Coconuts and Collards
Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South
Finalist, International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Awards in the Literary or Historical Food Writing Category
“Diaz shares her deeply personal story of family and food, resulting in one of the best-ever memoirs with recipes.”—Food & Wine
“Part cookbook, part memoir, [Coconuts and Collards] shares recipes from author Von Diaz’s heritage, as well as memories of growing up in Puerto Rico and the American South.”—New York Magazine
“Put[s] a modern spin on Puerto Rican cooking theory. Diaz may not be a trained chef or have a direct connection to a restaurant, but she has the voice to bring American-Puerto Rican cookery, as it exists today, into a broader consciousness.”—Eater
“Coconuts and Collards is more than a cookbook, it is a memoir and also love letter to the place and people that have nurtured Díaz’s palate and passion for life. It is a story of discovery and self realization that uplifts through food—both the familiar and creative re-imaginings of it.”—Centro Voices, Hunter College, CUNY
"Coconuts and Collards is about the complex blend of history and agriculture that have shaped the island's food and how Diaz found a way to blend two distinct cultures in a way that felt true to her own life."—Bon Appétit
"Provocative. . . . The recipes aren't strictly Puerto Rican and they aren't strictly Southern—they're Diaz's own, based on her personal food history and her love of both cuisines."—Epicurious
"It's too simple to call Diaz's dishes fusion food. What emerges through these recipes is something greater than the sum of [the book's] two cooking cultures—the mainland South and the United States' island South."—Garden & Gun
"Diaz grew up shuttled between Puerto Rico and Atlanta, and her appreciation for both cultures and their rich culinary histories is showcased in this delightful collection of Puerto Rican comfort food recipes. . . . Alongside the recipes, Diaz also shares stories from her family history, an often tumultuous one grounded by memories of food prepared by and for loved ones. . . . The recipes are solid and imaginative, but it’s Diaz’s gift for storytelling that shines."—Publishers Weekly
“Diaz stirs together the right amount of memoir with a hefty sprinkling of delightful recipes. She evokes powerful memories and conjures the spirits of the women who taught her to find strength and perseverance through food. A delicious read that will both touch you deeply and inspire you all the way to your kitchen.”—Sandra A. Gutierrez, author of The New Southern-Latino Table
“A moving, touching, and deeply personal culinary journey weaving family stories and insights from a multicultural angle, the one many Latinos share in very unique ways. From classic Puerto Rican flavors adapted to the Deep South and vice versa, to clever inventiveness out of necessity, this book offers a fresh perspective into Boricua cooking and the individual role food plays in the life of every American-Latino living in the U.S. yearning for their roots.”—Amalia Moreno-Damgaard, author of Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen
“Diaz takes you on her journey from her family kitchen in Atlanta to her grandmother’s kitchen in Puerto Rico. A deeply personal and moving story of family, heartbreak, sacrifice, and love.” —Cynthia Nelson, author of Tastes Like Home: My Caribbean Cookbook
“As much a memoir as a cookbook. Von Diaz takes us on a soul-baring journey through her kitchen. You’ll finish with a deeper understanding of Puerto Rican food and a hunger for more.” —Ana Sofía Peláez, author of The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History
“So many of Von’s stories are so vivid and detail-rich that they transported me to my childhood in Puerto Rico.”—Wilo Benet, chef-owner, Pikayo
“Diaz tells heartbreaking, funny, and edifying stories about food, family, and the island that she loves.”—Luis Jaramillo, author of The Doctor’s Wife
“A culinary tale richly woven with sofrito and a side of Southern grits.”—Janet Keeler, former food and travel editor, Tampa Bay Times
When her family moved from Puerto Rico to Atlanta, Von Diaz traded plantains, roast pork, and malta for grits, fried chicken, and sweet tea. Brimming with humor and nostalgia, Coconuts and Collards is a recipe-packed memoir of growing up Latina in the Deep South.
The stories center on the women in Diaz’s family who have used food to nourish and care for one another. When her mother—newly single and with two young daughters—took a second job to make ends meet, Diaz taught herself to cook, preparing meals for her sister after school, feeding her mother when she came home late from work. During summer visits to Puerto Rico, her grandmother guided her rediscovery of the island’s flavors and showed her traditional cooking techniques. Years later the island called her back to its warm and tropical embrace to be comforted by its familiar flavors.
