Thursday, March 24, 2011

Papas Rellenas (Colombian stuffed potatoes)

Papas rellenas are very popular in the Andean and Pacific region of Colombia. They can make a perfect entree or just as a mid afternoon snack. They are very popular among high school and university students as they are sold at the school cafeterias.

Makes 8 servings

3 pounds medium white potatoes (about 6 potatoes)
1 cup cooked long grain rice
2 eggs
4 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound beef french steak or beef loin
3/4 cup minced scallions
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 beef bouillon cube
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric or achiote (Color)

Dipping batter

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup water
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric or achiote for coloring
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 cup vegetable oil to fry

In a large pot put 8 cups lightly salted water to boil. Wash and peel the potatoes and quarter, add to the boiling water. Wash the egg shells and place them in the same pot. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender (approximately 15-20 minutes).

Drain the potatoes and discard the water. Set aside to cool. Place the eggs in cold water, and peel. Diced the boiled eggs and set aside. Once the potatoes are cold, mash them with a fork or a potato masher just enough to make it smooth but still with chunks.

Wash and dry the meat. Dice it very finely and season with salt and pepper. In a medium saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the meat, cumin, beef bouillon, turmeric and garlic. Let it cook for 5 minutes stiring occasionally.

Add the scallion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons water if the sauce is too dry. Cook for 3 minutes. Add the cooked rice, diced boiled eggs, cilantro and salt and pepper, mix well to bring all the ingredients together. Remove from the stove and set aside.

Prepare the batter in a medium bowl, whisking all the ingredients until having a smooth mix without any lumps.

Filling the potatoes

Form half-cupfuls of mashed potatoes into balls. Flatten with you hands to 1/2 inch thickness. Place it in the palm of you hand, Add 2 tablespoons of the filling and close with your hand pressing and rolling to form a ball. Seal any breaking.

Repeat for each potato.

Heat the oil in a medium pot to 350F.

Place each potato into the dipping batter and drop carefully into the hot oil. Deep fry for 5 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Serve hot with aji on the side.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chow mein (Stir fried-noodles)

Chow mein is one of my favorite Chinese food dishes. There are many versions in the U.S, Canada and some Caribbean countries with important Chinese population. It is basically stir fried noodles with vegetables and meat being chicken and pork the more popular. In this recipe I use barbecued pork that I get from Chinatown and shrimp. You can replace it by pan fried chicken breast cut into slices.

Ingredients for 4-6 servings

1/2 pound barbecued pork (cooked) or 2 boneless chicken.
1/2 pound jumbo shrimp with tail (fresh or defrosted ,about 12-15)
1 package of fresh Chow mein noodles (about 400g)
1 cup snow peas
1/2 pound broccoli
1 cup sliced  mushrooms
1/2 pound bok choi
1/2 cup sliced onion
1/2 cup chopped scallions(for garnishing)
1/4 cup water or low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch (Maizena)
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 minced garlic clove
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Slice the BBQ pork set aside. If you are using chicken, cut the chicken into thin strips, season with salt and pepper and fry in a pan with some vegetable oil. Set aside.

In a medium pot boil salted water. Add the noddles and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.

Wash the broccoli and bok choi and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut the tips off the snow peas, slice the mushroom and onion.

In a small bowl dissolve the corn starch with 4 the tablespoons water. Add the 1/4 cup water or chicken broth, oyster sauce and soy sauce. Whisk well. Set aside.

In a wok, heat over medium heat 2 tablespoons oil fry the noodles in batches until golden brown. Remove and set aside

 Add  more oil and stir-fry the shrimp and garlic  for 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Cook every vegetable separately seasoning with a bit of salt while stir-frying. For the broccoli and bok choi you can add 2 tablespoons of water to cook. Remove all the vegetables from the wok and set aside.

Stir the corn starch mix quickly. Add all the ingredients back to the wok (vegetables, shrimp, meat) make a hole in the center and add the corn starch mix. Stir quickly to thicken it. Mix everything together and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Place the noodles in a big plate and pour the cooked vegetable and sauce mix on top. Garnish with the chopped scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

Serve hot.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sancocho de Espinazo (Pork neck bones Colombian Soup)

This Sancocho is a hearty soup, slow cooked and full of flavor. It is normally cooked on Sundays over open fires for family luncheons. It is served with white rice, avocado, patacones, salad and aji.

Ingredients for 6 servings

2 pounds pork neck bones (Espinazo)
1 pound red potatoes peeled and cut into pieces (quartered)
2 big green plantains peeled and cut into pieces (3 inches)
1 pound Yuca peeled and cut into  pieces.  (Frozen work as well)
4 garlic cloves peeled and minced
2 cups fresh corn kernels or 3 ears corn on the cob cut into pieces
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions minced
2 ripe tomatoes finely minced
1 beef bouillon cube
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric or achiote color
1 tablespoon liquid smoke (optional)
1 pinch chili flakes
1/2 cup minced cilantro
10 cups water
salt and pepper

Wash the pork neck bones and cut them into pieces, rub with the minced garlic, salt and pepper and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.

