Greenwich chef serves up a dash of Latin flavor in new cookbook
With tiny hands that could barely reach the counter, Leticia Moreinos Schwartz recalls being six-years-old and rolling brigadeiros and other treats in her childhood kitchen in Brazil.
Once she grew up and could more easily reach the counter, the Greenwich resident and professional chef graduated from the International Culinary Center in New York and penned her culinary passion into a couple of cookbooks.
Herbs and vegetables play a big role in her cooking and she often encourages others to experiment with spices in the kitchen to prepare tasty and healthy food. She described her third and most recent cookbook “Latin Superfoods” as a labor of love, inspired by her mission to steer people away from processed and packaged foods and promote healthy eating. The book, which features 100 healthy and flavor-packed recipes from juices to sweets and nutritional takes on Latin classics, was published on Oct. 15.
“I think there is a stigma out there that healthy foods are boring, tasteless, flavorless and I’m on a mission to prove that wrong,” Moreinos Schwartz said.
When asked what a superfood is, she explained that it is “a broad term for ingredients that have a super amazing nutritional factor.”
“Superfoods are not just kale and acai, but also carrots, celery, apples, Brazil nuts, dark chocolate, dates, garlic and onions,” she said. “I really feel that fruit and vegetables in general all have the power of superfoods.”
In addition to being a chef, Moreinos Schwartz has acted as a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Challenge campaign, which has been part of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) since 2013. Having lost her grandfather due to complications from type 2 diabetes, Moreinos Schwartz understands the importance of nutrition. Over the past six years she has traveled around the country with the ADA teaching cooking workshops and speaking about the importance of eating healthy foods at conferences and food fairs.
“I had the chance to see with my own eyes that people are just getting fatter and fatter and sicker and sicker and we don’t realize it. I feel that people don’t make the time to cook, they don’t make the time to exercise and people are eating takeout and packaged foods,” she said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I wrote this book because I’m trying to bring us back to home cooking and to put pure fuel inside our bodies.”
Moreinos Schwartz credits her work with the ADA for redirecting her focus on health, however, she’s quick to note that her two previous cookbooks “The Brazilian Kitchen” and “My Rio de Janeiro” also featured health oriented recipes.
“This book is more of an offering of the work I’ve been doing as the spokesperson for a healthy living campaign,” she said. “I realized ‘wait a second, I have a book right in front of me.’ I was developing recipes for the campaign, I was traveling with the campaign and I was like ‘the answer is right in front of me, that’s my next book.’”
As part of the campaign Moreinos Schwartz was involved in the ADA’s documentary “A Taste of Sugar,” which was narrated by Viola Davis. She said it was very exciting to be part of the documentary that aims to raise public awareness about diabetes as a public health issue.
“The movie is being used by many different communities so I feel very honored that I get to be part of this. It’s a very important topic and I feel that we’re making a difference,” Moreinos Schwartz said. “The book just goes to complement it, because I see the impact we have; when I teach a cooking class, people are eager to learn.”
“Latin Superfoods” is intended to show others that home cooking doesn’t need to be intimidating or overwhelming. Moreinos Schwartz acknowledges that many people feel that they don’t have the time to prepare a meal, but she argues that it is important to make time to cook healthy meals.
“What I hear over and over again is that ‘oh, I don’t have time’ so people do takeout. I think people have this stigma that they have to go into the kitchen and they have to chop, prep, cook, eat and then clean. I think the kitchen is the center of the home. There are so many families that are not making good use of their kitchen. Your health destiny can be traced in the kitchen. It’s almost like I want people to treat the kitchen as your health sanctuary,” she said. “Food is medicine and food can be the answer for a lot more than we realize. Food is love, power, medicine, education, chemistry, math, history, politics, economics, agriculture. Food is really everything.”
She does offer some tips to make cooking more enjoyable for those who are kitchen adverse or cooking novices.
“I feel that putting an apron on actually makes a very big difference, cooking in your regular clothes and putting on an apron puts you in a different state of mind,” Moreinos Schwartz advises. “Put some music on and see cooking as a way of relaxation.”
She also suggested that planning meals ahead of time on the weekends and freezing them to use later in the week. She also advised doing some of the food preparation ahead of time. For example, if she needs half an onion for one dish, but knows she’ll be using the rest of it for a recipe later in the week, Moreinos Schwartz will chop the whole onion in one go to save herself some time.
“I’m not super in favor of frozen foods you buy in the supermarket, but I’m a huge fan of frozen foods that you make yourself. When you cook, I always say you should double or even triple the recipe and freeze a portion,” she said.
When asked about her thoughts on purchasing pre-chopped vegetables from the store, Moreinos Schwartz said she didn’t see a problem with doing that if they’re used the same day.
“Anything that will bring you to your own kitchen and help you cook at home I’m all in favor for it.”
When asked if she had a favorite recipe from her new book, Moreinos Schwartz said it was too difficult to pick just one.
“It’s so hard because I love every recipe in this book. I feel that every recipe has a story behind it, which is one of the reasons why I love writing cookbooks because it takes you back to the story and how the recipe unfolds,” she said.
For more information about her cookbook or cooking workshops, visit chefleticia.com.