Colombian Comfort Food: Frijoles Antioqueños

As a young kid, weekday dinners were a pretty ordinary affair. We ate well, and always as a family, but the menu was straightforward: a protein, a vegetable, potatoes and a glass of milk – a meal dictated by working schedules, a food guide and a need to get my sister and me to soccer practice on time.

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On Sundays, the pace changed. Time spent in the kitchen ballooned, my dad starting early, chopping, frying, simmering. Meals were no longer separate bits of colour speedily spooned onto a plate. They were proper dishes, drawn out over the course of a day: hefty pots of jambalaya, chilli, spaghetti, stew; roasts with root vegetables, boeuf bourguignon with fettuccine alfredo. Even when I stopped eating meat, the dinners continued, my dad making separate pots of meatless sauces and stews so that I could still join in.

But at a certain point, those dinners dwindled – my sister and I were out more, interested less. And now that my parents live on the other side of the country, jambalaya graces our plates the one or two times a year we all manage to gather in the same place. The memory of that little tradition has, for a long time, been far from my mind.

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This past Sunday morning, with no thought to those dinners, I put my biggest pot on the stove and started to cook. I chopped vegetables, rinsed beans, measured out spoonfuls of tomato paste. For the first time in a long time, I cooked leisurely, extending what could be a quick process out over the course of a few hours.

I was making a friend’s recipe for Frijoles Antioqueños, a mellow Colombian stew of beans, green plantains, tomato sauce and pork, the latter she’d omitted on my behalf.  

beans-crop.jpgGeographically speaking, the dish is far from the meals that inspired my childhood dinners. But in its ingredients and its methods, it fits right in (admittedly the green plantain is a bit of an outlier, but it stands in nicely for the ubiquitous potatoes of my youth). 

And as I stood over the nearly-finished pot of beans, the feel of the day – the aromas, the pace, the process – took me back to those Sundays. 

In a perfect world, I would have served the dish up to close company. I ate it alone, savouring the subtlety of the flavours and the memories they brought back. And then I went on with my day. But the next time my family and I all find ourselves in the same city, I’ll put a big pot on the stove early in the day and make Frijoles Antioqueños. Sunday or not.  


Frijoles Antioqueños
Adapted from a recipe shared by my lovely friend, Catalina
Serves 6

Notes: If you want to work with dried beans, which will extend the cooking time but make an arguably tastier dish, scroll to the bottom of the recipe directions for…more directions! 

Ingredients for the beans

3 cups of cooked kidney beans* 
1-2 green plantains, chopped in medium pieces
1/2 white onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1-2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tbsp olive oil (or another neutral-tasting oil)
Cold water

Ingredients for the Hogao (tomato sauce)

2 tbsp olive oil (or another neutral-tasting oil)
1/2 white onion, chopped (again, about 1/2 cup)
1 bunch of green onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
Salt, pepper and cumin to taste 

To serve

Cooked rice, cilantro, avocado

Directions

1. Pop the beans, plantains, 1/2 cup of onion, carrot, tomato paste and olive oil in a large pot. Add enough cold water to nearly cover your ingredients. Cover with a lid and cook over medium-low heat until the plantains are nearly tender, about 20-30 minutes. 

2. When the plantains are nearly cooked, warm 2 tbsp oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the white onion, green onions and garlic to the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Toss in the tomatoes and cook, stirring regularly, until they’ve broken down into a sauce. Season with salt, pepper and cumin to taste (I used about a 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp each of pepper and cumin) and turn off the heat. 

steps 1.jpg3. Stir half your tomato mixture into the bean mixture and continue cooking the beans over low heat for ~10 minutes more, until the flavours have melded and the plantains are cooked through. Taste and add more salt, pepper and cumin as you see fit. 

4. Serve over warm rice. Top with fresh cilantro, avocado, and a spoonful of the remaining tomato sauce.  

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*Note about working with dried beans:

My friend Catalina makes her Frijoles Antioquenos using dried, rather than canned, beans. And honestly, that’s the tastier (and more economical) way to go – it’ll leave you with beans that are tender but not, as canned beans will be, super-soft.

