Color Therapy in Cooking and Colombia

The rainbow shades of Bogata, Colombia.

Crimson, ochre, emerald, fuschia, celadon, aubergine, tangerine – those are just a few of the everyday shades that radiate from the country most often recognized as hosting the happiest residents on Earth. Welcome to Week 10 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

This week we are in Colombia via the kitchen to make a bountiful one pot comfort meal bursting with vibrant vegetables, spices and herbs.  We’ll also be discussing color therapy in relation to cooking and how it can instantly lift your spirit and help calm your anxiety. Two factors that seem especially important these days when it comes to navigating quarantine, the coronavirus and the current state of our world.

All of the images in this week’s post (except the recipe-related ones) were taken by photographers in Colombia, each capturing the jubilant atmosphere of a country caught up in color. Get ready to be dazzled dear kitcheners. Joyful images of bright beauty await. Welcome to life inside a rainbow. Welcome to Colombia…

The Colombian flag flying high in Bogata. Photograph by Flavia Carpia
Parrots of Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia
The verdant mountains of Salento, Colombia. Photograph by Christian Rodriguez
Shopping in Colombia captures all your attention. Photograph by Michael Baron

As you can see, it’s pretty difficult to talk about Colombia and not talk about hues bright and bold. Everything from their buildings to their birds to their landscapes to their food burst with  colors impossible to ignore.

Cartegena,Colombia. Photograph by Ricardo Gomez Angel.
Colombia is home to 4,000 thousand varieties of orchids. It is even their national flower. Photo by Steve Seck

There are lots of theories that float around about why Colombia in particular, a country that has known poverty, hardship, and crime for most of the past two centuries, continues to remain recognized for glee and good nature.

Flowers float and fall everywhere. This is someone’s front door in Bolivar, Colombia. Photograph by Regina Anaejionu

 

Colorful birds zip around the skies. Photograph by Andres Herrera.
Even a morning cup of coffee starts with a shade of sunshine. Photograph taken at a cafe in Bogata, Colombia by Dan Gold.
Cano Crisrales – known as the most colorful river in the world due to an array of multi-colored seasonal algae blossoms is located in the Macarena Mountain Range in Meta, Colombia

Some speculate that it’s because of its incredible biodiversity, or the fact that bicycling is the king of all roads and exercise, or that personal relationships are the most valued treasure. Others say that it is more psychological.

Where the flamingos meet. Parque Natural Los Flamenco in Camarones, Colombia.

In general, the simple joys of life in Colombia are revered – socializing, storytelling, dancing, laughing, cooking, eating, spending time together. In Colombia, senior citizens are considered the loudest voices, change is constant, attitudes are relaxed and expectations are low. All of these qualities yield more content behavior and a fuller appreciation of things that Colombians do have instead of things they don’t have. There is also carnival. Consistent year-round reminders to celebrate and extol their unique cultural heritage might just be one reason, the reason, why Colombians may be happier than most nationalities. Every month of the year in Colombia you can find at least a handful of festivals somewhere within the country each celebrating a wide variety of things – folklore, religion, history, etc. In total, Colombia hosts over 120 festivals a year, which basically boils down to a party every three days.

Every day is a good day to fly a pennant flag in Colombia! Photograph by Jorge Gardener

I like to think that it has something to do with Colombia’s food culture too. In addition, to happy spirits, Colombia is home to happy habitats for an immense range of plants and animals (close to 60,000 species). Being the second most biodiverse country in the world means having easy (or at least easier) access to a wide variety of naturally fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, shapes and consistencies.

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel

In Colombia you can find it all – forests, seasides, wetlands, mountains, flat lands, big cities, small towns, deserts, lakes, rivers, streams, remote outposts and everything in between. This is important for variety and interest when it comes to diet. Boredom is the number one killer of a good appetite, but when you are lucky enough to live in a place where such culinary abundance abounds, then naturally your day will be more enticing just based solely on the food you have available to feed your family, your friends and yourself.

Colombian corn. Photograph by Frank Merino.
Roadside cafe amidst color and character. Photograph by Frank Mercado.

The Colombian diet varies between regions but most commonly consists of a medley of rice, corn, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, beans, grains, dairy, fruit, coffee and chocolate. This week we are making Colombian Beef Stew, the most colorful dish of the Recipe Tour so far.

Colombian Beef Stew circa 1971

I’ve always thought of beef stew as a brown, lumpy semi-soup, a conglomeration that contains hours of cooked meat and soggy vegetables and bland, basic flavors. This is not the case of stew in Colombia. Based on the photos of the country peppered throughout this post should we be surprised that Colombian Beef Stew is a kaleidoscope of color too?

