Monday, January 17, 2011

C is for Colombia: Filling your stomach one tostone at a time

Choosing Colombia was a pretty obvious choice...seeing how my mother is Colombian and all.  Some of you may be confused on why I would chose Colombia if I already have been there and had their food plenty of times. Here's the thing, I have no idea how to cook any of the food. So this week's challenge was more technical.  I already know what the food is supposed to taste like, but can I actually step up to the challenge and make the food of my culture? It is important for me to learn how to cook Colombian food just so that I always have a connection with my family. I don't often get to travel there often, and my Spanish is slowly fading away (but I am blaming Italian for that). I want to be able to share this food with my friends and my future kids!

All right... to truly understand Colombian Cuisine we have to know a little about the regions that make up the country (are you starting to notice a trend here?).  

The Carribean Sea Region, "La Costa" is home to clear waters, hot and humid weather, and Shakria. The cuisine has influences the Middle East (many Lebanese and other Arabs have settled here) and Africa (from the slaves that Spaniards brought). Suero, a cross between yogurt and sour cream, is a popular item that was introduced by Arab immigrants. The close distance to the ocean makes seafood a staple. One of their main dishes, and also on of my mom's favorites, is arroz con coco, coconut rice. Caution: when you order seafood in Colombia DO NOT expect it to be like the seafood you order in the U.S. If you order fish, you will get the entire fish, bones, eyes, and all. This can get a little tricky to eat, but it is totally worth it.

The Pacific Region is a lot like La Costa, although it was more heavily influenced by the African slaves that were brought by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. Like La Costa the use of coconut is widespread. Seafood ceviches are very popular in the region as well as cazuela de mariscos, a seafood soup that is representative of the region. 

 Next up we have the Andes Region, this is the area that produces Colombia famous coffee, and where my family is from. The common foods here are arepas (seriously the most delicious thing ever), rice, beans, and an assortment of fruits like plantains, avocados, guava, mango, passion fruit, guanábana (pronounced "gwa-na-ba-na" it is one of my favorite fruits and I have to be able to find it here other than in juice form. It taste like a combination of strawberry and pineapple with a coconut undertone), and strawberries (in the city the have local venders that sell strawberries and cream...why can't we have that in Columbus!?!)

Numero 3 is the Amazon Region. The large rivers and tropical forest that dominate the area provide for the exotic fruits and fresh fish water that are eaten in the area. Grouper, or cachama, is a staple here. There is also Brazilian and Peruvian influences can be seen in the local food. 

Colombian meals are unique in which lunch is the biggest meal of the day. You start the day with a light breakfast, usually coffee and an arepa, then a LARGE lunch, like a bandeja paisa (which I make this week), then a light dinner, and the night is ended with a cup of coffee. 

Other than coffee other popular drinks include: 

               Milo, a type of hot chocolate that is typically had in the morning and can easily be found any Hispanic grocery store
               Aguardiente , a type of alcoholic drink derived from sugarcane, the literal translation for it is "fire water". It is strong and taste like licorice and the Colombian way to drink it is chasing it with water.
               Malta, a carbonated malt non-alcoholic beverage that my little sister loves, but I do not.
                Postobón, one of the largest Colombian beverage companies. What Coke is to the U.S., Postobón is to Colombia. Their most popular drink is a Colombiana, a "cola champagne". They also have unique flavored fruit sodas such as, Manzana Postobón, an apple-flavored soda (my favorite).

I have to make a special shout out to Colombian desserts. I do not, by any means, have a sweet tooth, but for some reason Colombian desserts always hit the spot. My favorite is my grandmother's arroz con leche, rice with milk. It is one of the most popular desserts in the Latin world, probably because it is amazingly delicious. It is basically a rice pudding  however, it is different to most Arabic rice pudding that is sweeter because of the sweetened condensed milk used to make it, and it eaten hot, often with melted quesito.  Another delicious dessert is Obleas, thin wafer cookies covered in arequipe, the Colombian's version of the dulce de leche, which is basically a type of caramel. These are super inexpensive and are usually sold by street vendors. 

In a more sentimental note I am dedicating this blog to my abuelitos, especially my abuelo who passed away this week. The two of them are the most loving and caring people anyone can have the pleasure to meet. The treat everyone they meet like their best friends. The love they had for each other is one only seen in movies, and one I can only dream about finding. After 50 years of marriage they would still hold hands and feed each other, just like a young couple falling in love. I thank the world for letting me borrow my abuelo for as long as I had him, and even we had to give him back, I know I have another angel taking care of me. 

