Sunday, May 27, 2012

Travel by Stomach - Colombia

I love Latin American food. Having lived in California, I fell hard for the bright flavors that result from the combinations of onions and garlic and tomatoes and avocados and oregano, combined with lots and lots of varieties of chilies. The ingredients are familiar to an Indian palate yet their distinct application results in a flavor very different from the Indian cuisine that I grew up with. I visited Puerto Rico recently and that food solidified the favored status of Latino food for me. After I tried Peru, we stayed in the South American continent and moved on to Colombia. Picking just a few dishes for this project was difficult and I have decided to go back and try some more of the recipes that I have gathered for Colombia, later. I have used this beautiful blog a lot in my research and kudos to Erica for introducing her native Colombian culture in such an amazing way.
The ingredients are easy to find and the dishes taste as good as they look. Enjoy!!

Fried plantains - Platanitos.
Every South American country has its version of these delectable chips. These chips are twice fried and hence have a dense center yet crispy exterior. Cut the plantains on a bias so that when the chips are flattened after the first frying, they get long and thin, perfect for scooping the spicy aji or hogao sauce.
3 semi ripe plantains, peeled and cut on a bias into 1 inch ovals
Canola oil for frying
Bowl of cold water

Fill a wrought iron skillet 1 -2 inch deep with canola oil and heat. Peel and slice the plantains on a bias. Fry the slices, in small batches in a single layer, without crowding. Fry for 2-3 minutes till golden. Do not fry till brown!
Take the slices out and drain on a paper towel, dip in a bowl of cold water for a few seconds and drain again on paper towel. Place on a smoot surface, cover with a plastic wrap and press down with a mallet or the bottom of a heavy pan. Fry these flattened slices in hot oil till golden brown. Take them out, drain on paper towels and season with salt while warm. Serve with hogao or Colombian aji made with jalapeno peppers.

A traditional Colombian sauce, this can be used with any dish as a dipping sauce or a condiment. I stored some in the refrigerator and it was good even after 7 days. A variation of this can be made by adding chili powder or chili flakes to add a little heat.


1 cup chopped scallions (white and green parts)
2 cups fresh chopped tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tbsp canola oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the tomatoes, scallions, garlic, ground cumin and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring until softened.
2. Reduce the heat to low, add the salt, pepper and cilantro, cook for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened. Check and adjust the seasoning

Colombian Aji with jalapeno

10 jalapeno peppers, seeded
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
 1 1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp salt                                         

Blend all the ingredients well until smooth. Serve cold.

The first time I ate Arepas was when a dear friend from Venezuela made them for me. At the time it seemed a lot of work and I remember her cooking them in the oven. This recipe is easy.  If you have any experience making tortillas or roti, this will be a natural progression. The areapas however, do not taste like either of them. The cornmeal makes an earthy bread that is rich and grounded at the same time. Lightly brush with butter as soon they are done and serve warm.


1 cup pre-cooked cornmeal or arepa flour
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup queso blanco, grated
2 tbsp butter
Salt to taste

Makes 6 arepas.

Combine the cornmeal, warm water, cheese, 1 tbsp butter and salt, mixing thoroughly. Let mixture stand for five minutes. Knead with your hands for about 3 minutes moistening your hands with water as you work.
Form small balls with the dough. Place each ball between 2 plastic bags and with a flat pot cover flatten to ¼ inch. Or flatten them on the palms of your hands after you oil them. Add the butter to a nonstick pan over medium heat. Place the arepas in the pan, and cook about 3 minutes on each side, until a crust forms or they are golden brown.

Bistec a la criolla - Steak in creole sauce


2 pounds skirt steak, trimmed and cut into 4-6 equal portions
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp.  ground mustard
1 tbsp.  ground cumin
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 cups hogao (creole sauce)

 Place the steaks between sheets of wax paper, then pound until each steak is about ¼ inch thick.
Place the pounded steaks in a zip lock plastic bag. Add the mustard, cumin, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper.
Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight making sure that the steaks are evenly covered. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Place the steaks into the skillet and cook for 3 minutes per side.

Add the hogao, cover and cook for 7 minutes more.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Travel by stomach - Peru

Peru was fun - cooking Peruvian food, that is. There were two ingredients that came up again and again in the recipes I looked at - aji amarillo and huacatay (black mint). They are available online but I did not have the time (or the patience) to wait for it. I checked a couple of international markets, Whole Foods and a bodega, with no luck. So, I used jarred hot, yellow chillies and jalapenos for the former and a mixture of fresh mint, cilantro and dried basil instead of the huacatay. 

Peruvian rice

This is a very easy recipe that results in  fragrant and flavorful rice, versatile enough to be used as a side dish or even as the star of the meal.

  • 1 garlic clove , mashed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice (eg. Basmati)
Wash and drain rice.
Saute garlic in oil for a minute or two.
Add water, lemon juice and salt.
Bring to a boil.
Gradually add rice.
Cover and simmer 20 minutes.

Yuquitas Rellenas - Stuffed Yuca Balls 

If you forget for a while that you are eating deep fried starch, wrapped around a piece of cheese, you will realize these balls are heavenly. Crunchy on the outside, starchy and smooth on the inside. And then, you bite into the salty creamy piece of cheese.This recipe is worth the effort.