So why did I write the recipe to use canned beans? They are, simply, more predictable to work with. Dried beans can take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to cook, depending on their variety, size and age. And if you’re new to cooking with dried beans, that can be intimidating. So cooked it is.

But! If you know your way around a bag of dried beans, or are up for an experiment, I wholly encourage you to use dry beans instead. Here’s what to do: 

1. Rinse the dry beans in a colander, sorting through them to remove any pebbles or other non-beany things. 

2. Transfer the beans into a large bowl and cover them with water (you’ll want the water to rise an inch or two above the beans). Set the bowl in the fridge and let the beans soak for 8 hours or overnight. When you’re ready to start cooking, drain the water off and give them one last rinse.

3. Place the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to completely cover them. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until they’re almost tender. Again, they could hit the tender mark anywhere between 30 minutes and three hours.

4. Once your beans are nearly tender, pick up at Step 1, adding your plantains, onions, carrot, tomato paste and olive oil to your bean pot.

Coming Up: Colombian Comfort Food

A week and a half ago, I moved into a new place. Today, at long last, I unpacked my favourite cutting boards, fired up my camera, and got down to it. Friends, a new recipe is on the way!

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A Speedy Update

Friends! I just want to drop you a line to let you know that I haven’t forgotten about you! 

The last three weeks have been consumed (so to speak) by a stray cat rescue operation, the beginnings of a move from my apartment to a little house, and a handful of exciting new projects. While all of that’s been going on, I’ve been filing away tasty recipes in the back of my mind, to be shared with you guys ASAP!

duo.jpgI hope you’ll stay tuned – new recipes are on the near horizon (in the mean time, you’re welcome join me on my non-food-related adventures over on Instagram, where I share shots from my phone – like the ones above). I’ll see you back here soon! 

Julia Child's Chocolate & Almond Cake

Last weekend, I made a birthday cake for my boyfriend. Not a noteworthy way to start a story, I recognize, but consider this: My boyfriend lives in a different country. 

So when I say that I made a birthday cake for my boyfriend, what I’m really saying is that I made a birthday cake to show to my boyfriend, and to eat by myself. 

_MG_9826-2.jpgTo elaborate on what sounds like a cruel gift: In the time we’ve been together, he and I have spent most birthdays apart and, somehow, this has cropped up as a tradition. 

We don’t mail the cake, and we only stash a piece of it in the freezer if one of us will be visiting the other soon. The most that the birthday person typically gets, then, is a good look at the thing over Skype, where it’s waved around by the baker, dangerously aflame with celebratory candles. And so we keep it simple, making a basic loaf cake that won’t take up a ton of time or inspire cake-envy in the celebratee. 

chocolate-duo.jpgThis birthday was a little different. Come Sunday morning, when it was time to bake, I knew he had a cake. And it was a good cake – a two-layer chocolate-and-almond creation delivered the day before by some of his friends. So I diverged from the usual plan, and made a pared down version of the same thing, for a more shared birthday experience.

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The recipe: Julia Child’s single-layer chocolate and almond Reine de Saba. Simple though it looks, the cake turned out to require the level of effort fitting of a birthday treat. Fortunately, the results entirely reflect that effort. The cake is elegant and decadent, with a rich chocolate-almond flavour and a texture somewhere between a cake and a ground-almond cloud.

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I ate the cake over the course of the week, savouring the final slice just as much as the first. But, fast forward ahead a few years, and I think it’ll be that first slice that stays with me. Not because it was more novel or fresh, but because I shared it, even if only virtually, in celebration of a day that meant something. 

Often it’s the meaning behind a dish, and not the dish in and of itself, that makes it linger in your memory. So, if you can, save a special little cake like this for an occasion – it’ll make it all the more sweet. And if the occasion demands that you, say, end up with an entire cake to yourself, well, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble polishing it off. You know, speaking from experience. 



Reine de Saba
Adapted from Bon Appetit (where it was sourced from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”)
Makes 1 8-inch single-layer cake

Note: Instruction photos will be up in the next day or two!

