Vegetarian Pioneer Woman in Colombia; the Food Edition

There was a time, back in the midst of our too busy lives in DC, when all I wanted to do was make hummus from scratch.  I was really kind of obsessed.  This was around the same time people started keeping chickens in the suburbs and the NY Times was full of articles about artisanal cheese/pickle/ketchup shops popping up in Brooklyn.  So clearly I wasn’t alone in my desires. Of course, I assumed when I eventually did have the time I’d be making my hummus with chickpeas from a can.

Colombia, you called my bluff.  There are no cans of chickpeas here.  And there is no hummus.  I like hummus and the boys do too (and they don’t like much these days).  Sam used to take it to school for lunch and just eat it with a spoon, and call it tummus, which I don’t correct because I think it’s funny.

Hummus Section

I have made hummus twice now and I don’t even want to calculate the hours spent because it’s too sad. It’s sad because my homemade hummus doesn’t taste very good. It’s passable for me, but the kids don’t like it. I’ve tried to make it like the store-bought kind and some internet research told me the trick is to remove the skins from the chickpeas after cooking them.  That adds about 45 minutes to the 14 hour prep time- just a drop in the bucket really.  It did seem to make it smoother, but it still doesn’t taste like Sabra or like anything from Whole Foods. (I know, it’s sad and really missing the point to be trying to mimic something mass-produced and store-bought, but it’s so good. I guess I don’t have artisanal taste.)  I’ve tried it with and without tahini, with more and less oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt… I’m not sure what other ingredients there are or what I’m missing, but I will keep trying.  I have to, because there aren’t many options.

I knew my vegetarian options would be limited in Colombia.  The traditional dish of the region is called Bandeja Paisa and includes the following:  an arepa (a Frisbee-like fried corn cake), skirt steak, pork chicharron, a fried egg, chorizo, stewed red beans with ham, and fried plantains.  Sometimes blood sausage is included as well.

Mondongo is a traditional soup served at lunchtime which includes tripe, pork and chorizo.  However, we had some amazing vegetarian food on our first visit to Bogotá.  There’s a chain of Pan-Asian restaurants in Bogotá called the Wok with some of the best sushi and summer rolls I’ve ever had. And we spotted a vegetarian grocery store!  But, we don’t live in Bogotá.

There are some good restaurants in Medellin but as far as cooking at home, let’s just say that thinking about Trader Joe’s makes me a little weepy.  Masala veggie burgers, soy chorizo, veggie crumbles, those Indian meals in a bag, and anything Amy’s brand… my former staples.  My other staples: cans of beans, jars of tomato sauce, and salsa.  You might be surprised to know that salsa, refried beans and tortillas are imported, very expensive, and not consumed so much here, outside of Mexican restaurants. I have managed to find some jars of salsa, but they are expensive and so ridiculously small.  They’re designed for using an occasional spoonful, not for the American style dump in a bowl and consume with an entire bag of chips. Pasta sauce is also crazy expensive.  I know people make their own sauce and I love anything tomato-based, so I’m not sure why I’ve never made it.  Probably because I love sauce from a jar so much; and it costs less than $3.00. It’s so delicious and easy and Trader Joes’s Puttanesca sauce is so good! Anyway, they have imported Prego for $8 a bottle here, but that’s about it. So now I must figure out how to make pasta sauce.  Suggestions and recipes welcome.  I made homemade Salsa Roja recently and it was okay.  It required coring, seeding, blanching and peeling the tomatoes, and only made up a small portion of the meal.  A big commitment for a Tuesday night dinner that half the family won’t touch.  I also made refried beans. (!! ) Who am I?  Vegetarian pioneer woman, that’s who.  If you have ever made your own refried beans, please let me know how you do it, because I find myself coveting the 90 cent can of refried beans over the ones I spent 5 hours making, thanks to Mark Bittman’s recipe.

I have a love/hate relationship with Mark Bittman right now. He is a NY Times contributor and wrote the cookbooks “How to Cook Everything” and “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” among others.  His recipes are good and simple and the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian app on my ipad has helped me a lot.  He tells me how to make beans from scratch, using several different methods- quick soak, long soak, no soak. He converts things to metric for me.  And he provides recipe alternatives.  But he also says things like this:

“Chickpeas in Their Own Broth, with Crisp Bread Crumbs: Chickpeas and their broth are so flavorful they hardly need anything else to be completely delicious, but a bit of garlic and a good olive oil make this dish spectacular. Cooking your own chickpeas is really essential here, because canned chickpeas just don’t have the flavor.”

Really Mark?  First of all, I just can’t imagine anyone getting excited about chickpeas in their own broth.  Kids, it’s chickpeas in their own broth tonight!  And second of all, my non-canned chickpeas are not flavorful or spectacular.  I soaked them for many hours, like you said, and boiled them for many hours, checking every 10-15 minutes like you said.  But they never seemed right.  Eventually I just stopped cooking them because I had gone past the 2 hour maximum suggested boiling time, but they were not quite soft enough.  In fairness to Mark, I think the fact that we’re at altitude is messing everything up. And of course it would all be so much easier with a crock pot or a pressure cooker, which I don’t have. The good news is I’m learning new things and if stranded in an Amish family’s kitchen I might be able to make a passable meal.  The bad news is I’m way too busy soaking, boiling, mashing and pureeing various legumes to study any Spanish. So my progress there hasn’t been so great.

While many of the foods I love either don’t exist here or are crazy expensive, there is some good news.  Tomatoes, mangoes and pineapples are cheap and plentiful!  These honey gold pineapples cost less than $1.00! Yummmm.

And I am addicted to these lemon lime plantain chips.

When you come visit, please bring some hummus and I will send you home with a jumbo bag of these.  Thanks!

One Comment on “Vegetarian Pioneer Woman in Colombia; the Food Edition”

  1. cousin Liz says:

    Try adding cumin to your hummus. Or peanut butter instead of tahini- it changes the flavour, in a good way. You could try different beans instead of chick peas. Do they have white beans? Or add carmelized onions? Good luck!


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