Born in Bogotá, Mariana Velásquez is well aware that Colombian cuisine has not quite reached the American mainstream yet. “Colombian food doesn’t travel that well because it’s home cooking,” she says. When she set out to create a cookbook that would bring this food to home kitchens outside of the country, the food stylist, who now lives in New York, viewed the kitchen as „out of the ordinary”. [perspective where] it surrounds me and I take it for granted, but through the eyes of someone who learns about food and comes back to rediscover all the nuances and find beauty in the pedestrian. ”With her new cookbook Colombianthat beauty comes into its own.
Sharing Colombian dining traditions in a single cookbook was a particularly daunting undertaking given the regional diversity of cuisine. “The food in our country is incredibly large because of our landscape,” says Velásquez. “Even though it’s a small country, our terrain is quite dramatic.” She adds: “The cuisine is very varied, very colorful. So it’s pretty hard to get to the heart of it and make it an issue. ”
Colombian manages to divide the diversity of Colombian cuisine into five sections, including one about breakfast dishes, another about “snacks and snacks in the afternoon” – Velásquez’s own everyday tips, which she describes as “Colombian” – and a concluding “oda al postre “(Ode to the desserts).
The central middle section of the book is divided into dinner party menus, complete with suggestions for table settings and playlists. This decision seems to have predicted the desires of this moment, but in reality it was another way of underscoring the country’s regional diversity. „I wanted to conjure up the regions of Colombia and move to those tables with a completely different look and feel,” says Velásquez. „So I thought if I develop a menu that is inspired by these places, cities or villages or urban or rural areas, I can create this scene through music, flowers, host tips, and then of course, taste.” the Colombianas in New York emerge, who like Velásquez preserve and spread Colombian cuisine. „I have a feeling that we are the ones who carry the food traditions when we move away,” says Velásquez. „As immigrants, it is mostly women who maintain the aromas of home.”
These peanut and potato empanaditas are the starter from the book “Cauca Valley Soirée” menu that conjures up the “warm breeze of the lush Cauca River valley”, where “music resonates on people’s hips and spicy Ají spice up any party”.
Ají actually spices up the sauce that goes with the empanadita recipe, potentially intimidating 65 mini empanadas. But Velásquez says that the preparation can be just as much a part of the party as the food itself. “You get your friends to help you with it. There’s nothing more satisfying than creating a line of work where everyone is helping, ”she says. “You bake or fry empanadas. People throw them and drink in between. It’s really fun. ”Plus, parties and their recipes feel like they are worth the effort more than ever.
Mini potato and peanut empanadas recipe
Makes about 65 empanadas
Tiny, hearty, raised empanadas with a red filling made from potatoes, peanuts and achiote can either be baked or deep-fried. Of course, deep-frying is the traditional way and the tastiest, but if, like me, you sometimes don’t have deep-frying into you, the oven method works just fine. With Ají de Maní. serve (Peanut sauce, recipe follows) on the side.
Empanada batter is a delicate animal – the moisture in the air and, if you’re superstitious, the chef’s mood will affect how much water you actually need to make the batter just right.
2 cups of warm water, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of grated panela or brown sugar
2 cups of yellow Masa Harina (I like the PAN brand)
¼ cup of yuca flour or cornstarch
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 liter pipián filling (recipe follows)
Rapeseed oil, for frying
1 egg, beaten, for baking
Plastic-lined tortilla press or a small heavy pan like a cast iron pan
2 parchment-lined baking trays per
Ají de Maní (recipe follows), for serving
3 to 4 limes, cut into small wedges, for serving
Step 1: Mix the water, oil and panel in a liquid measuring cup until the panel has dissolved. In a large bowl, mix the masa harina, yuca flour and salt. Gradually pour the panela mixture into the dry ingredients until they come together; it should look like damp sand. Knead a few times to process and shape a dough. Test the consistency between your fingers: the dough should be moist, but neither too wet nor too dry. If necessary, add more water, one tablespoon at a time, until the texture is smooth and not dry. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and use immediately.
Step 2: Place 1 heing tablespoon (1½ ounces) of the batter between the two pieces of plastic in the center of the tortilla press. The key is to press a little more gently than when making tortillas. Each disc should be 3½ inches in diameter: if it gets bigger, it will thin and crack. If you’re using a heavy pan, also place a tablespoon of batter between the plastic wrap and press it down with the pan.
Step 3: Each Masa slice with 1 tablespoon pipián. to fill Fill, moisten the edge of the dough with water and fold it into a crescent to seal it. You can repair cracks in the dough by moistening your finger and rubbing some water over it.
Step 4: Transfer the empanada to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the batter. When you’ve made 10 to 12 empanadas, place them in the freezer for at least 20 to 30 minutes before frying or baking to allow them to set.
Pour 5 cm of rapeseed oil into a medium-sized Dutch oven or heavy saucepan. Attach a deep-frying thermometer and bring the temperature to 350 degrees on medium to high heat. In the meantime, prepare a tin tray or a platter of towels. Work in batches and carefully dip 2 or 3 empanadas in the hot oil at the same time. Deep fry while moving the empanadas continuously in the oil with a slotted spoon or metal spider to maintain the even temperature of the oil until they are golden brown and crispy all around, approx. Transfer the empanadas to the prepared tray. Cover with aluminum foil and keep warm or serve as desired.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Brush each empanada with egg and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until crispy and golden. Serve with ají de maní and lime wedges.
Pipián filling recipe
Makes 1 liter
1 tablespoon of rapeseed oil
1 tablespoon of ground achiote or sweet prika
2 shallots, white and green parts, finely chopped
1 white onion, chopped (1¼ cups)
3 cloves of garlic, grated or finely chopped
5 ripe plum tomatoes, grated or chopped (1¾ cups)
1 small red pepper, pitted, deveined and chopped (¾ cup)
1 cup of beef broth
¾ cup of roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped
1 pound of Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Step 1: Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the achiote, shallots and onion and sauté them with a wooden spoon, stirring, until the onion softens 3 to 4 minutes without browning.
Step 2: Add the garlic, tomatoes and peppers and stir. Continue cooking until the vegetables soften and form a sauce, 4 to 5 minutes.
Step 3: Add the stock, peanuts and potatoes and fold into the bubbly sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste, cover, and cook over medium-low heat – checking every now and then that the ingredients aren’t drying out – until the potatoes start to fall, 25 to 28 minutes. Turn off the heat, uncover and set aside to cool.
Peanut Chilli Recipe
1 cup dry roasted salted peanuts
2 ripe plum tomatoes, grated (including peel and seeds)
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1 bird’s eye chilli, chopped (pitted and deveined if you prefer less heat)
2 tablespoons of white vinegar
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
Step 1: Put the peanuts, tomatoes, egg, chilli, vinegar and salt in a food processor and stir until smooth. Add a few tablespoons of water at a time to make the consistency spoonable but not too runny.
From the book COLOMBIAN by Mariana Velásquez Villegas. Copyright © 2021 by Mariana Velásquez Villegas. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission.
Photos by Gentl & Hyers