Ingredients

4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp brewed coffee (at room temperature) or rum
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup + 1 tbsp of white sugar, divided into those two measurements 
3 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
Large pinch of salt
1/3 cup of ground almonds
1/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup of cake flour (measured after being sifted a few times)*

1 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tbsp brewed coffee (at room temperature) or rum 
3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1/4 cup flaked almonds 

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan with 2-inch high sides. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper, and butter the parchment. 

2. In a bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, whisk together 4 oz of semisweet chocolate and 2 tbsp coffee or rum, until the chocolate is totally smooth. Turn off your pot of water and set the chocolate aside to cool.

3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and 2/3 cup of sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add in the egg yolks and beat again until they’re fully incorporated into the butter mixture.

4. In a metal bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Gently add 1 tbsp of white sugar and beat again until stiff peaks form.

5. Carefully fold your ingredients into the butter mixture in the following order (make sure each ingredient is fully incorporated into the mixture before starting on the next): 

  • All of the cooled chocolate mixture. 
  • The ground almonds and almond extract.
  • 1/4 of the whipped egg whites.
  • 1/3 of the remaining whipped egg whites.
  • 1/3 of the flour mixture.
  • 1/2 of the remaining whipped egg whites.
  • 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture.
  • The remaining egg whites.
  • The remaining flour mixture.

6. Gently spread the batter into your prepared 8-inch pan so that the sides are a little higher than the centre (this’ll help give your cake a flatter, less rounded top). 

7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out with a few crumbs on it. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of the pan and let cool completely before icing.

8. Make the icing: In a bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, whisk together 1.5 oz of chopped chocolate and 1.5 tbsp coffee or rum. Turn off your pot of water, then whisk the butter into the chocolate mixture, one tablespoon at a time. Allow the icing to cool to room temperature, then whisk again until it’s thick and spreadable (I put mine in the fridge, whisking every few minutes, just to speed up the process). 

9. Assemble your cake: Place the cooled cake on a cake plate. Carefully spread the icing in a thin layer of the top and the sides of the cake. Press flaked almonds around the edges of the cake. Serve on its own or with a bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Extras will keep at room temperature for a few days or in the fridge for at least a week.

*If you don’t have cake flour: Stir together 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp of all purpose flour and 2 tbsp of corn starch. Sift 3-4 times, to fully incorporate the corn starch into the flour. To use: Measure out 3/4 cup after the final sifting, and use as instructed.

Coming Up: Chocolate Almond Cake

Stay tuned for of the tastiest little cakes I’ve ever met!

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Redemption Salad 2.0

The first time I introduced you to Redemption Salad, I was coming down from eight days of indulgence: pizza! beer! donuts! pizza! 

Not to be outdone by my past self, the inspiration for Redemption Salad 2.0 comes from near-equal levels of indulgence packed, this time, into a single meal. 

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A few weeks back, my pal Dayna offer to make dinner for me, my sister and her family. What followed was not so much a supper as a feast: four giant pizzas topped with, among other things, homemade mascarpone cheese, pesto and fresh mozzarella. Chocolate cake. Chocolate pie. Orange sherbet. Bubbly drinks. 

lettuce-beans.jpgAnd then, there was this little salad: A three-bean variety dressed with cumin, lime juice and cilantro. 

ingredients-text.jpgWholesome and fresh, it was the perfect foil to the decadence of the pizza. Which isn’t to say that we necessarily ate less pizza because of it. In fact, without bites of salad between slices to refresh us, I reckon we would have had no choice but to stop a slice earlier than we did. But that, I propose, is a virtue in its own right: A salad that saves you from the regret of turning down a slice of incredible homemade pizza, fresh from the oven.

final-salad.jpgHowever, if you take a more traditional view of the virtues of salad, you won’t be disappointed: In addition to increasing your appetite for pizza, this salad also increases your stores of fibre, healthy fats, and so on. Plus, it comes together in just a few minutes, which means you can start filling yourself with good stuff, stat. 



