Guest Post by Will Castillo
Swiss author, Friedrich Durrenmatt once said:
“The art of the cuisine, when fully mastered, is the one human capability of which only good things can be said.”
In my opinion, this quote could not be any more relevant in today’s society. Let the country that is without any social dilemmas cast the first stone!
Truth be told, no matter how much I try to change people’s opinions of Colombia there will always be people who simply have a negative perception of it and will manage to point the finger at anything; mainly the country’s politics. Personally, I’m indifferent to politics and always try to remain neutral. However, when it comes to a country’s cuisine or gastronomy I will always be the one sharing my opinion of it. Not only by tasting as many dishes as possible, but also by trying the recipe for myself (I’ve been cooking since the age of 12). So, believe me when I say that Colombian cuisine is exceptional, delightful, diverse, and that only good things can be said about it.
I’m of the philosophy that eating and drinking are perhaps the most important activities any social group. That is why food in general makes a big part of our culture, regardless of where we live. An excellent example is Nohora Smith, a Colombian native now residing in the UK. She is also founder of My Colombian Cocina, a website dedicated to showcasing the colourful and traditional Colombian cuisine.
I instantly took the opportunity to interview her to get a glimpse at how she manages to create these delectable dishes in a country that lacks so many of the important ingredients in Colombian Cuisine.
First off, tell us a bit about yourself and about My Colombian Cocina.
I was born in Bogotá, Colombia. My family and I have lived in Canterbury, England for the last eleven years. I am an architect, a homemaker, lover of cooking and of autochthonous fruits from Latin America. Ever since I arrived to the UK I have tried to look for and adapt many of the ingredients to our traditional dishes. My first intention was to help some of my friends find Colombian products and recipes, especially since reading my family recipes in books or the internet is not the same thing as actually trying the recipes with the products that one can find in the UK.
You’ve been living in the UK for eleven years now. How do you remember Colombia?
I remember Colombia with a scent left impregnated in my memory and in my soul. Colombia is the Caribbean and mountains. Colombia is hot and cold temperatures both in the same region; long days full of light others with lots of rain. From outings to the park or sitting on the couch with a cup of agua de panela (panela water) in your hands. It’s all part of our folklore, and the memories of those who have left it in search of new horizons, but always with the hope of returning and being able to sit in a hammock and enjoy the breeze of flowers and the rustling of birds.
How do you manage to recreate Colombian dishes without access to important ingredients?
I remember my first challenge was to make empanadas, but here the flours, cereals and condiments are very different. Plus, I don’t live in London, where you can find some Colombian products, but in a smaller town. That’s why I’ve dedicated myself to finding replacements or equivalents of some products that can be adapted to my recipes. I’ve spent eleven years in England and I have taken the time to find out what I can actually change or replace. In fact I have some banana plants so that I can make tamales in the fall and then save them for the winter.
From your point of view, what types of food do Colombians abroad miss the most?
I think the majority of Colombians miss the tropical fruits such as guanabana (soursop), chontaduro (peach palm), mamoncillos (Spanish lime), Andean figs – very different from the European figs – guavas, maracuya (passion fruit) and especially lulo (naranjilla) and the curuba (banana passion fruit). These last two are almost an unattainable dream. As for other products, it all depends in the area that you live in. Sometimes it is possible to find cassava, plantains and flours in some supermarkets. Other products are only attainable through internet stores at very steep prices.
What can we do to make Colombian cuisine more popular to the rest of the world?
Well, when I first arrived to the UK my first recipes were a means to rescue my tradition, so that one day my children could use and share them with their families. However, I later realized that it’s our duty to promote every little secret about Colombian gastronomy and at the same time give it that personal touch. Fusing and evolving it with the modern world and with the resources that each of us has in our countries of residence. As my grandfather used to say, “Every bit helps to fill the wagon”.
What’s your favourite Colombian recipe?
My favourite recipe is the Ajiaco Santafereño, which is a recipe that I will be sharing with you today.
Ajiaco Bogotano or Bogota’s Soup
Also known as Ajiaco Santafereño, this soup is usually thick and rich, and makes a substantial main meal as well as a patisserie. Corn Cake or ‘arepas’ are traditionally added to many meals, and in this dish avocado, rice and capers.
Serve 6 to 8 portions
- 3 chicken breasts
- 1 1/2 litres of water
- 1 litre of milk
- 1 chicken stock cube
- 3 spring onions
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
- 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
- 500 grams of red potatoes peeled and cut into squares
- 10 small yellow potatoes peeled and cut into halves
- 4 corn in a cob without leaves and cut in halves
- 1 cup of double cream
- Few capers (optional)
- Guascas leaves “Gallant soldiers leaves” or you can use 1 tbsp of oregano
- Salt and pepper
In a large pot pour the water and milk and place the chicken and onions and set in medium heat.
Add the chicken stock cube, bay leaves, cumin, salt and pepper.
Add the corn on the cob, red potatoes and let cook until tender.
Then add the yellow potatoes and let to cook until the soup gets thicker.
Take the chicken apart and shred by hand into medium-sized pieces.
Add a bunch of guascas (or it can be replaced by a teaspoon of oregano), and remove before serving.
Remove the pot from the heat and serve hot.
You can serve the soup with a slice of avocado and white rice on the side. Capers and double cream can also be served.
You can complete this delicious meal with a mantecada as a dessert. Check this video for the recipe and step by step instructions.