Colombian fare is colonial Spanish in character with the authentic flavors of the indigenous population. Foods are cooked with olive oil, heavy cream, coconut milk, or cheese and flavored with ground cumin, annatto, parsley, cilantro, chopped onions, tomatoes, and garlic. The Colombian diet includes a lot of meat, and grilling is a very popular cooking method. Guascas, an herb native to Colombia with a flavor similar to boiled peanuts, adds a distinct flavor to many dishes. Hot chile pepper sauces are often used as an accompaniment to the meal. Tropical fruits are abundant and eaten for dessert, snack, or as a garnish to the meal. Potatoes are an important part of the South American diet. In Colombia, tubers (oca, yacón) similar to potatoes are eaten raw or cooked. Milk is not often consumed as a beverage but is used in fruit-based drinks and in desserts or added to coffee.
Most Colombians consider themselves to be members of the Roman Catholic Church. However, Catholic practices are often combined with indigenous, African, and sixteenth century Spanish customs and beliefs. To honor religious deities, some people will eat or avoid certain foods. In addition, some South Americans may follow a hot-cold classification of foods as a healthful way of eating. Depending upon beliefs, certain foods may be eaten at specific times of day and combinations of some foods may be avoided.
Many social and public health problems continue to plague Colombian society including drug abuse, sexual abuse of women and children, social inequality, endemic tropical diseases, political instability and violence, and human trafficking among other issues.
Parasitic infection, iron-deficiency anemia, and protein-calorie malnutrition are common in many rural areas of Colombia and in some crowded urban cities as well.
Folate – Folate is needed for making DNA in new cells and for the production of red blood cells and RNA in bone marrow. It is critical for spinal cord and brain development in embryos. Spina bifida and other neural tube defects have been associated with folate deficiency. Folate also contributes to heart health because it disposes of homocysteine, an amino acid that may lead to heart disease. Symptoms of folate deficiency are similar to vitamin B12 deficiency (see below) without the neurological manifestations.
Iron – Iron is necessary for oxygen delivery to cells and regulation of cell growth. Iron deficiency develops gradually and is commonly seen in women of childbearing age and children. A lack of iron results in an insufficient supply of oxygen to cells eventually causing anemia, fatigue, poor work performance, slow cognitive and social development in children, and decreased immunity.
Iodine – Iodine is needed for production of thyroid hormone. Deficiency of iodine can lead to development of an enlarged thyroid called a goiter, hypothyroidism, and mental retardation in children whose mothers were iodine deficient during pregnancy.
Vitamin A – Vitamin A plays a critical role in healthy vision, growth and development, and immune function. Vitamin A deficiency is common in developing countries and is often accompanied by zinc deficiency. Symptoms of deficiency include blindness, diminished ability to fight infections, decreased growth rate, and slow bone development. Vitamin A helps mobilize iron from its storage sites, so a deficiency of vitamin A limits the body’s ability to use stored iron. This results in an “apparent” iron deficiency because iron levels in the blood are low even though body stores are normal.
Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 is involved in energy production as well as converting the inactive form of folate to its active form. Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur with folate deficiency. Supplementation with high doses of folate can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, which is why it is important to differentiate folate deficiency from vitamin B12 deficiency and treat each condition accordingly. Vitamin B12 deficiency usually occurs slowly overtime and is characterized by macrocytic (megaloblastic) anemia, gastrointestinal symptoms (loss of appetite, nausea, inflamed tongue), neurological symptoms, psychiatric disorders (irritability, memory impairment, depression), and possible increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
Zinc – Zinc is involved in many important processes in the body. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include delayed growth, loss of appetite, impaired immune function, hair loss, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation, eye and skin lesions, delayed wound healing, taste abnormalities, and mental fatigue.