Inspired by her grandmother’s 1962 copy of Cocina Criolla—the Puerto Rican equivalent of the Joy of Cooking—Coconuts and Collards celebrates traditional recipes while fusing them with Diaz’s own family history and a contemporary Southern flair. Diaz discovers the connections between the food she grew up eating in Atlanta and the African and indigenous influences in so many Puerto Rican dishes. The funche recipe is grits kicked up with coconut milk. White beans make the catfish corn chowder creamy and give it a Spanish feel. The pinchos de pollo—chicken skewers—feature guava BBQ sauce, which doubles as the sauce for adobo-coated ribs. The pastelón is shepherd’s pie . . . with sweet plantains. And the quingombo recipe would be recognized as stewed okra in any Southern kitchen, even if it is laced with warm and aromatic sofrito.
Diaz innovates for modern palates, updating and lightening recipes and offering vegetarian alternatives. For the chayotes rellenos (stuffed squash), she suggests replacing the picadillo (sautéed ground beef) with seitan or tofu. She offers alternatives for difficult-to-find ingredients, like substituting potatoes for yucca and yautía—root vegetables typically paired with a meat to make sancocho. Diaz’s version of this hearty stew features chicken and lean pork.
And because every good Puerto Rican meal ends with drinks, desserts, and dancing, Diaz includes recipes for besitos de coco (coconut kisses), rum cake, sofrito bloody marys, and anticuado, an old-fashioned made with rum.
With stunning photographs that showcase the geographic diversity of the island and the vibrant ingredients that make up Puerto Rican cuisine, this cookbook is a moving story about discovering our roots through the foods that comfort us. It is about the foods that remind us of family and help us bridge childhood and adulthood, island and mainland, birthplace and adopted home.
Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, The Splendid Table, PRI’s The World, The Kitchn, and BuzzFeed.
- Sample Chapter(s):
- Table of Contents
- Press Kit
IACP Awards, Finalist in the Literary or Historical Food Writing Category -
Diaz grew up shuttled between Puerto Rico and Atlanta, and her appreciation for both cultures and their rich culinary histories is showcased in this delightful collection of Puerto Rican comfort food recipes. . . . Purists may scoff at some of her choices (the rum cake, for example, calls for instant pudding mix), but Diaz argues that it’s much more important to remember the people and settings of memorable meals rather than obsess about absolute authenticity. . . . The recipes are solid and imaginative, but it’s Diaz’s gift for storytelling that shines
Provocative. . . . The recipes aren’t strictly Puerto Rican and they aren’t strictly Southern--they’re Diaz’s own, based on her personal food history and her love of both cuisines.
Coconuts and Collards is about the complex blend of history and agriculture that have shaped the island’s food and how Diaz found a way to blend two distinct cultures in a way that felt true to her own life.
In a hypothetical venn diagram of Puerto Rican and American South cuisines, Diaz fills the overlap with adobo-marinated fried chicken and coconut milk grits. The book is at once a memoir, an ode to the inspiring women in her family and a resource for highly original recipes.
It’s too simple to call Diaz’s dishes fusion food. What emerges through these recipes is something greater than the sum of its two cooking cultures--the mainland South and the United States’ island South.
--Garden & Gun
Offers lighter, more vegetable-forward takes on Puerto Rican classics, as well as some clever hybrids of Diaz’s different worlds.
--NPR, The Salt
A clear-eyed, achingly tender confession of how food can hurt, and how it can heal. . . . Coconuts & Collards is every bit as poignant as it is appetizing: a testament to how change and upheaval can force us to grow even deeper roots.
--Atlanta Journal Constitution
Coconuts and Collards is more than a cookbook, it is a memoir and also love letter to the place and people that have nurtured Díaz’s palate and passion for life. It is a story of discovery and self realization that uplifts through food--both the familiar and creative re-imaginings of it.
Put[s] a modern spin on Puerto Rican cooking theory. Diaz may not be a trained chef or have a direct connection to a restaurant, but she has the voice to bring American-Puerto Rican cookery, as it exists today, into a broader consciousness.
Part cookbook, part memoir, [Coconuts and Collards] shares recipes from author Von Diaz’s heritage, as well as memories of growing up in Puerto Rico and the American South.
--New York Magazine