Why I Cook: Marisel Salazar
When she sets out to write, photograph and all-around create, Marisel Salazar finds inspiration from the countries and cultures in which she's been immersed throughout her life.
Tmb Studio, Courtesy Sophie Sahara
Marisel Salazar is a proud multihyphenate: a writer, digital content creator, recipe developer—and Taste of Home Community Cook. Hailing from Panama and having lived in Japan, Spain and Hawaii, among other places, she has as many cooking influences as job titles. On her website, the now-Manhattanite shares her unique expertise and palate.
Taste of Home: What’s your fondest food-related memory?
Marisel Salazar: In 2010, at the Mercado de San Miguel (in Madrid), I took a bite of an anchovy-stuffed olive, and it was a full-body fireworks moment that inspired my calling and career. I was floored by the sublime umami.
TOH: Who was the first presence in your life who inspired you to cook?
MS: I was raised by a single mother, who is an excellent cook. When my sister and I became just old enough, we had to learn how to cook for ourselves and each other because my mom was working more than full time. The inspiration to cook was actually a necessity to cook and relieve some burden from my mother.
TOH: Your cooking style and preferences are a fascinating amalgamation of your past homes’ cuisines. Where have you lived, and how has the native fare impacted you?
MS: I am originally from Panama, and my family hails from Cuba. And I have lived in Hawaii, Japan, northern Virginia, Spain, Ithaca, and now New York City. Hispanic food is a foundational cuisine for me, given my family, but Japanese food is, as well. There is always sazon, adobo, sofrito and caldo de pollo in my kitchen. Miso paste, rice vinegar, mirin, Kewpie mayo, furikake and yuzu paste are also ever-present staples in my pantry. I remember my mom shipping me off to college with a single-person Japanese rice cooker that could fit in my dorm room. Rice is very important across all the cultures I grew up in.
TOH: Of the hundreds of articles you’ve written for various publications, which is your favorite?
MS: My two favorite stories were written for Life & Thyme: one was about an undocumented Egyptian street-food vendor who doesn’t speak English, and the second was about an undocumented Salvadorean chef who has worked in nearly 100 restaurants since he came to the U.S. These are the folks whose food and labor keep our cities and towns fueled.
TOH: You spend a great deal of time developing recipes for others’ use. When you get a chance to cook for yourself, what do you make?
MS: Oh, goodness. Sometimes what I eat is downright embarrassing. For example, right now, I am eating Crispix cereal straight from the box and sipping on an energy drink. But when I do cook for myself, I love having some sort of saucy chicken-and-rice dish, like my Pollo de Coco, and dressing up eggs. Recently, I’ve been scrambling eggs, sprinkling them with sazon and rolling them up in a sheet of nori.
TOH: Hispanic Heritage Month starts on Sept. 15. How might one respectfully pay homage to the myriad Latinx food traditions?
MS: This is my take on how to show respect: If you are making a recipe from a Latinx cook, take a photo of your meal, tag the person and share on social media. When dining out, try visiting a restaurant owned by Hispanics and send your compliments to the staff. We love to see others enjoying our food and recipes, and recognizing us.
TOH: What is your favorite thing about cooking—the “why” of why you cook?
MS: The best thing about cooking is that it is edible art—and multisensory enjoyment. You can enjoy seeing, smelling and tasting it; you can even enjoy listening to the sounds of cooking. What other art form lets you do that?
Marisel’s Guava Jam Baked Brie en Croute with Pistachios
Try one of Marisel’s appetizers with a tropical twist. She loves combining guava with different types of cheeses, such as cream cheese and Brie, as she does here. The recipe serves eight.
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
- 1 round (8 ounces) Brie cheese
- 2/3 cup guava paste, divided
- 2/3 cup chopped pistachios, divided
Step 1: Assemble Brie round
Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll puff pastry into a 12-in. square. Place Brie round in center of pastry. Spread 1/3 cup guava paste over cheese; sprinkle with 1/3 cup pistachios. Fold pastry around cheese; trim excess dough. Pinch edges to seal.
Step 2: Top cheese and bake
Place, seam side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. Heat remaining 1/3 cup guava paste until mostly melted; pour over pastry. Bake for 15 minutes. Top with remaining 1/3 cup pistachios; bake until puffed and golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Serve warm.