You’ll notice that this recipe includes traditional hallmarks of beef stew – meat, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions but it differs in the way it is cooked and offers some interesting ingredients that yield a wonderful array of complimentary flavors.  I loved it for its non-brown broth, dynamic appearance, and its inclusion of whole corn cobs. It also contains an interesting wheel of precise spice, which I found intriguing… 6 peppercorns (not 5, not 7!), one garlic clove halved (not minced nor crushed), dried oregano as opposed to fresh and cider vinegar (a third acid  – on top of tomatoes and onions).

Admittedly, it started out as one of those recipes I didn’t really have high hopes for based on my predilection for not really liking beef stew to begin with. Also, it called for whole ears of corn. Something I have never bought 1) in the grocery store or 2) in the middle of March. This recipe showed me what a corn evader I’ve been all these years. The farmers market in the middle of hot, humid, high summer is the only time I’ve ever purchased ears of corn, assuming that local, like tomatoes, would far surpass anything available from the trucked in variety at the grocery store.  This recipe made me reconsider all that. The corn was wonderful and just as comparable in taste as a mid-summer crop.

Most importantly though, I loved this recipe for its vivid arrangement. The days as of late have been grey and rainy around here, as if Lady Nature was just as forlorn about all the recent world events. But in the kitchen, in the stew pot, in this recipe, my senses delighted. There was the bright red of the grass-fed beef, the flamboyant orange of the carrots, the vivacity of the celery greens. The saffron bled a watery shade of marigold when mixed with water, the cumin smelled of wood smoke, and the sight of the tomato red cook pot itself  – an inheritance from my dear dad’s collection – brought instant joy. All of this is most revealing in a myriad of subtle ways.

Color works magic on our bodies whether we recognize it or not. Thanks to neurons, electromagnetic energy, pulsating frequencies, and the subconscious way in which we process information, our response to color when it comes to cooking and food is both revealing, comforting, therapeutic and ever changing.

It’s the reason why in times of stress or struggle we crave foods that are yellow, red or brown (think macaroni and cheese, red lentils, lasagna, beans or burgers). They are the comforting caretaker colors. Brown nurtures the spirit, red gives us energy and yellow offers optimism. All things your body inherently craves and needs in order to overcome sadness, depression, trauma or lack of control.  Blue foods are calming and signal self-care. Green foods signal health, vitality, and creativity while orange foods trigger happiness.

So while I was throwing carrots, celery, stew meat, cumin, saffron, corn and peas into a pot I was also adding comfort, energy, optimism, vitality and happiness to the mix. No wonder I loved this recipe so much! This sounds like a pretty good way to inherently fight back against the coronavirus, and the day to day uncertainty of navigating an international crisis while recovering from the effects of a tornado.

It also makes sense reagrding Colombia and why it radiates with joy. All their color balances all their emotions. Their bright and bold palettes soothe and comfort and excite and calm. Their colorful culture invokes passion and positivity.  It enchants and exhilarates. Happiness begets happiness. Color brings joy. Whether you are talking about a banana, a building, a bed of flowers or a beef stew:)

If things seem insurmountably bleak these days, I recommend pulling out the biggest cooking pot you have and filling it with some Colombian Beef Stew. It may not be the answer to everything, but it is a start to feeling better. Sometimes all we need to get us through is just a splash of color.

Colombian Beef and Vegetable Stew (Cocido Bogotano)

(Serves 6-8)

2 lbs boneless lean beef stew meat, cut into 1.5 inch cubes (I used grass-fed beef)

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

6 peppercorns

1 clove garlic, halved

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

3 cups plus 1 teaspoon cold water

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

4 ribs celery, sliced

4 ears of corn, shucked and cut into 2 inch lengths

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup diced tomato ( I used canned since it’s not tomato season quite yet!)

1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (Special Note: So far, I’ve found that Trader Joe’s is the best place to find this at the most reasonable price)

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

Place the meat in a saucepan with the bay leaf, cumin, peppercorns, garlic, vinegar, salt and three cups water.

Cover and cook slowly for one hour, until the meat is almost tender.

Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, corn, onion and tomato.

Cover and cook for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Dissolve the saffron in one teaspoon water and add to stew, along with the oregano and peas. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are done. Serve in bowls accompanied with slices of rustic bread and garnished with celery leaves.

Cheers to Colombia for providing a much needed dose of color and joy to our lives this week and to the humble stew pot for managing to be both a homecooker and a therapist all in one!

Join us next Wednesday for Week 11 when we head to Cuba where we get wrapped up in the world of slow roasting and botanicals. In the meantime, take care of your yourself and your spirit.

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