Milk/Milk Products – cow’s, goat’s milk; evaporated milk; fresh and aged cheeses
Meat/Poultry/Fish – beef, goat, mutton, pork, indigenous meats (alligator, armadillo, capybara, frog, guinea pig, iguana, llama, rabbit, tapir), chicken, duck, turkey, abalone, bass, catfish, cod, crab, eel, haddock, lobster, oysters, scallops, shrimp, squid, trout, tuna
Eggs/Legumes – chicken, quail, and turtle eggs; beans (black, cranberry, kidney), black-eyed peas
Cereals/Grains – amaranth, corn, rice, quinoa, wheat
Fruits – acerola, apples, banana/plantains, caimito, cashew apple (cajú), casimiroa, cherimoya, custard apple, feijoa, guava, grapes, jackfruit, jabitocaba, lemons, limes, lulo (naranjillo), mammea, mango, melon, olives, oranges (sweet and sour), palm fruits, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, pitango, quince, raisins, roseapple, sapote, soursop, sweetsop, strawberries
Vegetables – jicama, apio, avocado, cassava, green peppers, green pumpkin (calabaza), hearts of palm, kale, okra, oca, onions, roselle, squash (chayote, winter), sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yacón, yams
Seasonings – achiote, allspice, chiles, cilantro, cinnamon, citrus juices, garlic, ginger root, oregano, paprika, parsley, pimento, scallions, thyme, vinegar
Nuts/Seeds – Brazil nuts, cashews, coconut, peanuts, pumpkin seeds
Beverages – tropical fruit juices, coffee, guaraná, soft drinks, sugarcane juice, tea, yerba maté
Fats/Oils – palm oil, olive oil, butter
Sweeteners – sugar cane, brown sugar, honey
Three meals a day with an afternoon snack is traditional among middle-class and affluent people, but the poor are often limited to an early breakfast with a large dinner around 6 p.m. Breakfast is typically a light meal consisting of bread or a roll with jam and a cup of coffee and may also include fresh fruit, pastries, or ham and cheese. Lunch is the main meal of the day for those who can afford more than two meals daily and is consumed leisurely among family and friends. Appetizers may start the meal, followed by a meat or seafood stew or a grilled meat dish. Side dishes of rice, manioc, beans, potatoes, or greens are served with the meal. Dessert consists of flan, sweet custard, or pudding. Dinner is lighter and may only consist of cold cuts, a seafood salad, or a serving of soup or stew. The meal is served around 9:00 p.m. and often continues past midnight. Fruit juice and soft drinks are popular beverages. Colombian coffee is world famous and is consumed often. A snack may be fresh fruit, a few arepas (bread made from cornmeal), a sandwich, or a pastry. Street vendors offering snacks are common in urban areas. The poor often skip lunch and eat a larger dinner earlier, which consists of soup or stew with a side dish of potatoes, plantains, cassava, corn, or rice and beans.
Family life is very important in South America. In Colombia the father holds authority, and children are taught to obey their parents. Traditionally, women prepared meals and served them to men, who ate their food first. This custom is still practiced in many rural and even some urban homes. European-style dining is common, and all food items, (except for bread) are eaten using fork and/or knife. All items are passed to the left. When not eating, the hands should stay above the table with wrists resting on the edge. The meal does not start until the host says, “¡Buen provecho!”
The transition diet is one you develop to help bridge the gap between your child’s native diet and what eventually will become his or her regular diet at home. The transition diet often includes recipes and foods from the native diet. A good way to start the transition process is to ask exactly what foods your child ate in the orphanage or foster home, using that as a base for your cooking at home. As one parent put it, “I would encourage all parents to adapt the foods they present to mimic what the child had at the orphanage during the first months home. It is an easy adaptation that parents can make to create a more familiar environment during what can be a hard transition.” It may also be helpful to watch the caregivers feed your child at least one meal before returning home. Simple things such as the temperature or texture of foods may be important to your child. One mother wrote, “Our daughter was on formula at the orphanage but they gave it to her very, very hot. It took us a while to realize she wanted everything HOT and would cry hysterically if it wasn’t hot.” Even if you don’t know exactly what your child ate previously, incorporating native foods into his or her diet is a great way to help your child transition to a new culture, as well as preserve traditions from his or her first culture.
Some common Colombian foods include changua (a breakfast soup—see recipe below), arepas (corn patties), and granadilla, which is an exotic fruit more commonly known as passion fruit. To eat it, simply cut it open and use a spoon to eat the seeds and pulp inside. Other foods that were readily eaten immediately after adoption include soft boiled eggs, rice and beans, soups, yogurt, bananas, and Avena (an oatmeal drink).
