It’s been a while since I’ve featured a South American country and I found it difficult to choose from all of the amazing suggestions - I settled on Colombia as I know very little about the cuisine and I was keen to find out more.
Although better known for its coffee (and other..) exports, there is a rich food culture within Colombia. With access to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Amazon, and the Andes mountains, Colombia has a huge selection of ingredients available depending on which region you find yourself in. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of Spanish influences within Colombian cuisine as a result of colonisation, as well as African influences due to the slave trade.
There were a lot of dishes that I fancied trying this month but I was able to narrow it down to three - I am gutted I didn’t have time to try out Hot Chocolate with Cheese though..!
Bandeja Paisa, or ‘the Workman’s Platter’, or ‘a heart attack waiting to happen’ is the official national dish of Colombia. This was a controversial decision at the time as it originates from and is most famed within Medellin, however, given the diversity of Colombia, picking one dish to represent the whole country would be impossible!
The Bandeja Paisa makes me think of a full fry up - it originated as a meal that farmers would eat at the start of the day to keep them going throughout a hard days’ work. There are many components to the dish and regional variations, but typically it will consist of; pork belly, beef, chorizo, red beans, rice, cheesy arepas, fried plantain, avocado and a fried egg.. Not one for the faint hearted (both in the cooking and the eating).
This was a task and a half - let me take you through each component.
Chicharones (pork belly) I started off by marinating the pork belly the night before - a simple rub of cumin, sugar and salt. The next day it was braised in the oven and then cooled in the fridge, finally it was fried to ensure a lovely crispy golden exterior.
Arepas I could have just done a section on Arepas and saved myself a lot of hassle, but I’m glad that I didn’t as the hassle was worth it in the end. Arepas can be plain, stuffed with cheese or they can become an entire meal themselves. A much loved street food favourite, Arepas are made from Masarepa which is a precooked, ground corn flour. I had to order flour online specifically to give it a go. The dough is easy to mix together but when it came to shaping these I definitely made them too thick and didn’t add enough cheese into the middle.. I still have leftover flour so I will be giving it another go soon!
Hogao Hogoa is the base sauce for both the Frijoles and the Carne Molida - it is a simple but flavourful sauce made from tomatoes and green pepper.
Frijoles I think this was my favourite thing on the dish - slow cooked Pinto beans with Hogoa and a small amount of pork belly. The texture was amazing and the flavour even better.
Carne Molida This is simply minced beef with the Hogoa mixed through - very simple but surprisingly flavourful.
Patacones (fried plantain) Patacone can be plantain that has been fried, squished and then fried again. I had enough going on so I just fried the plantain once. This was a great addition in the mix as it supplies a lovely sweetness beside all of the meat.
Chorizo Obviously there wasn’t quite enough meat in this meal already - fried chorizo is a staple of Bandeja Paisa.
Fried egg, rice, avocado I’ve grouped these three together as I don’t think they take much explaining..
Did you like it?
Vegetarians aside, how could you not like this? I made this the day before my partner Chris ran a marathon and safe to say, it kept him going. It was a lot of effort so I’m not sure that I’d go the whole hog (quite literally), again but I will certainly be revisiting individual components of this.
Marks out of 10: 9/10
If this looks and sounds familiar - you would be right. Milhojas is essentially a Latin American version of a millefeuille. Translating to mean "thousand sheets’ - the basis of this dessert is puff pastry and it is typically filled with custard and cream. Instead of an icing topping, Milhojas are topped with Dulce de Leche.
Considering how much effort went into the previous dish I think I will be forgiven for cutting some serious corners here. I’ve made puff pastry in the past but even Mary Berry reckons it’s a waste of time when you can buy it from the shops. I also bought Carnation Caramel in a tin which is the same as Dulce de Leche.. BUT I made the custard! This was my first foray using fresh vanilla and I really think it made a difference. I actually think this was my first time properly making a decent custard and I was very pleased with the results. This whole dessert didn’t take long to assemble and even less time to demolish.
Did you like it?
See above, these pastries did not hang about. YUM.
Marks out of 10: 9/10
Most meals in Colombia are preceded by soup and this one is particularly special to the people of Colombia. Ajiacao originates in the colder mountainous region of Bogota, but it is enjoyed everywhere. Traditionally, this soup is eaten on Christmas Eve (as well as year round).
The soup is made up of three different types of potato, chicken, corn and a distinctive, earthy herb called Guascas. Again, I had to take to the internet to track this down and found a UK based shop that was able to deliver. The soup is garnished with soured cream and capers.
I won’t share the recipe I used, because to be honest it was useless. There was very little description of what to actually do throughout and I ended up with some seriously overcooked potatoes in my soup which was unfortunate. I was also unable to track down one of the key potato types for this soup - papas criollas, which I think detracted from the overall result.
Did you like it?
Despite the difficulties, the end result was a decent enough soup. I really enjoyed the earthiness from the Guascas and the salty bursts of capers kept me coming back for more mouthfuls. I am well aware that my attempt came nowhere near close to the real thing - I will be keeping my eyes peeled for a Colombian restaurant where I can taste the real deal…!
Marks out of 10: 7/10
You can view all previous 'Country of the Month' articles HERE.
I’ll be asking for more suggestions through instagram again this month - if you don’t have instagram and want to suggest a country, just drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.