Photo: Christina Holmes
Angie Martinez is a lot of things: protégé of DJ Funkmaster Flex; radio personality (she’s called The Voice of New York); Grammy-nominated rapper; Extra TV correspondent. Most people know these things about Martinez. What most people don’t know is that she cooks—so much so that she also writes a blog about it, called Healthy Latin Eating.
Now, that blog has turned into a book, Healthy Latin Eating (Kyle Books), which she wrote for herself, for her friends, and for anyone who loves Latin food—but not the calories that often come with it. “Diabetes in the Latin community is outrageous, and a lot comes from the food,” she told us. “This book isn’t the end all be all—it will not save our culture from diabetes or obesity—but my hope is that it’s a great conversation starter.” Here, we talk to Martinez about her cooking tips, her co-author, chef Angelo Sosa, and her grandmother’s famous black beans.
Why give Latin food a healthy makeover?
I love Latin food. I always have. [Martinez was born in New York City but has roots in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.] But my family has always made it a certain way: fried, or double-fried, or three carbs on the same plate. My grandmother had a tub of lard at the side of the stove. As I got older, I had to be more careful about what I eat and what I put in my body, and I became more conscious of weight and health. I would look at Latin food as a treat, or to celebrate certain moments. And then I thought, ‘That sucks! I love this food!’ So I started making these changes on my own: I’d use brown rice instead of white rice, or even skip the rice and throw a lettuce wrap in there. I changed my grandmother’s picadillo to turkey instead of beef. I’d bake empanadas instead of frying them. I’d use more vegetables and less meat. Over the years, I developed a lot of those tricks to make my food—Latin food—but make it healthier.
What did you grow up eating?
My grandmother makes amazing black beans. Like, phenomenal. I remember being young and picking out rocks from the bags of beans. Those were fresh beans! Anyway, my grandmother’s black beans are legendary. They smell up the whole floor in her building.
Where did you learn about healthier cooking?
I think I probably read every diet book and every lifestyle-change book about healthy eating. And my mother was also careful about what she ate, so I’ve always tried to be health-conscious. Do I always do it? Not necessarily. But I try!
What inspired you to share those tricks?
I realized it wasn’t just me. [Rapper] Fat Joe lost 80 pounds this way. I went to his house and saw his wife making Latin food, but it was grilled, or there was more salad on the plate—she just just switched it up a bit. A lot of us were doing the same thing, we just weren’t talking about it. If I had been able to buy this book, I probably would have never made the book. But there was a space for this and a need for it.
Who’s the audience for this book?
There are a lot more second- and third-generation Latinos in this country who growup in this culture and are aware of these health issues, but who want to keep traditions alive. But I really hope it will be for anyone who likes to eat Latin food. I have plenty of friends who are not Latin but who eat Latin food and want to cook it. So why not make it a little healthier?
Chef Angelo Sosa and Angie Martinez with her son, Niko Ruffin. Photo: Christina Holmes
Why work with a chef, in this case Angelo Sosa?
I cared about it too much to not have it perfect. I tried to do it on my own at first, with my own recipes and my friends’ recipes, but it wasn’t at the level I wanted this book to be. Angelo and I were managed by the same people at one point; they introduced us and we clicked right away. I told him, ‘I’m trying to do this book and I need professional help. I don’t want it to be good, I want it to be great. And I’m not a great chef—I just make these at home—so I need you to help me take this to the next level.’ And that’s what he did.
So you and Angelo are opening a restaurant together?
It’s open! It’s called Añejo—he has one already and just opened a second location in Tribeca, so I’m a small investor in it. And I just convinced him to put the quinoa con pollo from the book on the menu last week. The restaurant is right across the street from my radio show, so it’s my Cheers.
Photo: Christina Holmes
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