people.
These are also some of the easiest recipes we've ever made. Even when there's process involved, it's clearly spelled out and nearly every tool needed is common (or she provides a common alternative).
The photography is stunning and really lends an infectious sense of nostalgia to the book. The art design is punchy and engrossing (I want to live in the little dioramas they created for these photos).
The recipe layouts (and even the typography) are so thoughtful — they're concise and efficient without cutting anything too short. Each recipe page has an anecdote or an extra tip in the preface and often Illyanna would give extra pro tips in the footnotes to help you evolve the dish for your tastes.
The structure of the book makes searching for things by what you're in the mood for super easy and the index has reverse-lookup WITH TRANSLATIONS which is incredibly helpful.
For the tiny amount of effort we put in, the outcomes were absolutely incredible. The food was comforting and nostalgic while still being interesting and adventurous. I think Sarah described it best when she said "I feel loved when I eat this food."
Out of 101 recipes, we made 21 and every single one of them was a smash.
At $33, this is an absolute steal. Go buy it.
After all that effusiveness over the flavor, I'd be remiss if I didn't say the writing was my favorite part of the book. I've read this book front-to-back a couple times now and it makes you chuckle, cry, need a snack, and everything in between.
I have almost zero experience with Puerto Rican food. Sure, I've had mofongo and tostones before, but other than that it just hasn't been part of my experience. I came into this book as an outsider looking in.
On the front cover, Illyanna says that this is "A Puerto Rican Cookbook". She's lying.
It's actually a multi-generational, autobiographical story of "generational poverty and trauma with glimpses of pride and laughter..." that is chock full of the most gorgeous, evocative prose you've ever read.
It's also an incredibly well-researched history lesson that tells the story of Puerto Rico's indigenous people, its colonization by Spain and later the US, the way its food production has developed and even the effects that specific legislation has had on its people and the way they eat.
And yes, of course, it's a cookbook full of Puerto Rican (and not-so-Puerto Rican) recipes.
But by page 9, Illyanna will tell you herself that "this is not a Puerto Rican cookbook." and she's right. It's a love letter from a brilliant food writer to the other 5.5 million Puerto Ricans living stateside — and although maybe not her stated goal, it's a gift to the rest of us as well.
We open the book as outsiders and close it feeling welcomed and loved; with our bellies full and smiles from ear to ear.