Redemption Salad 2.0
Adapted liberally from Gourmet, and put onto the idea by Dayna 
Makes ~5 cups 

Note: To make the salad more meal-worthy in its own right, I served it with a slice of toasted no-knead bread. You could also use it as a catch-all veggie taco filling, serving it in warmed tortillas and topping it with a bit of plain yogurt.   

Ingredients

1 cup of frozen soy beans out of the shells
1 cup of cooked black beans (drained and rinsed, if canned)*
1 cup of cooked white beans – like navy or cannellini beans (drained and rinsed, if canned)*
1/4 cup mildly-flavoured oil (like olive oil or vegetable oil)
3-4 tbsp lime juice
1 clove of garlic, minced or finely grated
1 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cumin
Pepper to taste 
2 cups loosely packed romaine
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into bite-sized cubes
1/2 cup moderately packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped 

Directions

1. Cook soybeans in a small pot of lightly salted boiling water (3-4 cups) until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse briefly under cold water to stop them from cooking.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the soy beans, black beans, white beans, oil, 3 tbsp lime juice, garlic, salt and cumin. 

3. If you’re making the salad to eat in the next 24 hours: Stir in the chopped romaine, avocado pieces and cilantro. Taste and add more lime juice and salt as necessary. If you’re planning to eat the salad over a few days, your best bet is to add these three veggies just before you serve up each time – their texture and flavour are much better when they’re fresh! 

4. Serve it up! Store extras in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. 

ingredients-text.jpg*In both cases, I used dried beans rather than canned. To cook dried beans: Cover them in 2 inches of cold water and soak in the fridge overnight. The next day, drain the water off and cook the beans in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water for 15-30 minutes, or until tender (sturdier beans will need more time). Drain, rinse, and that’s it! Extra beans can be stored in an airtight container or bag for a few days in the fridge, or in the freezer for up to a year. 

Coming Up: Redemption Salad, 2.0

Stay tuned for a new take on Redemption Salad (and in the mean time, make sure to try the original!)!

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Kitchen Sink Cookies for the Kitchen Sink-less

For the last two and a half weeks, I have had visions of delicious meals. And, for the last two and half weeks, those delicious meals have largely evaded me because, alas, my kitchen sink has been on the fritz.

A better blogger than I wouldn’t let a faulty faucet get in the way of creating meals worth sharing. But in times of minor hardship I, alas, turn out not only to be a bad blogger, but also a bad cook, a bad grocery shopper, and a bad eater. 

cookies.jpgSee, when I have to wash dishes in a bucket, or cart water from one room to the next, my motivation to cook drops to…maybe 25% of its usual, working-sink level. To make matters worse, my grocery shopping habits – including a self-proscribed ban on prepared foods – do not adequately adjust. 

And so, I find myself at home, unwilling to cook and with nothing to eat but raw ingredients. I have consumed more chocolate chips in the last two weeks than I have in all of 2014, along with such winning meals as avocado in an avocado shell bowl and basmati rice with raw carrots and radishes. (To be fair/make excuses, it’s been a busy couple of weeks.)

cookie-bowl.jpgBreakfast has been the worst – I can’t face the dishes required of oatmeal; I do not have the presence of mind/willpower to break my buying habits and pick up packaged cereal. So, after one too many hungry mornings spent popping chocolate chips, I broke down and did something. Namely, I dirtied two bowls in the name of creating a pseudo-breakfast that would keep me full, somewhat nourished, and require no morning dishes whatsoever. I made cookies.

The recipe is a take on these carrot cookies, but without the carrots (in the name of longer shelf life) and with more extras – dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, flax seeds, wheat bran – for bonus nourishment. A kitchen sink cookie for the kitchen sinkless.  

cookie-pair.jpgThese are not the sort of thing you serve to company: they look like little boulders more than anything. But they are, I’m happy to report, the sort of thing you can eat happily for days, without assistance from a bowl or a plate – perfect for when you’re, say, spending a few days in the wild or, alternatively, living in an apartment that lacks a working kitchen sink.

Update: I originally wrote this post last Wednesday, and by Thursday – at last! – my sink was fixed! Expect real food coming your way soon. 