Yuca is a root vegetable, also known as cassava and manioc root. It can be peeled and boiled just like potatoes. It is readily available in most major grocery stores. These crispy little balls are made by shaping the mashed yuca around a piece of queso fresco, then rolling them in bread crumbs and frying them until golden brown. The result is a crispy shell around a soft starchy filling, with melted cheese in the very middle.

Cook Time: 15 minutes
1 pounds of yuca root
4 ounces queso fresco, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 egg
2 slices of bread
10 saltine crackers
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the yuca root and cut it into 3 inch long pieces. 
Add the yuca to the boiling water and cook for about 20-30 minutes, until the yuca is very tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. It should be fall apart when poked with the fork. 
Drain the yuca and  remove as many of the woody stems from the center of the root as possible. Pass the yuca through a potato ricer or grate with a box grater to remove any remaining fibrous strings. 
Season the mashed yuca with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. 
Place 2 tablespoons of mashed yuca in the palm of one hand. Make a small well in the middle, and place a piece of cheese in the well. Wrap the mashed yuca around the cheese, and roll between your hands to make a round ball. Repeat with the remaining mashed yuca. 
In a deep skillet or wok, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil. Fry the yuca balls in batches until lightly golden. Drain on paper towels. 
Crack 1 egg into a bowl and whisk lightly with a fork. Process the bread with the crackers. 
Roll each ball in the egg and then in the bread/cracker crumbs, until well coated with crumbs. 
Fry the yuca balls a second time, just until they are golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels and serve warm with aji de huacatay.

Aji de huacatay- modified.

2 hot yellow chile peppers
2 jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup plain peanuts
1 cup of Huacatay  substitute (equal parts mint and cilantro and half  measure dried basil)
Canola oil  
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup queso fresco
2 or 3 crackers (saltines or oyster crackers)
splash vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
  Remove seeds and veins from the peppers.
Heat the skillet on medium high heat. Add the peppers, peanuts, and herbs to the skillet . Toast these ingredients slightly without adding any oil. Add the contents of the skillet to the blender and add evaporated milk, salt, pepper, and cheese.Blend the mixture. The mix will be thin. Add the crackers until you have achieved the desired consistency. Add splash of vinegar and salt according to your taste.

Chupe de camarones

This hearty chowder is flavored with aji amarillo peppers. I used a mixture of jarred yellow peppers and jalapenos
Cook time: 30 minutes
1 pound raw shrimp (unpeeled)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Juice of 1 lime
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced jarred yellow peppers
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 packet of Goya seasoning
3 cups seafood or chicken stock
3  medium yellow potatoes
1 cups frozen peas
1 cups frozen corn kernels
 6 oz. evaporated milk
1 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy soup pot over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté until pink, about 3-4 minutes. Remove shrimp to a bowl and let cool. 
Add chopped onion, garlic, and chile pepper pastes to the soup pot. Sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent and fragrant. Add tomatoes, cumin, Goya seasoning, and oregano and cook until tomatoes are soft. 
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Add potatoes to pot with the seafood broth, and simmer until potatoes are very tender, about 15-20 minutes. 
While potatoes are cooking, peel shrimp (reserving several shrimp unpeeled for garnish, if desired). Season shrimp with salt and pepper and toss with the lime juice. Set aside. 
Slice one ear of corn crosswise into 2 inch pieces, and remove kernels from remaining 2 ears. Add corn pieces and corn kernels to pot along with the peas. Simmer for 2-3 minutes more. 
Remove chowder from heat, and stir in evaporated milk and queso fresco cheese. Stir in shrimp with the lime juice and season chowder with salt and pepper to taste. 
Serve chupe in bowls, garnished with shrimp, crumbled queso fresco cheese, and chopped fresh oregano or cilantro.

Aji de gallina

is a delicious Peruvian classic - slightly spicy  and rich from the unusual cream sauce made with ground walnuts. This dish is traditionally served over rice, with boiled yellow potatoes and black olives. This dish uses the aji peppers for the color and slight heat and I wish I had the real peppers. but the combination of hot yellow peppers and jalapenos worked really well.

Cook time: 1 hour
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3-4 yellow peppers
2 jalapenos
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
4 slices white bread
3/4 cup evaporated milk

Cook the yellow potatoes in salted water until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool, peel, cut into quarters, and set aside. 
Place the bread in a small bowl and pour the evaporated milk over it to soak. Set aside. 
Place the chicken breasts in a pot with the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is just barely cooked through. 
Set chicken aside to cool. Strain broth and reserve 2 cups. 
Remove stems and seeds from the peppers. In a blender, process peppers with the vegetable oil until smooth. 
Sauté the garlic and onions with the puréed peppers and oil, until the onions are soft and golden. Remove from heat and let cool.
Shred the cooled chicken into bite-size pieces.
In a blender or food processor, process the evaporated milk and bread mixture with the nuts and parmesean cheese until smooth. Add the cooked onion mixture and process briefly. 
Return onion mixture to pan, and add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved chicken stock. Bring to a low simmer, and stir in the chicken. Heat until warmed through, adding more chicken stock if sauce is too thick. 
Serve warm over rice.