Originally published December 4, 2012 at 10:52 a.m., updated December 6, 2012 at 9:40 a.m.
When my mother left Venezuela to follow my father to this country, she was a young woman, barely 24. She couldn’t understand English, let alone speak it. But that didn’t stop someone from giving her a copy of the New Settlement Cookbook. The year was 1948 and my parents were newlyweds.
Maybe the cookbook had been a wedding gift. Maybe someone assumed, now that she was in the states, she needed to learn how to cook American. After all, the book, published in 1947, was filled with recipes such as, Chicken a la King, macaroni pudding and lima bean casserole.
But, if there’s anything my mother knew, it was how to cook the flavorful dishes of her home country. Sure, she tried her hand at “American” food. Like frozen fish sticks on Fridays, and Salisbury steak with macaroni and cheese on Wednesdays. But, nearly every other day, from as early as I can remember, my home was filled with the scent of cilantro, saffron rice, garlic, onions, tomatoes, black beans and plantains, which she'd serve whenever she could find them.
As a kid, I had a sweet tooth, which hasn't really abated much over the years. And I recall how I loved her torta de pan (bread pudding), her cachapas (sweet corn pancakes) and, most of all, her torticas de cambur (banana pancakes).
The torticas were the perfect thing to make when you had leftover white rice and over-ripe bananas. My mother would mash the two ingredients together, and add a little flour and egg, for a firmer consistency. Then she'd drop them by the spoonful into the frying pan, turning them over once so they could brown on both sides.
When they were golden, she'd pat them off with a paper towel, sprinkle with granulated sugar, and serve them, still warm. Better than churros, these tasty morsels of rice and bananas would melt in your mouth like little cakes. Delicious! We kids would gobble them up.
So, now that we're in holiday mode, and planning get-togethers with family and friends, many of us are also in cooking mode. For, this is the time of year when we dust off our old, time-tested recipes to prepare the dishes that have become a family tradition. There's nothing like the taste of the pumpkin pies of our childhood, or the warm buttered biscuits, lumpias, empanadas, stir-fry, casseroles or tamales. The dishes that have meant so much to us over the years.
Which is why, starting today, I'm introducing "San Diego Cooks," a new feature of this blog. I invite you to send in one of your favorite family recipes. Could be something you make for the holidays or something you serve on any day.
Send your recipe to me, along with the best way to reach you. If we print your recipe here, we'll contact you for a photo of the dish. I'll also interview you to learn why it's so special to you.
In the coming months, we plan to post as many of your recipes as we can. Because, when it comes right down to it, Hey Neighbor is about community and sharing. And, what better way to do it than by welcoming everyone with a good dish? As Julia Child would say, “Bon Appetit!”
Torticas de Cambur
1 Cup of cooked white rice
1 Banana, mashed
2 Tablespoons of flour
1 Pinch of salt
Vegetable oil for frying
Granulated white sugar
Mix together all ingredients, except the sugar. Generously coat the bottom of a frying pan in oil. Heat to medium. When oil is hot, using a ¼ measuring cup, pour batter into pan. When edges appear golden, flip pancake over to brown the other side. When ready, pat the torticas with a paper towel. Then, sprinkle sugar on top. Serve warm.