Bandeja Paisa – Colombia National Dish –

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China is overwhelming in size and culinary tradition.   Our next country takes us back to South America.  To get there we retrace our route across the Pacific Ocean and head for the intersection of Central and South America.  The northwestern most country in South America is Colombia and it is bordered by Panama in C.A.  We land in the western shores and head inland to central Colombia at the foot of the Andes Mountains.

What we now know as Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous nations including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. The Spanish arrived in 1499 and entered a period of conquest and colonization killing or enslaving almost 90% of the native populations.  The Spanish called the area including Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and northern Brazil, the “Viceroyalty of New Grenada”.

Independence was won from Spain in 1819 but the region began to split apart in 1830.  By the early 1900’s the area now known as Colombia had taken its current borders.  Notable conflicts between the two political parties of the newly created Republic of Colombia erupted in violence during the “Thousand Days War” at the turn of the twentieth century and “La Violencia” in 1948.

Colombia is home to an ongoing dispute between government agencies and armed insurgents working for drug cartels in the multi billion dollar cocaine trade.  Colombia produced nearly 75% of all cocaine during the 80′s, but recent years have seen historic declines in Colombian productioin of the drug.  However, much of the cocaine  production has shifted to Bolivia and Peru.

During the height of the violence in the 1980’s Colombia had the highest per capita drug related homicide rate anywhere in the world.  Television cameras captured the violence and projected it into the living rooms of the world as the Colombian Government backed by the US Drug Enforcement Agency fought the “War on Drugs” against the cartel gangs, right wing paramilitary groups such as the” Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia” or AUC and the left leaning Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or the FARC-EP.  The Farc controlled nearly 40% of Colombia until 2008 when under the influence of President Alvaro Uribe, the force was severely reduced from its peak of power in the late 1990’s. Much of this fragmentation can be traced to policies of the Kennedy administration intended to offset the influences of Communist forces during the 1960’s.

Since the end of the 1990’s and 2000’s, Colombia has created an uneasy truce between its various combatants and the homicide rate has been cut in half.  Today much of the drug related violence has shifted from the ruthless Colombian cocaine cartels such as the Medellin Cartel led by Pablo Escobar in the 1980’s, north to Mexican gangs in states bordering the US.  These points of entry to the lucrative US market have become virtual war zones as gangs kill anyone opposing them with near impunity.   Last year, over 5000 people died in gang violence in Northern Mexico making it the most dangerous place outside of declared war zones.

Colombia is divided into 32 “departments” or states.  The national dish of Colombia is called Bandeja Paisa or roughly translated “Big Plate of the Region”.  It is originally from the Antioquia Department and is popular throughout the country.  Antioquia is mostly mountainous but has a small strip on the Caribbean making it a strategically important department.  The agricultural produce of the region includes beef cattle and other farm produce and helps explain the ingredients of this bountiful feast.  High in calories and protein, this recipe is more of an “all inclusive” meat binge with beef, sausages, chicharone (fried pork belly) red beans and rice, plantains, fried eggs, Arepa (cornbread) avocados and salad.

I find it interesting that currently a debate exists over whether to “lighten-up” this dish and move to make it healthier with smaller portions.  Traditionalists argue that the dish is as it always has been.  I am of the belief that changing the recipe may be a good idea, but it would then be something other than Bandeja Paisa.  Perhaps we can call the new dish Platito Paisa(little plate from the region)?

Due to the number of components involved, this dish is a 4 for difficulty and plenty of prep time is recommended.  I invited friends for dinner and began shopping at 2PM for a 6 O’clock dinner.  This was by and far the hardest challenge of the adventure.  Executing 10 courses including rice and beans and chicharones within 3.5 hrs is hard by anyones standards, but to do it in a home kitchen is that much more difficult.  I am proud to say with very few exceptions it was delicious and well made.  I especially loved the chicharones.

With regard to chicharones, this recipe and the specific style of cutting the meat used to accomplish it varies throughout Latin America.  In Mexico for example, just the skin of the pig is fried into crispy sheets, like the bags of Pork Rinds you find in Gas Stations.  In Colombia, the entire pork belly including meat is used.  Another interesting part of this recipe is using Baking Soda to rub the meat down before cooking. Of course I spent the next 12 hrs wondering why I would rub pork with Baking Soda and so I have tried to demystify the process.  In short, baking soda is a light alkaline and effectively breaks down proteins, thereby tenderizing the meat.  I found that most references to this technique originated in the Philippines and Vietnam.

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Rating:

Appearance: 4 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor: 5 out of 5

Total: 13 out of 15

Bandeja Paisa Recipes

The original recipe, from which I depart somewhat, was an excellent guide.  I have placed the steps in a numbered order so at home cooks can attempt to tackle this culinary challenge.  The individual components are not too hard, just the combination of all of them makes it very challenging.  Good Luck!

Step One – Green Salad

Prepare a simple green salad using lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.  Cover with Saran Wrap and place in the fridge.

Step Two – Avacado

Peel and slice the avocado.  Lay the slices on a plate.  Garnish with salt, pepper, diced onion, tomato and lime juice for a deconstructed guacamole.   Wrap with Saran Wrap and place in the fridge.

Step Three – Red Beans

Ingredients

3 cups dried red beans (substitute canned or a different type of bean)

Carrot, rough chopped

Green plantain, finely diced

Salt

Pepper

Preparation

  1. Soak dried beans overnight in enough water to cover the beans plus an extra inch or so.
  2. Pressure cook for 20 minutes.
  3. Add carrots and pressure cook for another 20 minutes.
  4. Remove carrots and place in a blender and whiz smooth with some of the cooking liquid. Return liquid to pot along with plantains.
  5. Pressure cook for another 20 minutes.  Leave covered and near heat to keep it warm.

