Food Perspectives: Marcella Kriebel, Comida Latina

Photo Credit: Marcella Kriebel

In Comida Latina, DC-based illustrator and artist Marcella Kriebel shares her passion for Latin American food in an evocative, colorful collection of her favorite recipes.  The book features over 100 pages of Kriebel’s hand-drawn, watercolor illustrations that makes it part cookbook, part artwork.

Kriebel will be celebrating the second edition of Comida Latina with an appearance at the Farmers’ Market by the White House this Thursday, May 22, starting at noon.  We talked to her about her inspirations, her culinary adventures, and why you should never start with molé.

Q: Who or what has been the greatest influence on your cooking?

A:  I grew up in a family of gardeners and cooks in Portland, Oregon.  For us, food is the center of community.  All of our events are related to food and food-based.  We were always trying new things, cooking seasonally, and eating what we grew in our garden.  My parents also introduced me to a lot of different foods growing up, so it was a natural thing for me to continue trying new things when I traveled.

Q:  How have your travels inspired your perspective on food?  What have you taken away from each place that’s influenced your cooking? 

A:   Wherever I go, I keep a journal that includes all of the things I cook while traveling.  I’ve also found that engaging with people through food and cooking with them in their kitchens is a great way to learn more about who they are.

I’ve traveled primarily in Mexico and Central and South America.  There’s so much produce that’s available there that isn’t available to us here, especially in the open-air markets.  It’s really enjoyable to learn cook with new (to me) varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Q:  How did you develop the recipes featured in Comida Latina

A:  The recipes are all iterations of what I learned abroad as well as things I’m able to make locally here.  It’s mainly Mexican recipes as well as some recipes from Ecuador, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

Q:  What are your favorite go-to recipes?

A:  I always have tortillas, a homemade chili sauce, and eggs available.  Now that my garden is in bloom, I have fresh greens that I can harvest.  I often sauté up greens with an egg and add a tortilla and the homemade chili sauce.  I eat that more often than not! I

have a community garden spot in LeDroit Park – so I harvest everything from there.  It’s a great opportunity to grow things since a lot of us don’t have yards.

Q:  What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to incorporate more Latin American recipes into their cooking – especially in this area?

A:  I wouldn’t start out with molé (laughs).  It has at least 30 ingredients, and that’s a conservative estimate!

You could start with a mango pico de gallo – basically, you dice everything up, toss it together, and the flavors meld.  It gets hotter as it sits there, because the jalapeno infuses in the juices.  It will get you very bold flavors.

Chili lime fruit cup is another simple recipe to start with, especially for the summer. It’s salty, tangy, and sweet. Essentially, you mix up the toppings – sugar, salt, zest of lime, and chili powder and some cayenne pepper – combine it with a mortar and pestle, and sprinkle it over cut up fruit. You can really put it on any fruit, but it’s traditionally used with green payapa, watermelon, and pineapple.

Q:  You’re also currently working on “365 Days of Food,” which showcases a new piece of artwork inspired by food each day.  What can you tell us about this project?

A:  It’s my primary project right now.  It’s been ambitious, I will admit – but I’m so excited to just keep creating.  It’s a personal preference for me to just draw every single day. I work first in pencil, then I move to pen and ink, and the third phase is the watercolor.  I have 18-20 cheeses, a growing series of sushi, and all kinds of exotic fruits.  Sometimes I’ll do an entire dish, and other times I’ll just do a particular vegetable. I plan on having an exhibit at the end of the year in DC when the project’s over, so I’m open to any suggestions readers might have for a space!

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