Ambassador for Her Native Food
By Laura Perry
Published Apr 1, 2014 8:00 AM
Alicia Maher couldn't stand seeing Salvadoran cuisine cooked the wrong way.
A video on a well-respected cooking website was the final straw for Alicia Maher '92. “They are making the pupusas all wrong,” she said. “The ingredients aren’t authentic, the pupusas are too big and you don’t fry them—you cook them on the comal!” (A comal is a smooth, flat griddle typically used to prepare food in Mexico and Central America.)
Maher had been contemplating writing a cookbook that would preserve and document the unique culture and food heritage of her native El Salvador. The video kicked her into action.
The result was Delicious El Salvador. This beautiful and unique volume is the first English-language cookbook dedicated to the cuisine of El Salvador, and it reflects the love and passion Maher has for the food of her homeland.
Born in El Salvador, Maher grew up in a family that knew how to cook. One of her aunts owned a spice booth at the local market—a six-foot table crowded with spices —and other aunts had a small café in her hometown. Since she came to the U. S. at 19, she has cooked the traditional Salvadorian food for family and friends.
The art history major says that in compiling the recipes and stories, she thought like a curator for an exhibition. “These aren’t necessarily my recipes,” she says. “I gave them structure and context.
“Recipes are historical,” she continues. “They reflect what is going on in the culture. For example, some of the spices used in El Salvadoran cooking, such as sesame seeds, reflect the European influence. Other recipes reflect a time before the Spaniards arrived in Central America.”
For each dish, fresh ingredients are key. The recipes in the book aren’t complicated, so they make it easy to give the cuisine a try. “Cooking is half intuition, half science,” says Maher.
Asked about her favorite recipe, Maher laughs. “Oh, it is probably the seafood soup. I believe it truly reflects what my ancestors were eating before the Spaniards arrived.”
She also pointed out the Salvadoran Turkey recipe, which she considers “the most mystical dish in El Salvador.”
Maher’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. The El Salvadoran embassy hosted the book's launch party. Two days later a two-page article appeared in La Opinion. Barnes and Noble has agreed to stock the book, which is a finalist for Best First Cookbook of the World. Maher was also recognized by the Gourmand cookbook awards for Best First Cookbook and Best Photography for El Salvador.
But this author's isn’t resting on her authentic pupusas. She plans to open a restaurant featuring--what else?-- authentic food from El Salvador. And,from her research, she has lots more recipes to include in her next cookbook.