Recently in Bogota Colombia, I took a cooking class, where my friends and I learned to make a special Colombian dish: Sancocho.
The class was taught in Spanish by a woman named Doña Elsa, and it was a privilege to get to cook with her in her home. While nobody in our group was fluent in the local language, we knew enough to enjoy and learn from the cooking course.
As soon as I walked in, colorful antique furniture and plants everywhere and her children playing in their room, I was immediately happy with my choice to immerse myself in local culinary culture.
Once in the kitchen, Doña Elsa immediately put us to work, chopping potatoes, yucca and plantains and shucking chocla (corn) and beans before adding them along with a giant spoonful of salt into a boiling pot of water and chicken legs. While Doña Elsa touted each step of the recipe as being muy facil (very easy), I beg to differ. Individually picking corn kernels from the cob or cutting yucca in a swivel motion may have been simple for a pro like her, but for my group and I, proved a bit more difficult, albeit enlightening.
Overall, however, I’d say even with a few cutting mistakes it’s not hard to make this simple dish come out delicious as long as you get the ingredients out of their skins and into the boiling pot.
Sancocho is usually served on Sundays and during festivals in Colombia, with its origins in the Canary Islands, although there it is typically made with fish. When Spanish colonization of much of Latin America occurred during the late 15th through late 19th centuries, Sancocho was brought to the Americas. Over time, it is developed its own regional characteristics, differing a bit depending where you are.
While the soup boils, Doña Elsa lets us explore her family’s other passion: woodcrafting. A small in-house workshop housed hand-etched pillars for local alter restorations and frames for religious paintings. Her husband was nice enough to show us a piece of wood with tracings in it to demonstrate exactly how he cut out the intricate shapes of the furniture using small tools.
Doña Elsa also loves gardening, which was apparent by the many colorful flowers littering her home as well as the open-house plan that opened up into the outdoors to a scene of lush trees and flora.
After exploring her home, our group sat down to eat our creation. Steaming bowls of Sancocho were topped with cilantro and served alongside giant slices of avocado. Moreover, glasses of home-made lulo fruit juice added a sweet touch to the savory soup.
Along with the opportunity to make my own food — which came out pretty darn good, if you ask me — the cooking class was special because it allowed me to spend the afternoon in a local home. It was incredibly interesting getting to know about Doña Elsa’s life and interests, and to meet her husband and children. Moreover, it provided a great bonding experience for my friends and I, as we competed to see who could de-shell beans or pick kernels off corn cobs better than the other, all while sipping shot glasses of locally-bought wine.
For anyone looking to explore culture through the palate in Bogota, a cooking class with Doña Elsa is highly recommended. That being said, if you can’t travel at the moment I’m providing a recipe below for you to try at home to have your own global table adventure.
Here is how my group made Sancocho during the cooking class, although there are different variations of the soup if you look online. The following recipe should serve about 6-8 people:
1 gallon of water
1 yucca (peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces)
2 green plantains (peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces)
2 ripe plantains
4 ears of corn (kernels are picked off one-by-one)
5 potatoes (cut into 2-inch pieces)
6-8 chicken legs or 1 whole chicken
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 cups lima beans
2 cups frijoles
1 large tablespoon of salt
2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1) You’ll first boil the chicken, chicken bouillon cubes, plantains, corn and salt on medium heat for about 30 minutes.
2) Add in the rest of the ingredients (aside for the cilantro and avocado) and continue to boil for about 30 more minutes.
3) When all ingredients are cooked and tender, put it into bowls.
4) Serve with cilantro on top and avocado on the side. Pepper may also be added if you like.
Have you had Sancocho before? Please share your experience in the comments below.