I visited Colombia about thirty years ago on a family holiday that also took us to Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Though I still have memories of Bogotá – I remember the statue of Simon Bolivar in Plaza de Bolivar, the flamboyant Iglesia del Carmen and being driven around the old town areas – there’s a gap when it comes to remembering the food.
Luckily, Proexport Colombia recently invited me to attend a Colombian Cooking Masterclass in the Ambassador’s beautiful residence in Chester Square.
We spent a happy hour in the small basement kitchen, where renowned Colombian chefs Juanita Umaña and Diana García talked to us about ingredients and demonstrated several dishes, inviting us to touch, smell, taste and to get involved. We ate Colombian specialities straight out of the fryer and scribbled down tips and tricks before taking our seats in the ambassador’s dining room for a multi-course feast.
The snacks we made with Juanita and Diana both featured yuca (manioc) flour. Pasteles de yuca croquettes stuffed with a spicy beef and egg mixture. Arepas (corn cakes) were double-fried – dough was rolled out, cut into discs, fried for a few minutes, then a slit carefully so that an egg could be dropped inside before being fried again. Arepas are most commonly made quite large, but Juanita and Diana made individual ones using quails eggs before creating a larger one with a hen egg.
For lunch we were served a variety of dishes, all traditional favourites in Colombia. My fellow diners were particularly taken with the Ajiaco Santafereño (chicken and potato soup) but my favourites were the mixed seafood en leche de coco (in coconut milk), the Posta Negra Cartagenera (Cartagena braised beef), the dulce de leche crème brûlée and the sandwich of Oblea wafers and dulce de leche.
Posta Negra Cartagenera (Cartagena Braised Beef)
For the posta:
- 1 tail of rump or rump tip of 3lb with its fat
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed
- 1 tbsp vinegar or 2 tbsp bitter orange juice
For the braising liquid:
- 3 tbsp oil
- 4 sweet chili peppers , seeded and chopped
- 3 white onions , chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- 3 tomatoes , chopped
- salt to taste
Place the meat in a bowl or pan and marinate with salt, pepper, garlic and vinegar or bitter orange juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.
Remove the meat from the refrigerator. Heat the oil in a pot over high heat and brown the meat on all sides, starting with the fat, until obtaining a dark caramel colour all over.
Add sweet chili peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes and pour in enough hot water to cover a third of the meat.
Braise for 45 minutes over medium heat to medium doneness. If you want it done more, place in a 350° F (180 °C) oven for 40 minutes more, or depending on your preference.
Remove the meat from the pot and let sit for some minutes.
Cut it in thin slices.
Adjust seasoning. If the sauce formed in the pot has dried out, add some hot water and reduce a bit, for all the flavours to integrate and obtain a nice gravy.
Serve the meat with its gravy, fried coconut rice and salad on the side.
Kavey Eats was a guest of Proexport Colombia. The recipe for Cartagena Braised Beef, published with permission, is from Colombia Cocina de Regiones, edited and published by MNR Comunicaciones y Ediciones, an authoritative book on the recipes of Colombia, with contributions from Juanita Umaña and Diana García.