Radio Personality Angie Martinez on Her Cookbook, Healthy Latin Eating

Angie Martinez, AKA "the Voice of New York," is a big deal. You may not know what she looks like, but chances are you've heard her signature Brooklyn accent on Hot 97, arguably the nation's most influential hip-hop radio station. Martinez started there as an errand-running intern and eventually took over the microphone to become the station's on-air star, interviewing R&B royalty like Tupac, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, and Jay Z. And speaking of Jay (as she casually refers to him), Martinez and Mr. Carter are longtime pals, and she's part of his Roc Nation family. 

Last summer, however, Martinez made the major announcement she was leaving Hot 97 after 20-plus years and heading to work for its competitor, Power 105.1. The Angie Martinez Show can be heard on New York's Power 105.1 weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m.  and on Miami's the Beat 103.5 from 10 a.m. to  2 p.m. Catering in part to the 305 audience makes sense for Martinez, who moved to the Magic City when she was 16 and attended Coconut Creek High School while living in Miami Lakes. She considers this her second home and is in town three to four times per month. 

The Puerto Rican airwaves celeb was just in town last week for the Billboard Latin Music Conference, where among other things she interviewed a panel of teens about their radio-listening habits and music preferences. She was also promoting her recently published cookbook with Top Chef Angelo Sosa, Healthy Latin Eating. New Times was able to steal the upbeat and chatty 40-something host for a bit to discuss all things food- and radio-related. Here are some highlights as well as a recipe for arroz con quinoa from Angie's book. 

New Times: As I learn more about you, the first question that comes to mind is how do you find the time to wear so many hats? What’s your secret?
Angie Martinez: I wish I had a secret. I'm still learning. I just started something new with my career and I’m full of energy. I felt re-energized. I’ve been working on the cookbook, which is something I’m super passionate about, and I was working on it for years. All I’m interested in doing in my life are things that matter to me. When you feel like that about something, it doesn’t feel like work. But when you start doing things just because, or because someone else thinks you should do it, that's when you get burnt out because it doesn’t fuel you.

What sparked your interest in cooking, and how did that lead to the cookbook, Healthy Latin Eating
I've always liked to cook, and more than cooking I like eating. I’m a super-foodie. I try to be healthy as much as I can, but you know, I slip, I fall, I get back up. One month I eat well, next month I don’t. I struggle with it like everyone else. What I noticed is when I was trying to eat healthy and was doing what was right for me, I found myself eating things I didn’t like such as plain quinoa and grilled things with no seasoning. I hate that.

As I started to learn more about food and what was good for me, I started trying different recipes. It's not a diet book, it's not about losing weight, it’s about eating things that are good for your body and I've been doing that for years. I’ve been curating these recipes and wanting to share them and there was a void in our community, and we weren’t having this conversation about what are we eating? What are the foods we grew up on? Do we still want to eat them, and, if so, how? I've been working on it for a long time and someone introduced me to Angelo [Sosa] and I told him about the idea and he loved it. So since we connected it came out a year later. Once I got with Angelo we hit the fast-forward button because he’s so talented and so quick with recipes and had so many ideas.

What would you say is the most important thing you learned from Angelo Sosa?
Just not to be afraid about experimenting with different flavors and textures. I always loved guacamole and I was eating at Angelo's restaurant one time and he served it with pomegranate seeds, and now it’s my favorite. It’s all about mixing flavors and making things exciting, and he’s really good like that. We have a lot of recipes using jalapeño or Serrano pepper but mixed with sweets like pineapples. Something about sweet and spicy together is amazing and a lot of recipes have that because it’s about increasing flavor.

It’s not a diet book, it’s a different way to look at the foods that we love and figuring out ways we can make them a little healthier so you're feeding your body nutrients. Instead of frying it, let's bake it, but let's bake it in a way that tastes the same. Instead of eating guacamole with processed chips, Let's make whole wheat chips baked in the oven that taste great and are better for you. Let's bake your empanada instead of frying it. Let's try quinoa and let's use the same flavors that you're used to. Now you're eating a healthy meal, but you're happy because the flavors that you like are there. A lot of times “healthy” foods are so bland, and who the hell wants that?

