Readers’ Recipes From Their Family Kitchens
The cook: Alejandra Ramos, 27
Her mother: Yolanda, 56
Growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, Alejandra listened longingly as her friends described the huge Sunday feasts they ate with their families. “Their food seemed more exciting than anything my little brother and I had at home,” says Alejandra, whose parents had grown up in Puerto Rico. Truth be told, she didn’t truly appreciate her mother’s cooking until college.
In her junior year, a boy she liked asked her if she would cook him a Puerto Rican dish. Panicked, she called her mother; Yolanda e-mailed instructions for camarones enchilados, or deviled shrimp, her crowd-pleasing dish of shrimp simmered in a spicy tomato sauce.
As the dorm’s tiny kitchen filled with the familiar fragrance of sautéed onion and cilantro, Alejandra had a eureka moment. “It was almost like my mom was there with me,” says the Manhattan-based editor. “I realized how powerful those smells and tastes were. And I remembered the wonderful hours we spent talking while she made dinner.”
Alejandra’s first camarones enchilados were “flawless,” but the dinner was a bust. Her crush revealed he had a shrimp allergy and couldn’t take a bite. Alejandra lost interest in the guy but remained fascinated with her culinary heritage.
She went on to attend cooking school and now writes a food blog, but the dishes she loves the most are those from her childhood, such as the camarones. “When I started cooking, I was interested in escape and exploring the exotic, but now I’m looking for a connection to home,” she says. “When I have children someday, I love that my kitchen will smell as good and feel as safe and happy as the one my mom made sure I grew up in.”
Get the recipe for Camarones Enchiladas.