Sunday, January 22, 2012

Colombia

Excuses.  I could find a ton of them for why I have not written.  I bet I could even make a list.  I will not give into that desire, however.  I will limit myself to two.  One isn't really a good one, but it is true nonetheless.  I think the second one is legit.  I guess you can judge for yourself.

Months ago, I very quickly found a recipe that I wanted to do for Colombia.  It had all of the makings that I look for.  New ingredients, delicious-sounding.  AND it was published in the Washington Post from the cook at the Colombian Embassy.  How perfect!

Here it is.  Sorry it is annoyingly on multiple pages.

I went out and bought all of the ingredients except for two: papa criolla (Colombian potatoes) and dried guascas.  Couldn't find them in the Latin American section.  No worries.  Visit to the Latin American grocery store: no luck.  I even asked and the guy there couldn't help me.  A trip to the gigantic international grocery store didn't help either.  I was stuck.

I know I have cooked these without all of the right ingredients before.  This felt wrong, though, to cut out the only two uniquely Colombian parts of the recipe.  I felt like I need to get at least one of the two.

My old roommate, Ryan, offered to look for them for me at the grocery store near his place.  Sorry I never got back to you, Ryan!  There was another reason I wasn't cooking much.  The thought of raw meat really made me feel ill.  That is right: I am pregnant.

We are really very excited.  And I have avoided much of the unpleasantness that most people have.  No morning sickness, no random food cravings.  But for the first few months my desire to cook really went out the window.  It was hard enough to cook our normal dinners, nonetheless experimental ones with unfamiliar ingredients.

So those are my excuses.  But I am now out of the first trimester, and raw chicken does not make me lose my appetite.  That is how I found myself in Denver for Christmas while still on Colombia.  All I needed was a new recipe and I could finally get this ball rolling again.

Colombia

History: One of three countries to come out of the collapse of "Gran Colombia" in 1830
Location: Northern part of South America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean
Area: Over 1 million sq km; 26th largest in the world
         Slightly less than twice the size of Texas
Borders we've already touched onBrazil
Population: Almost 44.75 million; 30th largest in the world
Religion: 90% Roman Catholic
Capital: Bogota
Cuisine: Ajiaco is listed as a traditional dish is certain areas
Sources: CIA Factbook and Wikipedia

With the embassy recipe out of the picture, I kept going back to one I had found during my search.  Every time I read it it enticed me and I really wanted to see how it would turn out.  I couldn't find much independent backup for the authenticity, but I didn't care.  She gives some story and even a region of the country.  Therefore it was time to make Colombian-Style Pork Risotto.  Looking through, she also had a recipe for Fruit Salad.  Since it wasn't the main event I just got some ideas from this recipe but decided to use whatever tropical-ish fruits I could find at the store plus what was already on hand.

Chopping was a significant portion of this recipe, so I recruited some help and got all of that started.
Pork - we found the closest to the cuts listed as we could.
Kevin helped with the scallions/green onions.
Among other things.
Kevin's dad was in charge of the tomatoes, so he was also in charge of peeling them.  Similar to Sylvie, he said he would prep them by putting them in boiling water.  However, he just immersed them and let them sit for a bit.  It seemed to work well.  I recommend it.
We did have one ingredient issue, as always.  Sazon Goya with Azafran.  Not only was that missing, there were no Goya products at all.  What's up, Denver?  Instead, we found a recipe for a substitute online.  We used this one.  I also added turmeric, because the internet told us that that was what azafran is.
I was apparently confused about some of the spices.

If you can identify the spices in the picture, you'll have an idea of the recipe we used.
While we were preparing these items for the seasoning, the pork was simmering and making our pork stock.

The Hogao or Seasoning ended up being very similar to a salsa.  In fact, it may be worth trying that some time.  Seasonings, herbs, and of course tomatoes.

They were very helpful and I am glad that I don't always have to do this stuff all alone.
Hogao.
The nametags are because we had come from visiting our new nephew in the NICU.  He is doing well.  And he is cute.
Wearing the hat I made him!
We then combined the pork, stock, rice, and hogao into one pot to simmer for a while.  It smelled really wonderful.
We also had to start chopping all of the fruits if we wanted everything done on time.  The boys got stuck with the difficult stuff.  Turns out: mangoes, not so easy to cut into smaller pieces.  They really hold onto their pits, like a peach.  Also, it is difficult to hollow out a pineapple.
Engineers take every problem seriously.
Strawberries and mangoes.
Kevin looks surprised with his kiwi.
I needed some good presentation.
We added the potatoes to the pork dish, let it simmer, and set up our fruit display.  At this point I was feeling good with how everything looked and smelled.
We soon were able to set the table, pour some wine (for some of us), and sit down with some food.  It did take a little longer to get the rice to finish, but I will blame that on the altitude.

This dish lived up to expectations.  That is really exciting to write.  It was flavorful and had diverse textures and ingredients and was also filling.  I believe that everyone else really liked it as well.  It got good reviews.  I would highly recommend making it.

It would be interesting to try it with Arborio rice, or something that is traditionally used in other countries for risotto.  It may make it less Colombian, but might add an extra oomph to an already excellent dish.

The fruit salad was also delicious, which is to be expected when you just chop them up and throw them together.  It made me realize how delicious properly-ripe mangoes are, though.  Very rarely have I eaten them raw and out in the open like this, and I was very happy.  They might make it onto my grocery list more often now.

So there you go - a successful return to cooking around the world.  And one that I feel confident in recommending you try.  Next up we have three African nations in a row, so we'll be doing a little less travelling than normal.  Thank you for your patience!

Next time: Comoros

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