If you do not have the time to cook this recipe overnight, there are faster ways to cook the beans including using canned beans or pre-boiling the beans for 2 to 3 minutes then simmering for 2 hrs and adjusting the time to add the carrots and plantain.

Step Four – Carne Machaca

Ingredients

2 lb. beef roast

Water

1 small tomato

1 small onion

2 cloves of garlic

Salt

Pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Puree the tomato, onion, and garlic in a blender with a little water.
  2. Bring a pot of water to boil with the puree. Place roast into boiling water and cook through (about half an hour depending on thickness). You can slice the roast into thinner pieces for faster cooking time.
  3. Remove the roast and cut into small pieces. Grind these pieces in a food processor until you have a fine mixture.

If you want a nice twist on the original, try marinating flank steak in Alino and grilling it.  Nice bold flavors help differentiate the steak course from the other meats.

Step Five – Chicarrones Colombianas

Ingredients

2 Strips of pork belly about 1.5 inches wide by 6 inches long.

1 tsp Baking Soda

Pinch of Salt

Oil for frying

Preparation

  1. Cut the strips of Belly into pieces about 3 inches long or 2 per strip
  1. Score the skin of the pork belly along with the meat. (I saw another recommendation to place the belly’s skin side down and make a cut across the grain of the meat every 1.5 inches being careful to not cut through the skin.  This will increase surface area during cooking and speed up the process of breaking down the tough proteins and softening the fats.)
  2. Sprinkle the baking soda over the meat and rub into the meat.
  3. Add 1 pinch salt and 2 cups of water in a stock pot till the meat is just covered.
  4. Bring to a boil and simmer till the water all evaporates.
  5. Then fry in 350 degree oil until the skin is crisp and the meat is dark golden brown(DO NOT BURN!!). Take care here as the fat tends to pop and spit oil. Use a lid or splatter guard for the pan for protection.

Step Six  – Arepas  (This recipe is from Epicurious.com, I liked the addition of a grated cheese)

Ingredients

1 cup arepa flour (precooked cornmeal)  I used Maseca Flour like you would make tortillas with.  Goya makes a specific flour for arepas which is basically the same thing. I had Maseca on hand so used that.

1 cup crumbled ricotta salata or grated mozzarella (1/4 pound)

½ cup sweet corn kernels from a can

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preparation

Toss together arepa flour, cheese, corn, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then stir in water until incorporated. Let stand until enough water is absorbed for a soft dough to form, 1 to 2 minutes (dough will continue to stiffen).

Form 3 level tablespoons dough into 1 ball and flatten between your palms, gently pressing to form a 1/4-inch-thick patty (2 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches wide), then gently press around side to eliminate cracks. Transfer to a wax-paper-lined surface. Form more disks with remaining dough in same manner, transferring to wax-paper-lined surface.

Heat oil in a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then fry arepas in 2 batches, turning over once, until deep golden in patches, 8 to 10 minutes total per batch. Drain on paper towels.

Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Colombian-Arepas-239943#ixzz0iqVsQ4Zd

Step Seven – Morcia (blood sausage) and Chorizo

(I skipped the blood sausage)

Ingredients

1 lb. of Morcia, black pudding, or other blood sausage

1 lb. of Colombian chorizo, or other spicy dried sausage

Oil for frying

Preparation

  1. Pan fry sausages until crisp and cooked through turning regularly to avoid burning.

Step Eight – Cooked Rice

Step NineFried yellow plantains (Tajadas) I am using a family recipe here

3 Yellow plantains peeled and sliced on the bias about ½ to ¾ inch thick

Frying oil

Preparation:

In a large frying pan heat the oil to 350.  Place the plantain “chips” in the oil and cook till light golden brown flipping to cook both sides.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain.  Using a plantain press or a plate, smash the plantains down to about ¼ – 1/8 inch thick and refry for 1-2 minutes to crisp.  Remove from oil.  Salt to taste.  Serve hot.  Add chili or cayenne powder and lime juice for extra kick.

 

Step Ten – Fried egg (over easy)

Cook one egg on low heat till it is over easy.  Place overtop the meats and break upon eating to spread the rich yolk through the seasoned meats.

Plating:

Serve beans in a separate bowl. Line a platter with rice, meats, plantains, slices of avocado, and top with a fried egg.

BIG HINT!:  During the cooking period, I used a large roasting pan lined with tin foil, then wrapped each meat in Saran Wrap as it finished cooking, then covered the baking pan with more tin foil then placed the whole pan in a 200 degree oven to keep the meat warm while I was finishing before plating.  I also kept my Arepas warm by wrapping them first in Saran Wrap then a Dish towel and placing them in a large ceramic bowl with a tight lid and placing them in the oven.

Original author, Timothy Dzurilla http://south-american-food.suite101.com/article.cfm/bandeja_paisa Timothy is a Graduate Student and humanitarian working in Central and South America.  He was kind enough to give permission to use his excellent outline.  As always, I tend to “tweak” things and hope I did not do a disservice to his original designs.  Thanks Timothy. Your recipe was the best overview I found on this truly awesome meal…And you were right, the chicharones were my favorite part!

Eric Ackerson
Eric Ackerson is a food writer, blogger and seafood marketing professional. His work takes him to many ports of call around the world. Currently Eric is cooking the national dish of every country on Earth at his blog My Hungry Tum. Eric enjoys travel and says his favorite food cities are Singapore and Vancouver. He lives in Charlotte NC with his wife and two daughters who he says are quickly becoming “foodies” themselves…
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