In a large stock pot place 10 cups of water and add the meat. Bring to a boil and cook covered over medium high for 45 minutes. We want the meat very tender. You can use a pressure cooker with less water and cook for 25 minutes, transfer to a stock pot and add the rest of the water. Remove the fat released with a spoon.

Add the potatoes, plantains and corn and cook for 30 minutes.

In the meantime in a pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat and fry the onion for 3 minutes, add the tomato, cumin, turmeric or achiote, liquid smoke and chili flakes and beef bouillon. Cook for 8 minutes until it becomes a paste.

Once the potatoes and plantains are fork tender, add the tomato-onion paste and yuca and cook for 20 -25 minutes until the yuca is very soft but still firm. Note that if  you use frozen yuca it will take about 15 minutes.  The soup needs to thicken a bit and it's ok if some of the potatoes or platains have dissolved.

Taste and add salt and pepper. Stir the cilantro in.

Serve in soup bowls with aji and avocado slices and rice and patacones on the side. Make sure each portion gets all the ingredients.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tocino al horno (Roast Pork Belly)

As you may have noticed by now, pork is one of my favorite ingredients. In most of  the Colombian territory the main dishes are made with pork: chicharrones, fried ribs, morcillas (blood sausages), Beans with pig hooves, marranitas, even the famous "lechona" from the Tolima region, which is a whole roasted pig stuffed with rice and peas. We love pork and we always find different ways to cook it.

Ingredients for 4 servings

1 1/2 Kg pork belly (meaty)
3 garlic cloves, mashed
sea salt

Wash over running water the pork belly. Clean carefully making sure to remove any hair left. Using a sharp knife make scores about a centimeter apart through the skin into the fat but not too deep to cut the meat completely.

Rub the sea salt and the mashed garlic generously, making sure it goes into the scores previously made. Let set for 30 minutes.

Preheat  the oven to 425 F. Place the pork skin side-up on a baking rack with a tray under to collect the fat and juices. Bake for 30 minutes, the skin should have started to puff up.

Lower the temperature to 350 F and bake for another one hour. The meat must be soft and tender and the skin crispy and brown.

Remove the pork from the oven and place it on a cutting board. Let set for 10 minutes. Slice and serve with rice and vegetables.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Patacones (Fried Plantain Rounds)

Patacones are very popular among all the Colombian territory and in several Caribbean countries, where they are called Tostones "Crunchies". They are served normally with the typical Sancocho de Gallina or a chip dip or entree topped with shrimp. They are also delicious as a snack served with aji or any other dipping sauce.

Ingredients for 10 Patacones

2  big green plantains
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic mashed (optional)
Vegetable oil to deep fry ( about 3 cups)

Cut the tips off the plantain and discard. Hold the plantain firmly. Using the tip of the knife, slit the peel along the length of the plantain. Only cut as deep as the peel is thick. Remove the plantain peel with your fingers, it will come off in sections. Remove with the knife any peel remnant left on the flesh. If your plantains were stored in the refrigerator, bring them to room temperature. Cold plantains will be twice as hard to peel.

In a medium heavy pot or fryer heat the oil to 325 F.

On a cutting board, cut the plantains into 2 1/2 inches chunks. Fry the plantains pieces a few at a time for about 6 minutes. They must be light golden and soft in the inside when you insert a fork. Set aside to cool for 3 minutes.

In a bowl mix 1 cup water, with the salt and mashed garlic.

On the work surface place a plastic sheet and put the pieces of fried plantain one at a time. Cover with another piece of plastic and using a pot lid or wood cutting board, press firmly until the become very thin and even. About 1/4 inch.

Increase the oil temperature to 375 F. Dip the flatten rounds in the salty (garlic) water for a couple of seconds and fry again for 2 or 3 minutes until crisp and golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain over paper towel. Serve hot.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mac & Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese is the number one comfort food. It is a casserole consisting of cooked pasta "Macaroni" with a cheese sauce. There are many variations of this dish  from all over the world, like the Alpine Herder's Macaroni from Switzerland or the Caribbean Macaroni Pie. Unfortunately for most of us, the best known versions are the packaged or Kraft dinners which are not even close to the real recipe made from scratch.

Ingredients for 6 servings

1 pound elbow macaroni
4 cups milk
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 cups grated aged Cheddar
2 cups grated Gruyere
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
5 bacon strips oven baked and cut into bits
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil


In a large pot, bring salted water to boil and drizzle with the vegetable oil. Add the macaroni and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat without boiling it. In a large pot melt the butter and add the flour, cook over low heat for 2 minutes stirring constantly. While whisking add the hot milk and cook for 1 or 2 minutes until thickened. Remove from the stove and add the Gruyere, Cheddar, nutmeg, pepper, salt and bacon. Add the cooked macaroni and mix well.

Pour into a baking dish and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes until the surface is lightly brown.