COOK OF THE WEEK: Honduras native embraces cuisine of other cultures

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Gladys Diaz loves to learn about the food of other cultures.
Even though the native of Honduras grew up learning to prepare Spanish food, that’s not her specialty. What Diaz, 73, really enjoys cooking is traditional fare from Mexico, Romania and India.
“I learned to cook Mexican food when I moved here,” said Diaz, a widow with four children and two grandchildren who moved to Mississippi in 1977 for rehabilitation for her daughter, Eva, who has cerebral palsy. “I learned from all the ladies in the church. I go to their homes and they teach me.”
When Diaz makes her native tamales, she fills them with rice, pork, capers, olives, chickpeas, sweet peppers and raisins and wraps them in banana leaves.
“There’s a lot of stuffing in them,” she said. “They’re very large. I learned how to make Mexican tamales with corn husks, but they’re very difficult to stuff. If I wrap them, they’re going to fall apart.”
Diaz has been to Romania four times on mission trips and this year marks her fifth visit.
“Romania has very healthy cooking,” said Diaz. “They grow everything there themselves. The tomatoes are so sweet and they put dill into everything.”
When visiting Romania, Diaz spends time with two friends who are missionaries in India.
“They share recipes with me,” she said. “That’s how I got into Indian cooking.”
Diaz works part time for the North Mississippi Medical Center as a Hispanic translator. She is also a Hispanic liaison for the Lee County Baptist Association. And once a month, she helps prepare meals for the English as a Second Language program at First Baptist Church.
At her own place of worship, Emmanuel Baptist Church, which is located on the grounds of Calvary Baptist Church, Diaz helps prepare children to be missionaries.
“They have to learn the culture of a country before they go,” she said. “I learn to cook the food so they know what to expect. They learn how to give and pray and do mission work.”
Diaz said she has learned how to cook traditional Southern food as well since moving here.
“Cornbread is my weakness, but not good for my diabetes,” she said. “I make black-eyed peas and top them with tomatoes, garlic and bell peppers. And I make turnip greens.”
Diaz said a future challenge is to learn to prepare Japanese food.
“That will be my next step,” she said. “We need to learn about their culture now because of Toyota coming here.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to ginna.parsons@ journalinc.com.