To appreciate Colombian cooking is to recognize the incredible biodiversity of the South American country, its wondrous array of fruits, vegetables and meats, and the lasting impact of its women, known as Colombianas, on the region’s abiding culinary tradition and unwavering hospitality. In her cookbook titled, Colombiana, which debuts today, veteran tastemaker and food stylist Mariana Velasquez deftly shares the sights, sounds, fragrances and flavors of her home country, while applauding the women who are the backbone of its cuisine and culture.
“Together, we (Colombianas) make up an undefinable mix of heritage, culture, and backgrounds,” she writes. “But while our struggles and inspirations vary by region and personal experience, I believe we share a core value: No matter the status, capacity, or budget, if you show up at our door, Colombianas will offer to feed you. Being generous with food is in our spirit.”
This cookbook is just gorgeous—photographed by the famous culinary photographers Gentl & Hyers—thanks to Mariana’s dual career as a writer and stylist. Mariana’s prose aligns perfectly with the book’s evocative imagery. She begins with a journey through the Colombian pantry and the country’s culinary geography, then lingers on an abiding tradition of entertaining (right down to suggestions for playlists and ideas for table settings!) Mariana’s grandmothers were first to school her in the ingredients and methods of her native cuisine, but their lesson in hospitality was one which she remembers the most. Indeed, Mariana told us her favorite lesson from her grandmothers was, “Practicality, generosity and always being prepared for last-minute guests.”
A tropically-inspired blend of sweet and savory is a hallmark of the cuisine, which takes its cues from “a hearty mix of Indigenous, African, and European cultures.” The mashed green banana purée recipe which follows is a case in point. The dish, Mariana tells us, “is particular to the Magdalena region, a center for banana production in the country. This mashed green banana puree is so local that it is rare to have in other places of the country.” It’s meant to be a savory breakfast, she explains, thanks to the “adult” taste of those green bananas (which have a touch of bitter, green flavors that meld perfectly with cheese and butter).
The music with which to accompany such a full-flavored morning meal? A South American mix of upbeat tracs such as “Move Along” by Salt Cathedral, “Marinero Wawani” by Monsieur Periné, and “Santa Marta” by las Taradas.
Cayeye Con Huevo Y Hierbas (Creamy Banana Puree With Poached Egg & Herbs)
Magdalena is a coastal state on Colombia’s Caribbean Sea surrounded by lush, endless banana plantations. A magical region filled with so much stupor and so many legends that the Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez chose this place as the imagined setting for his fictional Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Natural to this palpable magical realism is a nourishing farmer’s breakfast: pureed, cooked unripe bananas with butter and salty farmer’s cheese.
Eat slowly, mixing in the cheese with a spoon as you savor. In this version I took the liberty to add a poached egg and fresh herbs to brighten the flavors. It is most definitely a brunch favorite of mine.
- 6 medium green bananas, peeled
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 large organic eggs
- 1 cup grated dried, salty cheese (Costeño, ricotta salata, or Cotija)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 3 scallions thinly sliced, white as well as green part
- 1⁄2 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
Place the peeled bananas, garlic, and salt in a medium pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until soft, 8 to 10 minutes.
Over high heat, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Lower the temperature to medium-high, and bring the water to a gentle simmer. Prepare a medium-size bowl of warm water and place near the stove. Crack 1 egg into a small strainer over a bowl and drain any watery egg white. Discard the clear liquid in the bowl. Gently slide the egg into the simmering water, and cook, about 4 minutes, until the egg white is pulled together. Remove the egg from the water with a slotted spoon, and place into the warm water to hold while the other eggs poach. Repeat with each egg.
Remove the bananas and set aside. Discard the garlic clove and strain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. In a food processor, puree the bananas, cheese, butter, lime juice, and salt to taste. Scrape down the sides of the processor with a rubber spatula and stir well. Add 1⁄2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid and puree to soften. The mixture should be creamy but not too loose. Add the remaining 1⁄2 cup reserved liquid if it feels stiff. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
In a small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the scallions and stir until tender and the whites begin to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes.
To serve, divide the warm cayeye among the bowls, and top 1 egg, 1 tablespoon sautéed scallions, and cilantro. Finish with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serves 6.