Thursday, October 25, 2012

Recipes from Colombia

Entertainment-wise, it's going to be really difficult to top Clipperton Island and Cocos (Keeling). Colombia, as far as I know, has never had an insane lighthouse keeper declare himself king, nor has it been ever occupied by an eccentric ex-explorer and his harem of 40 Malay women. Instead, it has the same sad story that most of the countries on this side of the globe share—discovery by Europeans followed by decades of slavery and the eventual decimation of the native population.

Colombia is, as you probably already know, a South American nation. Today, it has the dubious distinction of being the world's number one producer of cocaine, an industry that has fueled the continent's longest-running armed conflict. Government forces, right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing insurgents have been fighting in Colombia since the 1960s in a conflict that has personally affected a whopping 1/3rd of the nation's population. In the 1990s, at least 35,000 people died as a direct result of this conflict, and between 2000 and 2011 the violence forced 3.7 million people to flee their homes. In short, this is really not a place you want to be living at the moment. Or visiting. Which is why you should, you know, just travel there by stove. Open-mouthed smile

As far as food goes, Colombia is probably best-known for its coffee (yes, coffee is a food). Colombia is very ethnically-diverse, and its culinary traditions reflect that—Spanish, African, Asian and Arab influences can be found in many of the dishes, which of course have roots in indigenous traditions and locally available foods.

As I was researching the history part of this entry I actually found myself regretting that I didn't look up Colombian cuisine on Wikipedia before I decided on this menu. Because I found a few dishes in that entry that I probably would have rather cooked than the ones I settled on (Ajiaco sounds pretty danged tasty). But by the time I got around to checking out Wikipedia it was too late to turn back, though, so here's the menu I did do:

Cerdo Encebollado (Pork with Onion Sauce)

  • 1 1⁄2 pound boneless pork loin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup aliños sauce*
  • 2 cups water
This recipe came from Colombian blogger Erica, who blogs at My Colombian Recipes. Now that I think of it, all of this week's recipes came from Erica. What can I say, she had some great resources on her website. Bloggers are always the best source for authentic recipes.

Here's the recipe for the Aliños Sauce, ingredient number 5 in the Cerdo Encebollado.

  • 1/2 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tbsp Sazon Goya with Azafran *
* Sazon Goya with azafran contains MSG, which may or may not bother you.

Here's the side dish:

Arroz con Coco y Lentejas (Rice with Coconut and Lentils)

  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh cilantro for serving
And the bread (sort of):

Arepas de Queso (Cheese Cornmeal Patties)

* I got my arepa flour at the Mexican Market in Auburn, CA. You can also order it from, if you don't have a local source for Hispanic foods in your area. I do think you need to have it in this recipe, rather than just using cornmeal. It gives the bread a particular kind of texture that you won't get with cornmeal.

So I started with the lentils and rice, since the lentils have to soak.

For some reason, this was the only photo I took of the Arroz con Coco y Lentejas.

First rinse the lentils and cover them with water for about 30 minutes.

In a large pot, cook the onions in the olive oil until they are translucent. Then add the garlic and keep stirring for an additional two minutes or so.

Add the lentils to the pot along with the bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until the lentils are tender and there is little or no water remaining in the pot.

Throw out the bay leaf and add the rice, then pour in the coconut milk. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. (Note: I have a hard time getting rice to absorb coconut milk, so I usually add a little bit of water. If your rice isn't tender after 20 minutes try adding about a half cup of water to the pot.)

Garnish with the cilantro.

You will need the aliños sauce for the pork, so to make that just put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until you get a smooth paste.

On to the pork:

Cut the pork loin up into 8 slices, trimming the excess fat. Pound with a mallet until each slice is about 1/4 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the pork on both sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Now add the onions to the pot and brown them, then add the aliños sauce and cook for another minute or so. Pour in the water and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any brown bits.
Return the pork to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and partially cover the pot.

Cook for about an hour and 15 minutes, or until the pork is tender and the sauce is thick (you may have to add a little bit of water to keep it from drying out).

Finally, the arepas, which are really more like a flatbread than a "pattie," as Erica describes them. They do take a bit of time since you have to do them in batches, so bear that in mind when planning your meal.

First mix the P.A.N. with the warm water, grated cheese, salt and half of the butter. Let stand for five minutes.

Knead for 3 minutes (moisten your hands with a little bit of water if you need to). Shape the dough into four small balls and place between two large sheets of plastic wrap.

(I doubled the recipe so I had more than four balls)

Flatten each ball with your hands (Erica recommends using the bottom of a pot). Each bread should be about a quarter inch thick.

Now put the rest of the butter in a large pan and melt over medium heat. Working in batches, cook each bread about 3 minutes on both sides, until it forms a crust and starts to turn a golden color (Note: don't be impatient. If you try to turn them too soon, they will fall apart.).

Everyone in my family tried this meal, with mixed results. The pork was good but sadly it wasn't really that interesting. My kids picked the pork out of the onions, of course, because onions are the stuff of horrible nightmares (if you have kids you know what I'm talking about).

I really liked the Arroz con Coco y Lentejas, but I typically adore anything with rice and coconut milk in it. I could really taste the Caribbean influence in that particular dish. 7-year-old Dylan liked it too, as did Martin and Henry. But the girls both moaned about having to try it and then left most of it on their plates. Which I really don't get, but I honestly don't get a whole lot about those girls and their tastes in food.

Finally, I have to rave about the arepas. They were really good, with an interesting, firm texture and a lovely salty, cheesy flavor. I would definitely make them again, and probably will the next time I'm cooking anything vaguely South American.

I'm not personally done with Colombia (in fact I'm about to go in search of an Ajiaco recipe, which I will make with some more arepas). But for Travel by Stove, it's time to move on.

Next week: Comoros

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


  1. Becki- I have been following your blog for quite awhile. My family started our food journey around the world almost exactly one year ago. We're going by the State Department list of countries, so we're skipping all your territories and such. :) We made Columbian tonight. That pork was AMAZING!! My husband and I love to cook together, and our kids actually like almost everything we make! :) Thanks so much for doing this blog. We really love it and I recommend it to people all the time!! (I'm signed in with my husband's account, BTW!) ~Robin

  2. Hi Robin, I love to hear that! It's great to know people are reading and cooking these recipes. So glad you liked the pork--did you try the arepas too? Mmmm!


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