Kitchen Sink Cookies for the Kitchen Sink-less
Adapted from 101cookbooks.com
Makes just shy of 3 dozen

Ingredients
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 cup of rolled oats (the 10-minute kind) - or a raw grainy cereal mix that’s mostly oats (but could also include bran, germ, flaxseeds and other such things)
1 tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp fine salt
3/4 cup mixed goodies (raisins, chopped dates, chopped pecans, chocolate chips)

1/2 cup maple syrup, at room temperature
1/2 cup coconut oil, heated just until melted

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder and salt. Stir in the goodies until they’re evenly distributed through the flour mixture. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and coconut oil. Combine the liquid mixture and the dry mixture and stir just until everything’s moistened.

Drop level tablespoons of batter on the prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch or so between cookies. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until tops are beginning to brown and bottoms are golden. Cool on a wire rack just until warm enough to handle. 

Coming Up: Emergency Rations, of a Sort

Stay tuned for a story of my (not so serious) emergency, and a tasty little treat that doesn’t promise to solve problems, but can help to take the edge off. 

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Unboring Boiled Potatoes with Cumin, Ginger & Cilantro

Ah, the boiled potato. In the world of hip, happening tubers, this guy ranks pretty low. (When, I ask, is the last time your meal out was served with a side of boiled spuds, outside of a homestyle diner in a small town? Exactly.)

But why? Why do we embrace potatoes that are roasted, mashed, shredded and pan fried, deep fried, but not those that are boiled?  

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Maybe it’s that boiling in and of itself is currently out. We are happy to steam and sous vide our veggies, but boil? Not so much. 

Or maybe it’s that folks my age who grew up eating boiled potatoes on a near-daily basis are staging a quiet culinary rebellion, looking for something other than pure nostalgia when they dine.

Or, quite possibly, it’s simply that we don’t like potatoes quite as much as we used to (the stats show that we’re eating fewer of them each year), and the boiled variety – the most basic of the bunch (another reason in its own right) – are just the first to take a hit.  

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Whatever it is, we’re missing out. Because boiled potatoes do something that most other potatoes don’t: They get kind of sticky. And that, I will admit, does not sound at all appealing. But sticky can be a good thing when you want to, say, roll your potatoes in a super-flavourful mix of cumin, ginger and cilantro. 

Where that mix would struggle to adhere to a roasted or fried potato, the sticky and strangely absorptive boiled potato soaks it all in. What you’re left with is soft, salty and intensely flavoured – a sort of curried comfort food.

Long story short, this potato recipe – a Madhur Jaffrey creation – is delectable (I’ve made it three times in as many weeks). So get a pot on the stove, friends, and boil yourself some potatoes.  


Potatoes with Cumin, Ginger & Cilantro (Zeera Aloo)
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Foolproof Indian Cooking
Serves 4-6 as a side

Note: When you read the recipe below, you may be tempted to cry foul at the mention of the frying pan, but let me explain! The frying here mainly serves to activate the flavours in the spices and take a bit of the edge off of the ginger. You could almost certainly toss your boiled potatoes in a oil-and-spice-and-herb mix without frying them and produce tastiness all the same.  

Ingredients
1lb potatoes, peeled if necessary, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tbsp olive oil (or other neutral-tasting oil)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander

Directions

1. Drop your potatoes in a medium-sized potato and cover with about 2 inches of cold water and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when stabbed with a fork (you want them to have a bit of resistance – they shouldn’t be mushy). Remove the pot from the heat and drain the potatoes thoroughly.

2. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Drop the cumin seeds into the pan and stir for 10-15 seconds, or until the seeds are fragrant. Stir in the ginger, salt, cumin, cayenne and black pepper, heating for another 15-30 seconds or until fragrant. 

3. Add the potatoes and stir to coat them in the spice mixture. Fry over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently and squashing the potatoes down slightly with your spoon. Taste them as you go, adding salt and cayenne as needed (they should be well salted and a little bit spicy). Once the spice mixture seems to have fully soaked into the potatoes, they’re done! 

4. Place the chopped cilantro in a large bowl. Add the hot potatoes and toss to coat. Serve while hot!