For a long time, no one would ever let Yadira Soter cook.
Growing up in Mexico City, all the moms -- her grandmother, aunts and mother -- did the cooking. And when she came to the United States 18 years ago and got married, her husband did the cooking for an entire year.
"I don't know what it was, nobody believed I could cook!" laughs Yadira, now living in St. Charles.
Then one day her husband's best friend, an Italian chef at the time, asked her if she would like to help him cook. She said yes. Now, cooking is Yadira's passion and everyone loves it when she cooks.
Yadira's heart remains tied to Mexican cuisine, but she does consider herself an international cook. Her mentor taught her the best of Italian food and she counts linguine with clams among her favorite dishes. Because her father-in-law is Hungarian, she has learned how to make goulash and palacsintas, a wonderful Hungarian crepe dessert with a creamy, lemony filling.
"But my favorite food is native Mexican food. It is not fancy, just humble. My recipes are very simple and very light -- healthy Mexican food that is fast, because I am so busy."
Yadira loves to entertain. One reason may well be that she grew up in a country where celebrations are plentiful.
"In Mexico we celebrate Independence Day in September. We have fireworks and eat and have a special drink with chili powder and shaved ice. (We eat everything with spice!) Then there is the Day of the Dead, when we have bunuelos, which is like pita bread that has been fried and then sprinkled with sugar. In December from the 16th to the 25th we celebrate Christmas with families, friends and neighbors. We have tostadas and tamales. There is a party every night. If there aren't 50 people there, it's not considered a party," she laughs. Then, at Easter there's a five-day celebration with rich moles and cactus.
"Sometimes it's a little too much; it's always loud and there is eating and drinking and dancing ... but we love it."
When Yadira entertains here, she keeps things more traditionally American. She enjoys preparing Thanksgiving dinner for war veterans and luncheons for the teachers at her children's school. Or, she'll simply cook for friends and family at home.
"I love hosting parties. I don't know if (my guests) come to see us, or if they just want to eat, but we enjoy it."
One reason guests enjoy her meals so much might be that Yadira is very particular about her ingredients.
"I like to use the freshest I can find," she said. At the grocery store she asks the butcher to cut her meat while she is there.
"They're really good about that and will cut it the way you want it," she says.
Today, Yadira shares a recipe for tingas, a versatile family favorite made from just four ingredients. It can be eaten as an appetizer or as the main course.
We should mention however, that when Yadira travels back to Mexico City, her family still doesn't let her cook.
"They don't believe I can cook!" Yadira laughs. Maybe this will convince them.
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