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Sechrist’s cooking brings Canary Islands to Collinsville
Nesamer Sechrist has been in the United States for eight years, but she still likes to cook food from her native Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are part of the nation of Spain, though they are closer to the coast of Africa. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Nisamer Sechrist’s typical grocery list usually has more than one ingredient that can’t be found within a 50-mile radius of her Collinsville home.
That is because Sechrist, 26, likes to cook Spanish cuisine, in particular the traditional food of her birthplace on the Canary Islands.
Sechrist was born and raised on the Canary Islands in a town called Tetir on the island of Fuerteventura. Her family still lives on the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain.
The 100 mile-long island is one of seven that form the archipelago of the Canary Islands, which are close to the coast of Africa, said Sechrist.
Fuerteventura is the closest of all the islands to Africa. Because of that, Sechrist said, there has been a lot of immigration from Africa, creating a growing subculture. In addition to Africans, many immigrants come to the islands from Columbia, Argentina and mainland Spain.
Despite the great amounts of immigration, the islands still maintain an identity of their own. When Sechrist married, her mother supplied her with a book’s worth of Canarian recipes.
According to Sechrist, saffron, paprika and chicken bouillon cubes are regularly used ingredients in Canarian cooking. Fish forms the basis of many meals, said Sechrist. In addition, Canarian food uses various types of meats including beef, pork and chicken.
One variety of meat used on the islands that is less common here is goat meat. Canarian meals often incorporate goat cheese, as well. According to Sechrist, cheese offerings are named the same between the Canary Islands and the United States but the Canarian versions taste “very different.”
Vegetables often are cooked in soups, said Sechrist. Among the most frequently used vegetables are zucchini, squash and radishes. One vegetable dish Sechrist and her mother cook is Rancho Canario, a vegetable stew. The fruit of cactus also makes a common snack. Once the needles and skin are removed, the cactus provides a sweet fruit, said Sechrist.
Juices, Sechrist said, are equally as common on the Canary Islands as in the United States. One particular drink is relatively unique to the islands. The drink is a blend of milk and juice. Sechrist says available types are Mediterranean or tropical flavored. It also is one of her family’s favorites. There is no particular name for the juice, but it is found in most Canarian stores under many brands.
Bread is another frequent menu item for Canarians. Sechrist described it as similar to French bread. Most meals include bread. Bakers on the islands prepare daily batches which are eaten fresh at the next meal.
In general, all meals are shifted down to a later time compared to the United States, Sechrist said. Lunch, the biggest meal of the day, is eaten at around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Most people return home at lunchtime to eat with the entire family, even if they leave work to do it.
Dinner typically is served at around 8 or 10 p.m, and is a much smaller amount of food that at American suppers, said Sechrist. Breakfast is similar to dinner in size and may only include drinking a cup of milk and eating something small.
Sechrist has lived in America for eight years with her husband, Daniel. They have three children: Colin, 6, Taila, 4, and Bryan, 10 months. However, she said, she still is fairly unacquainted with American-style cooking. Three months ago, Sechrist cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. Laughing, she recalled trying to pull together the meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and green beans, but with only her husband’s assistance.
Sechrist’s mother taught her how to cook by having her help when they cooked meals for her family of three siblings. Sechrist likes cooking, she said, and prefers to make traditional Canarian dishes, normally taking recipes from her mother’s book of recipes.
Emails and phone calls are made to her mother often, asking for specific quantities, said Sechrist. Canarian food most closely resembles European foods, said Sechrist, so many traditional European dishes are found on a typical Canarian dinner table as well. Milanesa (a fried cutlet dish) is a popular entree.
While some ingredients used in the Canary Islands may be found here, Sechrist thinks most do not compare to what is found in stores on the islands, she said. Chorizo is one such example. Over there, the chorizo sausage is dark red and has a uniquely strong flavor. It has such a flavor that only a small portion is needed. Safron (a spice), octopus and crema de champiñones (mushroom soup) are other common foods.
Sechrist is a tutor at Collinsville Primary School and attends Patrick Henry Community College.