You recently ran the New York Marathon and raised money to benefit inner-city youths. In an interview with Kirstie Alley, you mentioned how your weight fluctuates. How do you incorporate fitness into your busy life?
You have to make it a priority and some weeks I’m better than others. I used to beat myself up about it but now I’m more relaxed about it. It’s still important to me but I do it when I can as much as I can. After a stressful day, it makes me feel better. A nice run is better than a glass of wine.

What’s your go-to recipe in the cookbook and why?
I’ll get fixated with something and I’ll make it everyday. Last month I must've made this pineapple, Serrano pepper, cucumber salad with mint and lime all the time. Before it would’ve sounded weird to me, but it's so good and you can put it next to a grilled piece of fish or meat. The book's for people who are interested in ways to be healthier but love Latin food. The quinoa, I love. There’s a pollo con quinoa and the quinoa recipe that's part of it is my favorite. I don’t even eat the chicken with it, I have it during the week, sometimes with a piece of fish. 

What are your favorite restaurants in Miami?
I love Fifi’s on the Beach; they have good seafood and sushi. I like Prime One Twelve and all those types of places too. 

You have nearly 1 million followers on Twitter and 402,000 on Instagram. What role does social media play in your success?
I use it as a direct line to people who support me and are interested in what I’m doing. Friends, family, it’s a direct connection to them. I don’t abuse it and I don’t try to be super sell-y. I want to share things and moments. I’m grateful for it, definitely. 

You do both radio and TV [as a correspondent for Extra TV]. What's your greatest challenge in each of those domains?
I just made a big change, so now I’m not just in one market. I’m in New York, Miami, and we just added like eight different markets such as Orlando, so it’s really about finding a way to stay as connected and present with all the viewers in different cities and being in touch with what they’re doing and what’s happening. Miami is my second home, I’m here literally all the time so that’s easy, but learning the other markets and being present in those markets is a challenge but it’s exciting. With television I've dabbled in it but I’m not in it in a way that I feel fulfilled, so I’m working on having a bigger presence in that area.

You’re part of the Roc Nation family. What is it like working with Jay Z?
Jay is someone that when I was starting my career in radio, he was starting as a rapper in New York, so I've known him for many years and I’ve interviewed him many times and we’ve built a friendship over the years. It’s nice to be with a company that understands who I am and the culture I come from. Jay is great, he's someone with a lot of integrity and someone that does things in business that reflect who he is as a person. I admire that and I believe in that way of thinking, and in doing things from the right place. 

You've interviewed huge influencers such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Derek Jeter, President Obama, and Lady Gaga. Which of those interviews was particularly memorable for you and why?
Oh God, there are so many. However, I'm gonna say Nicki Minaj, when she was talking about being out of a long-term relationship and how it affected her and moving forward. She just really shared and got emotional, and I just love when people open up like that.

Arroz Con Quinoa Recipe From Healthy Latin Eating
Serves: 4
Prep time: 50 minutes

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 boneless chicken thighs (about 1 ¼ pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 cup chopped Spanish onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 cups dry red quinoa
  • 1 ¼ cups chopped tomatoes (canned are fine)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish 
  • ¼ cup pitted green olives

  • In a large bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the olive oil with the chicken, ½ teaspoon salt, the paprika, the cumin, and the turmeric. Toss well and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and stir until aromatic, about 6 minutes. Add the quinoa and stir to combine. Add 2 ½ cups water and bring to a simmer. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, and cilantro, then cover. Remove from the heat and let steam undisturbed for 20 minutes.
  • In a large skillet over medium, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add the marinated chicken and cook until golden on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. 
  • To serve, fluff the quinoa with a fork. Season with salt. Transfer to a large platter, top with the chicken, and garnish with the olives and cilantro sprigs. 

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Valeria Nekhim was born in the Ukraine and raised in Montreal. She has lived in Manhattan and Miami. Her favorite part of food writing is learning the stories of chefs and restaurateurs.