Tag Archives: Colombia

CASA DE HILLMONT SANCOCHO

Peter, our son, stopped by our daughter’s house in L.A. on his way down the coast to spend some holiday time with his mother-in-law. Before his visit he indicated that he wanted to cook dinner one night. It required some ingredients that we thought we could find at the Grand Central Market, including green and ripe plantains and yuca. The yuca was not to be had, but in the end Peter located some at the neighborhood grocery store.

The dish that Peter chose to cook had its origins when he was in graduate school. He found himself without housing and with very little money. Our daughter, Sarah, was in the undergraduate program at the same university. One of her teaching assistants, a doctoral candidate in mathematics from Colombia, announced in class one day that there was a vacancy in the house where he was living. Sarah passed the information to Peter, and Peter jumped at the opportunity. He wound up living in the garage for several months, rent-free. Then a bedroom opened up, and he became a permanent, rent-paying resident.

As with much collegiate housing, there was a steady stream of old and new tenants. Sarah even lived there for awhile. But the backbone of the place was the three Colombianos who lived there the longest: Carlos, Mario, and Andreas. They became good friends with our children, and an added benefit was that Sarah, the Spanish major, got to polish her language skills, Peter learned how to speak Spanish, and they both learned to cook Colombian foods. Peter still keeps in touch with Carlos, who is now a professor of mathematics at his home university.

Not surprisingly, the house came to be known as Casa de Hillmont after the street where it was located. And it had all sorts of unique features – the carpet with big holes, the reclining sofa we donated, unidentified insects (This was Texas, after all.) and the quirky landlady who made off with a bird bath. Mostly the food was standard college fare like ramen, but there were also Colombian classics like tostones, arepas, and sancocho. Here is Peter’s version of sancocho.

RECIPE

Casa de Hillmont Sancocho

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 4 to 6 pieces of chicken (thighs, drumsticks, breast)
  • 12 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 green plantain, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 yuca root, peeled, core removed, and cut into large pieces
  • 4-6 pieces of corn on the cob
  • 1 ripe plantain, unpeeled and cut into 4-6 equal pieces
  • 1 generous handful of cilantro, finely chopped
  • cream
  • capers
  • avocado, diced

Method

  1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and tomato and saute for about 3 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Brown the chicken pieces in the remaining oil in a large pot. Add the onion, garlic, tomato mixture and saute for another 6 minutes. Add the water, and correct the seasonings with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the green plantain and carrot to the mixture, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes; then add the potatoes. Simmer for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
  4. Add the yuca root, and simmer until the yuca is soft
  5. Boil the unpeeled ripe plantain in another pot until it is easily pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside.
  6. Add the chopped cilantro to the chicken stew.
  7. Serve by placing a piece of the ripe plantain in every soup bowl. Ladle chicken stew over the plantain.
  8. Pass cream, capers, and avocado separately to garnish the stew. You should have freshly made arepas on the side. (Another post)
  9. Serves 4 to 6.

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TOSTONES AND GUACAMOLE

When our son, Peter, was in graduate school, he stayed in a run-down house with a number of Colombiano students. The house was on Hillmont Street, so they named the house “Casa Hillmont”. During his time at Casa Hillmont, Peter’s Spanish skills improved markedly, but he also learned to cook Colombian comfort food. One favorite was and is tostones. Tostones are the one way I know of to use plantain. This banana relative usually sits neglected in the produce section of the grocery store. Neglect those plantains no longer because tostones are easy to make,  delicious as a snack, and a great substitute for corn chips with guacamole.

Plantain slices ready to fry

First frying of plantain slices

Smashing a cooked plantain slice with a can

Tostones ready to serve

Guacamole is a Central American dish which has been imported to the American Southwest and eventually to the whole world. Probably that’s because it is easy to make The mellow flavor of the obligate avocado balanced against citrus and chile accents is hard to resist, especially with a corn chip and cold margarita in hand. According to Diane Kennedy, the legendary Mexican cookbook writer, the word comes from two Nahuatl (Aztec) words, ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (mixture). Other authorities say that the word ahuacatl actually means “testicle” referring to the shape of the fruit and its tendency to grow in pairs. More than that, the Mesoamericans reportedly believed that eating the fruit contributed to sexual prowess. Those interesting facts aside, it is easy to eat a bowl of fresh guacamole by oneself.

Ingredients for my version of guacamole

There are probably as many recipes for guacamole as there are cooks who make it. Most traditional recipes include chopped tomato. For me, the version which tends to be favored in Santa Fe is the best. It uses coarsely mashed avocado, lime juice, a little chopped onion, salt, and pepper. Garlic and cilantro are acceptable additions, and chile depends upon your tolerance for heat. I do balk at one addition that you sometimes see – mayonnaise. The Aztecs never used mayonnaise! Honestly, I prefer guacamole with a kick, but because my wife has zero tolerance for chile, I make it without any zest and then sneak a little chile into my portion.

Guacamole in a molcajete ready to serve

The recipes to follow should be enough for two people. For larger groups, just increase proportions accordingly.

RECIPES

Tostones

  • cooking oil
  • 1 ripe plantain, unpeeled and cut in ½ inch  slices (about 12 slices)
  • salt
  • Add the oil to a ½ inch depth in a heavy pan and heat over a medium-high flame. Do not let it smoke
  • Peel the plantain slices and place them in the heated oil. Brown lightly, turn, and brown the other side
  • Remove the slices to absorbent paper, and using the flat end of a large can, smash each of the cooked slices
  • Immediately return the slices to the heated oil and continue frying them until they are browned on both sides
  • Remove again to the absorbent paper, sprinkle with salt, and serve while still warm

Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 1 large, ripe avocado
  • juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and chopped finely
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped (optional)
  • cilantro leaves, chopped (optional)
  • hot sauce (eg Tabasco or Cholula) to taste (optional)
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional)

Method

  • Place the avocado flesh in a medium bowl and mash coarsely with a table fork
  • Add the lime juice and combine with the mashed avocado.
  • Stir in the chopped scallions, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve
  • Add optional ingredients according to your own taste

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