Here is a recipe for changua from blogger Colombian Mommy. She says, “If you have adopted from, or are adopting from Bogotá, Cundinamarca, or Boyacá, it is likely that your child/ren has eaten this unusual soup which is a descendant of the native Chibcha indians.” Visit her Colombian blog, titled “Colombian Culture, Colombia Adoption and Raising Colombian Kids” at http://raisingcolombiankids.blogspot.com
Changua (sounds horrible, but it is healthy and my son still eats bowlfuls 2 years later)
1.5 cups water
3-4 green onions cut into 1/4 inch pieces (cebolla larga)
1/4 garlic tooth (diente de ajo)
Salt to Taste (sal)
Boil these together until the water turns yellowy. Take out the onion pieces and garlic. Crack 1 egg and let it cook in the boiling water.
In the meantime make a piece of toast and butter it (use lots of butter or margarine – just not the low–fat stuff). If you are in Colombia, ask for a Calado, oft pronounced Calao. In a bowl, break the Calado into small pieces, or if back home, break the toast into little pieces in a bowl. Add ½ cup cold milk to water/egg mixture and dump the whole thing on the bread in the bowl. You get 1 serving of milk, 1 of bread and 1 egg. My mother-in-law puts little chopped up cilantro in it, but I leave it out as my son kind of chokes on it.
Note, this is a breakfast food! (source http://raisingcolombiankids.blogspot.com/2009/01/abuelita-carmens-amazing-changua.html)
Colombia’s national dish, Aljiaco is a thick, hearty potato and chicken stew. Three types of potatoes are used one of which, papa criolla, is native to the country. This yellow potato breaks down during the cooking process, helping to thicken the stew. The South American herb, guascas, imparts a distinct and authentic flavor.
¼ of an onion, sliced lengthwise
1 bunch cilantro
6 scallions, white parts only
1 clove garlic
1 stalk celery
4 quarts water
1 chicken (3½ pounds), skinned and quartered (hint: many meat departments will do this for you)
4 chicken bouillon cubes
4 ears corn
2 pounds red bliss potatoes, peeled and cut into medium slices
3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium slices
2 pounds papa criolla (Colombian yellow potatoes available at Latin American specialty markets frozen or in jars), peeled and quartered
1 packet (0.35 ounces) dried guascas (available at Latin American specialty markets)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup heavy cream
3 avocados coarsely chopped
½ cup capers, not drained
Aji salsa (see recipe below)
On a large piece of cheesecloth, bundle together the onion, cilantro, scallions, garlic and celery. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth and fasten with kitchen twine. Place it in a large stockpot with the water, the chicken pieces and the bouillon cubes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, with bubbles just breaking the surface for about 30 minutes, skimming any foam that forms on the top if necessary. Remove the chicken. When cool, shred the breast meat and set aside. Reserve the thigh and drumstick meat for another use.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the corn and red bliss potatoes to the pot. Boil for 10 minutes. Add the russet potatoes and cook for 20 minutes. Add the papa criolla and half of the packet of guascas and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour or until thickened. Remove the corn and, when cooled enough to handle, cut cobs into 2-inch rounds. Return corn to the pot with the remaining half-packet of guascas.
Remove and discard the cheesecloth bundle. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Serve with shredded chicken and other garnishes in separate serving bowls.
Colombian households have their own favorite version of this salsa, which gives the soup a bright burst of flavor. In lieu of hot pepper sauce, you can use 4 red chili peppers, finely chopped. Adjust the spiciness to your family’s preferences. You can chop ingredients using a knife or throw everything into a food processor.
2 bunches cilantro (about 1½ cups), finely chopped
6 scallions, white parts only, finely chopped
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco) or to taste
6 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
1 cup water
In a medium bowl, combine the cilantro, scallions, hot pepper sauce or chili peppers, tomatoes, water and salt to taste. The mixture should taste like a salsa but with a more liquid consistency. If not using right away, cover and refrigerate.
Both recipes adapted from Colombian Embassy chef Gladys Rodriguez, tested by Leigh Lambert for The Washington Post.
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