One Christmas chef-phew Wille gave me a family portrait. It is a drawing/watercolor of the Allium Family: Papa Garlic, Mama Shallot, Sister Scallion, Brother Leek, Aunt Pearl, Uncle Walla Walla, cousins Chives and Cipollini, Grandpa Bermuda and Grandma Wild Onion. It is hanging in a place of honor on the pantry door of my mother’s kitchen.
This holiday I unwrapped a gift from Wille and it was Mi Comida Latina cookbook. In an email Wille explained that the Allium print and this year’s cookbook were created by the same woman—Marcella Kriebel of Washington, D.C.
Wille explained that he met Marcella before the holidays.
“You are such a gadabout at those farmers market,” I teased.
He asked me what a “gadabout” was and corrected me—he met Alice Waters at a farmers market (and bought a cookbook that she signed and he gave to me several years ago), but not Marcella. He met Marcella at a Christmas Market.
I explained that “gadabout” was an old term for “social butterfly”.
Again, he corrected me. He was not just being social; It was business.
“Now that I am Executive Chef, networking, networking, networking, with any and all Latin American food lovers.”
I guess I need to start referring to him as my Exec-Chef-phew.
Yes, Wille is the executive chef at Ruta del Vino, a Latin American Wine Bar and Restaurant in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The menu offers dishes from Mexico to Peru and from Brazil to Argentina: Pulpo Anticucho (grilled octopus), Sudado (butternut squash soup), as well as more familiar Chile Relleno and Empanada, and 18 wines from Latin America.
I haven’t made it down to Wille’s restaurant, but I have been flipping through Mi Comida Latina. In sub-zero wind chills it has me lusting for sun-warmed San Marzano tomatoes and the pop of fresh cilantro gathered from our herb bed.
Although I’ve never travelled south of the border, Mi Conida Latina had me traveling back in time to a Saturday afternoon when my dear friend Terese showed me how to make empanadas. Terese is a world traveller and had eaten empanadas in Argentina. When she returned from her trip, she adopted and adapted these stuffed dough pockets in her Allentown kitchen. They were the perfect grab-and-go snack for her lanky teen-age son to inhale between school and sports practice—and it worked. He is now a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Each page of Marcella’s Mi Comida Latina could be framed as artwork or devoured by an everyday cook in the kitchen. 2018 promises to be a culinary Latin American adventure.
The cookbook’s step-by-step instructions and illustrations are like travel postcards from a friend. Stories that accompany recipes take you to a diner in San Juan to sample a sweet breakfast bread, to Oaxaca to sip a drink from a street vendor, or to Quito to taste cassava fritters. Marcella takes the mystery out of Latin American cheese, explains how to eat a mango without peeling or slicing open the fruit, and taught me a better way to cut an onion. If I keep reading, I may have the courage to eat a cactus pad, expand my chili pepper repertoire, and unlock the subtleties of the Belizean spice Annatto. Laurie Lynch
More on Marcella: If you would like to know more about Marcella Kriebel or buy a print or cookbook, check out her website https://marcellakriebel.com She has a new book called Comida Cubana: A Cuban Culinary Journey.
Gardening/Language Sidebar: When the kids were toddlers I had a part-time job maintaining residential gardens in the Lehigh Valley. We had one client in Orefield whose Southwestern-style home had gardens to match. I dreaded weeding amongst the Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear cactus) but never knew I could have eaten them. Don’t ask me why, but the bright red fruit of the prickly pear cactus is called a “tuna”.
Written on Slate: Or at least inscribed by Marcella in my copy of Mi Comida Latina, “Cook with love!”