This week I made Colombia's national dish, Bandeja Paisa. This is a large, hearty meal that is eaten for lunch. Bandeja, which means "platter", describes the many different ingredients used to make the meal. To have a complete Bandeja Paisa you need the following: white rice, beans (red or black), tostones (fried plantains), a fried egg, sliced avocado, chorizo, chicharron (fried pork belly), and ground beef or grilled steak. I unfortunately couldn't find pork belly anywhere, so my dish wasn't the complete dish. However everything else came out great, and in the end I was very proud of myself. 

Kelly became an honorary Colombian today, as she shimmied to Shakria, while making tostones, and drinking PostobónIf the recipe seems like too much to handle then visit El Arepazo , a Venezuelan restaurant that serves this dish, or the Colombian Food Truck on the corner of Lane Ave and Hight St. She makes authentic food at reasonable prices. 

Bandeja Paisa
serves 3

               2 Plantains
               1/2 Onion, sliced
               Adobo (with cumin)
               1lb of thin steak flank
               1/2 lb of chorizo
               Arepa masa (found in most Hispanic/Mexican grocery stores)
               1 Avocado
               1 can of black beans
               salt, vegetable oil

To make tostones 
 *before making read this to learn how to peel a plantain. It is not as obvious as you think*
  1. Heat vegetable oil on medium heat in a skillet
  2. Peel plantains and cut them in 3/4 in slices
  3. Place the plantain slices in the oil for about 3 minutes, or until they are golden color
  4. Remove from the oil and let them cool on plate for about a minute
  5. Smash each slice with the bottom of a cup.  You would usually do this with a special plantain smasher but I don't have one, and the bottom of a cup works fine.
  6. Place smashed plantains in the same heated oil for about another 3 minutes, or until crispy (but not burnt)
Place on plate and salt for flavor.

To make Grilled Steak
  1. Place sliced onions in vegetable oil on medium-low heat.
  2. While onions are caramelized season steak with Adobo.
  3. After onions are slightly caramelized place steaks over the onions, and place some onions on top the steak.
  4. Grill for about 1/2 hour, or until nicely browned. Make sure to move the onions around so they don't burn.

To make Arepa
  1. Prepare according to package. 
  2. Take arepa dough and form into three small balls.
  3. Flatten the small balls so they are about 4 inches in diameter. 
  4. Place the arepas on a greased skilled (pan spray or butter) on medium-low heat.
  5. Remove from heat after they are crispy on both sides.

To make Chorizo and Fried Egg
  1. Pan fry sausages in until crisp and cooked through
  2. Reserve the oil to fry the egg
  3. Fry egg in the oil

Cooked white rice: follow package!
Warm up can of black beans as directed!
Slice Avocado
Wash it down with a nice, cold bottle of Postobón.


  1. !!!! food looks yummy :) now that you perfected this you can make it for mi cumpleanos! &&Thanks for dedicating this to abuelo <3 that was really nice of you.

  2. This looks delicious! I hope the arepas turned out as well as your mommy's always do!

  3. amazing job!! looks delish. i'll definitely be over soon for a collab! :D

  4. Stephanie,amor mio.Te felicito,estas haciendo un trabajo maravilloso.Todo se ve muy delicioso y ademas se por experiencia propia que eres una de las mejores cocineras del mundo.Gracias por dedicarle ese bloque a tu abulito y si ahora ganaste un angelito mas en el cielo,pues el siempre te querra,admirara y cuidara de ti.Tu lo hiciste el abuelo mas orgulloso del mundo.Te amo y continua adelante con todos tus dreams,tienes toda la vida por delante para lograr todo lo que te propongas y para ser feliz

  5. Stephanie; you have to try “AJIACO BOGOTANO” another famous Colombian dish, it is a kind of chicken soup, the only ingredient difficult to find in USA, is “guascas” which is a wild herb from South America, this a recipe, you will love it.
    Pedro Nel
    York, PA
    AJIACO BOGOTANO (Ajiaco Santafereño),
    2 chicken breasts
    garlic and onion
    chicken stock
    12 small yellow potatoes, cut in halves
    2 ears of corn, cut in halves
    8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 5mm slices
    1 bunch scallions
    1 bunch cilantro
    8 T guascas
    1 cups of heavy cream
    2 T. capers, drained
    2 avocados, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced

    The night before marinate the chicken breasts with garlic, onion and salt. In a heavy 4-liter casserole, put the breasts, add water, cover and cook until the chicken is tender. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Cut the chicken breasts into strips. Cook the yellow potatoes in the casserole with the chicken stock until they start to disintegrate. Add more chicken stock to taste. At this point the soup should be thick and fairly smooth. Add the bunch of scallions, the bunch of cilantro, the sliced potatoes, the guascas, and the corn. When cooked remove the bunch of cilantro and the bunch of scallions. Serve the chicken on soup bowls and pour the soup into the bowls. Pour 3 T. of cream and 1 t. of chopped capers on each bowl. Float the sliced avocado on top. Serves 4.