Colombia is one of the favourites of this World Cup – not only because they are a strong team, ranked 8th in FIFA’s world ranking, but also because they are in a what can only be called a relatively easy group. Their star player, Radamel Falcao, one of the best strikers in the world according to my (Colombian) sources, is unfortunately out because of an injury, but his Monaco teammate, James Rodriguez, will try and make the best of it. With Japan, Ivory Coast and Greece in their group it shouldn’t be too difficult to progress. As I have drawn Colombia in the staff sweepstakes, I am full of confidence they will win and give me a good return for the £2 I paid to enter.
To celebrate Colombia’s first appearance, my Colombian friends have invited everyone to watch the match and to stuff themselves with Colombian food. One of the most popular Colombian dishes are arepas, a type of cornbread that is served at most meals in Colombia. Grandmothers used to get up at four in the morning to grind and cook the corn in order to have the bread ready for breakfast, but with the invention of pre-cooked cornflour. ‘harina P.A.N‘, this process has been made much easier. Nevertheless it did take us a long time to prepare this specific festive dish of filled arepas with pulled beef, as the meat had to be cooked for several hours in a slow cooker. Whether they are European, Asian or American. traditional dishes take a lot of time – a clear indicator that time was much less precious in the past when these traditions were developing.
The dish is worth every minute of its preparation, though – the intense flavours of the slow-cooked beef are to die for. And as for the arepas, they form the perfect base for this delicious feast. Let’s hope that the ‘cafeteros‘, the ‘coffee farmers’ as the Colombian team is called at home, live up to it!
Arepas con Carne Desmechada (serves 8)
For the meat:
- 1 kg skirt beef
- 2 large onions, cut in coarse chunks
- 5 spring onions
- 4 cloves or garlic
- 2 beef cubes
- 2 stalks of celery, sliced
- 1 bunch of coriander/cilantro
Put all the ingredients into a slow cooker and simmer at a high temperature for around 7 hours or until the meat is disintegrating and you can pull it apart very easily. If you use a pressure cooker, this will only take an hour or so – check, and if the meat is not coming apart, simply cover and simmer it for a bit longer.
Once it has cooled down, remove the meat and the onions and put them on a separate plate. Pull the meat apart and into a separate bowl. You will need the meat and part of the onions for the finished dish, as well as some of the remaining liquid. Whatever is left will make an excellent base for soup or even gravy: simply freeze in portions in freezer bags.
For the sauce:
- 1 1/2 large onions (we used red onions)
- 350g tomato, cut into large chunks
- 2 spring onions
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp oregano
- 1 pinch ground cumin
- 5 leaves of fresh basil
- ¼ tsp dried thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat some oil in a large frying pan and sauté the vegetables at a medium heat until the vegetables are soft. Season well, and don’t skimp on the pepper! Add the meat and about 1/3 of the onions that were leftover from cooking the meat, as well as enough of the liquid to prevent it from drying out. Cover and let it simmer on a low heat until the arepas are ready to be filled.
Arepas (Fried Cornbread)
- 1 kg precooked corn flour (Harina Pan is a brand you can find in South American or Portuguese shops)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp soft butter
In a bowl, pour 1/2 a cup of warm water and add the corn flour, salt and butter. Mix thoroughly, adding more warm water to make a soft dough. Split the dough into 20 pieces and form them into balls.
Heat oil and butter in one or more big griddles or frying pans. Once the fat is fairly hot, reduce to a medium heat. Flatten one of the corn flour balls until to ca. 1 cm thickness and put it in the fat to slowly fry; add more if you have space in the pan and let them fry until they are slightly golden before turning them and repeating the process on the other side. This can take 10-15 minut. Keep the finished arepas in the oven whilst frying up the next batch.
Slice open and butter on both sides before filling with grated cheese and then the carne desmechada. Serve with avocado and chili sauce.
Arepas come in all forms and sizes: at halftime we ate a baked version, as well as Colombian empanadas and ají picante. And proper Colombian lemonade!
To finish it off some guava sweets, bocadillo de guayaba, made from guava and unrefined cane sugar and wrapped in a dried guava leaf – delicious!