A Daughter’s Ode to Her Mother: Nina Daza-Puyat Updates Nora Daza’s Iconic Bestselling Cookbook Let’s Cook with Nora
It has been 50 years since National Bookstore released its edition of Let’s Cook with Nora in 1969. The cookbook has been a reliable reference for anyone wanting to prepare meals worth serving to their loved ones; it is a staple in every newlywed’s shelf, and has been a perennial bestseller in National Bookstore.
Scheduled to hit the stores soon, the new edition of Let’s Cook with Nora will still easily be recognizable with a similar cover layout but bigger in size. This version has been adapted to the times by Nora Daza’s youngest daughter, Nina Daza-Puyat. “My mom was so proud of this cookbook. I remember her telling me how she taught one of her staff to cook by making her follow the recipes. I’ve used this book all my life. I have my favorites like the Chicken Relleno which our family has been cooking forever, Caldereta, Pancit Molo, Prune Cake, my lola’s Russian Salad, and the Pescado al Horno. I always go back to the same ones but there are some dishes that I never really bothered to read,” reveals Nina.
Nina did not have memories of her mother cooking in the kitchen. In her mind, her mother was more of a career woman-restaurateur. At one point, she was operating three branches of the French restaurant Au Bon Vivant in Quezon City, Makati, and Ermita plus another brand, Galing-Galing. “I would see her in the restaurant kitchen walking through and tasting, or she’ll sit in the dining room and tell the waiter to attend to a customer.” Nora also was traveling a lot, running Aux Iles Philippines in Paris then Maharlika in New York. From time to time, Nina and her siblings would substitute for their mother in the cooking show Cooking It Up with Nora until eventually, the show was called Cooking It Up with the Dazas.
Nina Daza-Puyat has a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from Cornell University in New York. She was editor-in-chief of Appetite Magazine from 2011 to 2017. She’s also behind Cooking with Appetite, a series of four cookbooks featuring different themes. She says she learned so much in the past year and a half working on her mom’s cookbook—about ingredients, and cooking and baking techniques. “I cooked kidney for the first time,” she enthuses.
Poring through the pages, Nina realized that the recipes could use some updating. The first thing she did was to revise the presentation of the procedures to make them easier to follow, from paragraph form to a numbered list. She also broke down the more complicated recipes to its different components. For example, for the Morcon, the ingredients and steps are separate for the marinade, filling, and sauce. Nina also incorporated kitchen hacks, employing modern conveniences that were not previously available, such as plastic wrap to shape the Chicken a la Kiev. She also injected flavor profiles that are more current like the sweet-salty combination that’s all the rage these days. “I wanted the dishes to be more relatable to the cook of today no matter what level they are in cooking,” she emphasizes.
Originally named Beef with Fried Noodles, this will be listed in the cookbook’s new edition as Oriental Beef with Fried Noodles with a suggested alternative of serving it with rice. The carrots are recent add-ons, for color.
Ingredients-wise, Nina tried to be more specific. For the Fish Sticks Italian Style, she identified the cheese as Parmesan. “Because now we have different types of dairy,” she rationalizes. So her version of the dish is called Parmesan Fish Sticks. Yes, she also did a handful of name changes. Like Potato Pork Pie to Shepherd’s Pie, Italian Spaghetti to Spaghetti Bolognese. “I indicated that they may add fresh basil to the spaghetti. In the 1960’s, they didn’t have fresh herbs available, just parsley,” she points out.
From the chapter on rice, pasta, and noodles, this will be moved to the section on appetizers, and named Homemade Thin-Crust Pizza instead of Pizza Pie. The recipe is the same, the dough is just rolled out differently, thinner.
Suggestions for variations are available for some of the dishes. For the chicken soup, a mix of carrots, corn, and peas for a heartier version; the fried chicken can be made a tad more exciting with sriracha and mayo or hot sauce and ketchup. “Just little things, so they can change up their menu once they master the dishes,” she says.
The Shrimp Toast remains as is. The recipe includes a recommendation to serve the dish with bottled sweet chili sauce. “I feel that it’s okay to use store-bought sweet chili sauce, I don’t want people to feel they have to make their own,” rationalizes Nina.
It took her a little over a year to try out each of the 260-plus recipes, some up to four times. She says the experience was reminiscent of the movie Julie and Julia where an aspiring cook challenges herself to whip up hundreds of dishes based on Julia Child’s famous cookbook.
The Spinach and Kale Quiche is a variation of the Onion Quiche, which was referred to as Onion Pie in the old version of Let’s Cook with Nora.
The most challenging part for Nina was when she couldn’t quite figure out how a dish is supposed to taste like. For such instances, she consulted her siblings Mariles, Stella, and Sandy. “They would give their suggestions but trusted me to fix it.” Stella rewrote the Cake from Blums recipe. “The original recipe wasn't working so I asked her to help since she’s the baker in the family. She tested it four times before she got it right. Now she sells it in her store in Vancouver and her customers love it,” Nina shares. Others who contributed to achieving the final output are Center of Culinary Arts graduate, Jordan Rina and Le Cordon Bleu Ateneo de Manila’s Chef Annalisa Mariano. Critics include her husband Louie and their children, Gio, Billie, Joseph, Mario.
Nina made sure she taught her children how to cook. She is also very conscious about documenting recipes for them. She writes down everything and catalogues the laminated index cards in boxes.
It was really important for Nina to personally test the recipes so she could add tips and pointers to watch out for. She recalls baking the Cheese Chiffon Cake with Brûléed Queso de Bola Icing, and butter melting into the flame causing it to ignite. “Good thing I have a fire extinguisher, so I sprayed my oven and the whole kitchen was white!,” she exclaims. Needless to say, the recipe was edited to include placing a tray at the bottom of the cake.
For the Cheese Chiffon Cake with Brûléed Queso de Bola Icing by Virginia Ocampo, adding the word brûlée to the title of this recipe makes a huge difference, since it provides the cook with a better understanding of what must be done to achieve the finished product. However, the identity of Virginia Ocampo is still a mystery. Nina’s guess is that she must have been a contestant in a competition where Madame Nora Daza sat as a judge. This single serving size is an option mentioned in the new edition.
“I tried to put in as many small details as possible so they know they’re doing the right thing, that they’re on the right track, like I’m there with them,” she explains. “I feel like that’s what I really want to do, to teach others. I’m not a chef, but I’m a home cook, maybe I know a little more than others because I’ve been exposed to it for a long time and I enjoy the entire process of cooking from the shopping in the market, even the chopping,” she muses. “This cookbook is for anybody who wants to learn. I imagine it really for someone like me, somebody who likes to putter around the kitchen. It could be for people who are busy or stay-at-home moms. There’s a wide range of recipes, some are easier to do than others. And it has a mix of cuisines, Pinoy, French, and a little Chinese cuisine,” she closes.
Let’s Cook with Nora, updated 2019 edition, will be available soon at National Bookstore branches
Photos by Justin de Jesus