#17 Date selected: 14/3/16 Date completed: 16/3/16
Country selected: Colombia
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu:
- Colombian-Style Fried Pork Belly (Chicharrón Colombiano)
- Colombian Arepa
- Aji (Colombian Salsa)
- Colombian Guacamole
- Colombian Coleslaw (Ensalada de Repollo y Zanahoria)
- Candil or Caspiroleta (Colombian Hot Milk and Rum)
Monday 14th March 2016, 7.57pm
Hurrah! Another South American challenge! I loved the Peru challenge (in fact I re-created part of it for dinner with my boyfriend the other night – he’s become a bit of a fan now too). Colombia is just above Peru so I’m hoping the cuisine is just as delicious.
My background knowledge of Colombia is restricted to what I’ve gained from the Netflix series of Narcos and I’m really not sure that the exploits of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel is representational of the country as a whole!
There’s no denying that the country has its issues though. It has suffered from what Wiki describes as “an asymmetric low-intensity armed conflict” since the 1960s. The Australian Smart Traveller website advises tourists to exercise a high degree of caution when heading to Colombia and not to travel to certain areas of the country at all due to the high threats of terrorist attack and violent crime. It also warns that Colombia is a hot spot for the mosquito borne Zika virus.
The population is ethnically diverse and has developed very strong regional identities due to the imposing landscape. The country is considered the most biodiverse county in the world per square kilometre and is rated as one of the world’s 17 ‘megadiverse countries.’ It also ranks first in bird species, second most diverse in freshwater fish and has the equivalent to 10-20% of total global plant species. The list just goes on….
The culture is a mish mash of cultural influences also and cultural expressions are promoted by the government through the Ministry of Culture. Many of the national symbols aim to represent what the country and its people have in common. The history of art in Colombia spans back over 3000 years and there is archaeological evidence of ceramics being produced earlier here than anywhere else in the Americas.
Cuisine is just as diverse by the sounds of it, with dishes and ingredients varying widely by region. Rice and maize are very common as are potato, cassava, assorted legumes, meats and seafood. A variety of tropical fruits also feature heavily.
Wednesday 16th March 2016, 8.21pm
It’s exactly one month to the day since I picked my first challenge and started on this crazy journey! In that time I’ve racked up (including this latest challenge) a whopping 38 recipes from 17 countries. WAY more than I ever expected. Surprisingly I’ve chosen to cook for all of the challenges so far and I’m enjoying trying different ingredients, flavours and processes from different continents and looking forward to what future challenges hold.
This week was Columbia and I chose to do not one but SIX different recipes that I did over two days. Mostly this was due to the fact that I couldn’t choose amongst the plethora of delicious-looking recipes available, but these all looked fairly simple and complimented each other so I thought it justified.
The first recipe was a hot milk and rum drink called Candil or Caspiroleta. It’s supposed to be fantastic for colds and I can see it being wonderfully cosy on a cold winter’s night. Very similar to egg nog. It was exactly what I felt like last night so I decided to give it a go. It’s airy and warming and chock full of cinnamon (and rum if you decide to add it – which I did!). It’s a fairly straight forward recipe and easy enough to make.
The only thing I would warn against is grating the cinnamon over the stove. I did this and it flakes everywhere! Definitely grate the cinnamon prior to putting the milk on to heat to avoid a messy kitchen. I’d also recommend using a sieve to get out all the cinnamon chunks before serving if you’re not a fan of things floating in your drink! I did this after I accidentally got a mouthful of cinnamon floaties and, as you can see from the picture, there’s quite a lot of cinnamon sludge that came out of it.
The five other recipes I did this evening as one big meal – Colombian style fried pork belly with salsa, guacamole and coleslaw and my attempt (more on this one later!) at Arepa.
I was attracted to the pork belly recipe because it was completely different style of cooking the meat than I’d tried before and I was a bit intrigued. The pork is rubbed with baking soda and cooked in water until all water has evaporated then for another 15-20 minutes to get the meat golden and crispy. I found this method makes the pork much less fatty tasting than others I’ve tried but the meat remains moist on the inside. It ends up with a crispy outer layer and is really very tasty. The crispy bits in the pan are a little odd though. They have a strange fizzy consistency to them (obviously from the baking soda) but it’s really only the smaller crustier bits that I found this.
The coleslaw, again, was completely different to the style I usually make. It’s very South American with a strong lime flavour, but is super creamy with the sour cream. It’s pretty rich so I wouldn’t use too big a serving. Delicious though and definitely something I’ll look at making again.
I made the Aji (Colombian salsa) earlier in the afternoon as it needs to sit in the fridge for at least an hour before serving so the flavours have time to develop. It’s super easy to make – throw everything into a food processer and combine. Done. A warning to those who aren’t big on heat – it’s a pretty spicy salsa. I’m happy with a reasonable amount of chilli and didn’t find it too bad but you might want to tone down the amount of jalapeno that you put in if you’re not a big chilli fan. The salsa went deliciously with the pork and I could see it going well with any kind of white meat.
The guacamole too is super easy and quite different to the guac that I would normally make. Usually I’d use a mix of lemon and garlic to compliment the flavour of the avocado, but this recipe called for neither. Instead it uses lime, coriander/cilantro and spring (green) onion. The end result surprisingly didn’t differ too much from the guacamole that I’m used to – just a slightly different slant to the same thing (like different brands of beer or the like).
After five successful recipes, I was due for an epic fail and it came in the form of my Arepa attempt! I’m not actually sure what went so wrong but I have a couple of ideas.
Arepa are supposed to be like fried savoury cakes that are the base for a lot of different accompaniments. They’re made of cornmeal (we call it polenta in Australia – I only discovered this after googling!) and ricotta cheese and are apparently extremely popular in Colombia.
According to the recipe, you’re supposed to slowly add hot water into the mix of polenta a cheese to form a pizza like dough, knead it before letting it rest for 10 mins, then fry or grill the pancake type cakes.
Mine did not look at a pizza dough at all! It was a watery mush which was never going to form into any kind of dough – no matter how much I kneaded it! I’m not sure if it was just because the polenta was still a bit too wet, but I wonder if it should have been uncooked instead. The recipe called for pre-cooked but this could easily be a typo/translation issue. That one aspect could have made a world of difference to the consistency.
I decided to try and cook a couple anyway – see if I couldn’t make a ‘crepe’ style Arepa or something instead. Definitely a fail! The mixture became a bright yellow and even browned a little as it cooked, but it didn’t stay formed and broke apart whenever you tried to move it. It ended up a bit like scrambled eggs in consistency.
I decided to try and salvage what I had and decided to try and make a dough using the mixture with some added flour. I mixed the two until they were a little thicker than cake batter but a little thinner than an actual dough then fried them off.
They actually turned out quite tasty! My 18 month old niece was definitely a fan and the cakes went very well with the guacamole in particular.
Whilst this was technically a fail, I decided that given that I did 5 other successful recipes for this country, it was enough for me to continue onto the next challenge. I would perhaps like to revisit the Arepas again another time though. Maybe look up a few other recipe versions and see if I can find out what went so wrong with this one!
And with that in mind, my next challenge is…….