Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Going back to my (culinary) roots

As many of you know, I come from a Colombian-American family. I grew up eating staples of Colombian fare like arepas, pan de queso and empanadas. My father was always very keen on telling me stories about Colombia and sharing bits of historical information but that was about as close as I got to my roots. I long to go and find those roots some day but the situation still makes me iffy to get on a plane, even though my Colombian friends tell me it's perfectly safe as long as I don't wander into the jungle!

What fascinates me about Colombia is the country's rich culture. Botero, Marquez, the various types of music and yes, even our pop sensations like Juanes and Shakira! And not to forget our family friend, Mr. "100% pure Colombian coffee" Juan Valdez (Carlos Sanchez)! It's a shame that people are quick to judge Colombia, but in a way, I understand. The dirty deeds of some have tainted the country's name and that's really a shame, especially when it's such a rich and beautiful land.

Anyhow, I was browsing for new culinary reads the other day and came across what seemed to be a beautiful book written by a young Colombian cook, Patricia Gallo. She traveled all through Colombia and gathered various recipes typical of the places she visited. Some I can still remember, like my mother's arepas (corn cakes) which we ate for Saturday breakfast hot from the grill with butter and cheese and washed down with frothy Colombian hot chocolate. I look forward to getting this book and to traveling back to my birth country, even if just through the tastes and smells which are so much a part of it. I will enjoy reading about my culinary heritage. One which I am proud of.

And for anyone interested, here's Patricia's recipe for those famous arepas!

Arepas de Maíz
(Yellow or White Corn Arepas)

Recipe from: Secrets of Colombian Cooking
by Patricia McCausland-Gallo

These are traditional arepas made from dried corn kernels, nowadays prepared that way mostly on farms. They are served with cheese on top, added after cooking. They are cooked on the grills directly over the heat, or on an asador de arepas*, a special cooking pan that is basically a flat-surfaced pan made of very thin metal, which has over it another very thin metal rack.

You can also form arepas with cheese already mixed into the dough. In that case, add about 1 cup (1/2 pound) of grated white farmer’s cheese to the corn after it has come out of the grinder, and before forming the balls.

Maíz peto is what we call the corn that is dried and sold in bags at the market.

Makes Sixteen 4-inch arepas

  • 2 1/2 cups (1 pound) white or yellow dried corn kernels* (maiz peto)

  • 1/2 teaspoon butter

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt plus more for cooking

  • White farmer's cheese* for serving

  • 4 tablespoons melted butter

  1. DAY 1: Wash the dried corn kernels with plenty of water. Place in a bowl with enough water to cover them, and let sit for 24 hours. This will rehydrate the corn a little.

  2. DAY 2: Drain the corn and discard the water.

  3. Place the corn in a medium pot or pressure cooker, and add 8 cups of water. If using a regular pot, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 21/2 hours; keep adding water, 1 cup at a time, if it dries out. If using a pressure cooker, cover and cook under pressure on medium heat for about 1 hour. The corn should be very soft; if not, return the pot to the stove and cook 20 minutes more. Let cool, uncover, and drain the corn; you will have about 8 cups of corn

  4. Pass the corn through a molino* or meat grinder into a bowl. Add the butter and salt; mix well to blend evenly.

  5. Form the ground corn mixture into a log; divide it into 16 pieces. Form each piece into a ball.

  6. Place the arepa balls between 2 sheets of plastic and with a heavy pan or pot cover, flatten to the thickness you desire, from 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

  7. To cook the arepas, place them on a rack directly over a very low flame and cook about 5 minutes, until they look dry on the outside; brush melted butter and sprinkle salt, turn and cook 5 minutes more on the other side.

  8. Serve with white farmer’s cheese.

Here's the link to her website. Many of her recipes on the site don't really look Colombian but they do look beautiful! http://www.creativeculinary.net/index.htm


Claudia said...

Paola, it's very very nice! Thanks for sharing!!!
Will add it to my favourites!

annauk said...

Congratulations on starting your blog Paola! Just added it to my favourites too and look forward to reading more.
Well done!

Lisa said...

Wonderful. I enjoyed reading this, it's very interesting.

Ms.O said...

Paola, congrats on your new blog! I'll look forward to reading it.

Lea xo
(Sweet Pea)

Gravy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patricia McCausland-Gallo said...

Hola Paola!
Mil gracias por tu comentario sobre mi libro.
Te tengo una buena noticioa, he dividido las recetas colombianas para que la gente las encuentre mas fácil y ahora se podrán ver todas juntas en mi página www.creativeculinary.net donde dice --- Recetas Colombianas---
Mil gracias de nuevo

Paola said...

Hola Patricia!

Que honor recibir un comentario de tu parte! En verdad que es un orgullo enorme! Sabes, te admiro mucho porque me has enseñado mucho sobre la comida de mi pais. Yo naci en Antioquia y me crie en Los Estados Unidos, pero arepas, empanadas y pan de queso nunca faltaban en mi casa!

Muchos saludos y de nuevo, muchas gracias!