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.

Thoughts on Love, Dinner and New Discoveries Courtesy of Brazil

Happy Valentine’s week fellow kitcheners! Since love and romance are dominating the spotlight right now, it’s wonderfully fortuitous that the featured destination on our International Vintage Recipe Tour this week wound up being Brazil. It’s not good to generalize people or countries, but Brazil is known to be a passionate place.

Beautiful Brazil!

Consistently included in top ten lists as one of the world’s most romantic nationalities, it’s safe to say that Brazil is in love with love. And we are not just talking romantic relationships here. Brazilians are known to be equally passionate about their hometown  soccer team, their spouse, their favorite carnival and their kitchen.  Ah serendipity! On this week of hearts and roses and pink colored everything, a romantic holiday dinner awaits us here in the Vintage Kitchen.

Or so I imagined!

I was hoping that our vintage recipe was going to highlight a dinner food that matched the passionate place from which it came.  Surprisingly  that wasn’t quite the case. On today’s menu we are making Picadinho a Brasileira, a recipe that roughly translates to “Minced to the Brazilian” in Portuguese. A popular heritage dish especially in Southeastern Brazil, there are two main versions of picadinho – one a hearty beef stew with whole vegetables and the other a slow simmered light and fluffy ground beef cooked with wine and vegetables.

Picadinho a Brasileira

Our recipe this week involves the latter.  Not exactly one of the glamour foods usually touted on Valentine’s Day menus (steak, lobster, oysters, anything drenched in champagne or chocolate) ground beef always tends to get relegated to more humble, homey everyday recipes like meatloaf, burgers, tacos and casseroles. It’s never a dish you see people eating in romantic movies. It’s never the culinary centerpiece tucked in between candlelight and flower bouquets. And it’s definitely not the most tantalizing type of meat to photograph.

I don’t know exactly what I expected of Brazilian food at the start of Week 6, but I think I was hoping for something a little more exotic in the food spectrum, something that matched the passion of the people. A recipe that involved colorful fruit perhaps or a sea swimmer from the waters of the Atlantic. Picadinho a Brasileira is neither of those two things. But after making this recipe and thinking about it for a bit, I came to realize that it is in actuality, an absolutely wonderful and appropriate dish to share with your sweetheart or your gaggle of loved ones on Valentine’s Day. More reasons on that shortly.

Tonight we’ll dive right into the recipe so that we can talk about the unique aspects and attributes of it after all the steps are laid out. A super easy recipe to make (a nice reprieve after the confusing fondue affair of last week!) Picadinho a Brasileira is a one pot dish that slow simmers on the stove for almost two hours.  It includes half a bottle of wine, a satisfying amount of vegetable chopping and six eggs (something that originally sounded a bit unusual). It’s also low-maintenance thanks to the slow cooking so it conveniently allows time for you to do other stuff while its simmering away. Maybe that’s where you can fit some extra time for romance:)

Picadinho a Brasileira

Serves 6-8

1/2 cup olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, coursely chopped

2 lbs ground beef (I used grass-fed)

6 eggs

2 ribs celery, including leaves, finely chopped

1 green pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup finely chopped parsley

2 cans (17 oz. each) Italian style tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups dry red wine (I used Storyteller Red Blend)

Hot red pepper flakes to taste

Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook until golden brown, stirring frequently.

While the onions are cooking, place the meat in a large bowl. Add the eggs, celery, green pepper, parsley and tomatoes.

Combine everything together with your hands until it is thoroughly mixed. (Note: This step is a little soupy and a little sludgy not to mention both visually and tactile-wise pretty unappealing, but don’t worry, it gets better soon.)

Add the mixture to the onions in the pan and cook stirring until well blended and the meat loses its red color. Cook the mixture 15 minutes and then add the salt (I used about  1 1/2 teaspoons), pepper (I used about 1/2 teaspoon) and one cup of wine. Cover and cook 15 minutes longer.  (Side Note:  If you are following the Recipe Tour over on Instagram too, you can see a  little video of this step in the Highlights section. Every Sunday, I post a sneak peek video of the recipe coming up, so if you are big into previews come visit the Vintage Kitchen Instagram page on Sundays!)

Now back to the recipe!

Add the remaining wine  and red pepper flakes (I used about two pinches), then partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally, one hour or longer. At the beginning of the one hour of cooking, the picadinho will be very liquidy, but as it cooks over the next 60 minutes, it will dry out and all of the moisture will evaporate. At that stage it will look like this…

…a  mixture that mirrors taco meat but is much lighter and fluffier. Once all the liquid has evaporated the dish is done and is ready for serving.

Traditionally, you’d accompany Picadinho  a Brasileira with white rice or farofa (which is a Brazilian form of farina – something similar to cream of wheat). However, I wasn’t that excited about either option when it came to pretty plating,  visual appeal and a Valentine vibe. As you can see the picadihno has lost most of its vegetable color and is pretty much in the end just one shade of brown. It is not the most visually striking dish that we have made so far, but what it lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in delicious flavor.

Between the fruity notes of the wine, the citrus notes of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the onions, combined with the fact that it looks a lot like taco meat, my first impression upon tasting it was to pair it with something in the corn family. Something like tortillas. Although this dish would be fantastic with such a companion, corn tortillas are not widely consumed in Brazil, so to stick a little closer to a more authentic meal, I chose corn grits since they are more similar to the consistency of farofa. Made with milk, Parmesan cheese and butter, the grits add color, a creamy texture and a complimentary corn flavor that blends all the ingredients in the picadinho together so well. I also added some freshly chopped onion, parsley and green pepper for a burst of fresh crunch and more color.

All sorts of other garnishes like sour cream, cheddar cheese, olives, avocado, cilantro, basil (basically anything you enjoy on a taco)  would also be delicious here, albeit not very Brazilian. But that, I discovered, was really the fun of this recipe. It is open to creativity, to interpretation, to personal touch. Which brings us back to why this recipe is actually a very good choice for Valentine’s Day. Let’s look…

  1. It has the ability to showcase your own creative flair and your personal passion for cooking. Wrap it up in pastry dough like empanadas, stuff it into pasta shells, serve it over potatoes or transform it into a patty melt. It’s yours to experiment with, to make, to mold, to accent and to call your own. It’s a love letter to your culinary ingenuity!
  2. For all the lovebirds that like to eat together, it’s a shareable meal.
  3. It’s family friendly, thanks to its basic ingredients, making it inclusive for all the ones you share your life with.
  4. It feeds a crowd, so if you wanted to throw a galentine party this Valentine’s Day it’s a delicious option for both entrees or hors d’oeuvres.
  5. It’s a food that stimulates the art of conversation and encourages new ideas, which means it’s pretty much guaranteed to keep the attention of fellow diners for at least a little while.

Picadinho a Brasileira may not be chocolate covered strawberries or lobster thermidor or a fancy special occasion food brought out once a year, but any Brazilian would tell you that love deserves to be extended, extolled and celebrated every moment, every day, not just on February 14th. Romance doesn’t have to be elaborate in order to be understood or received. A simple meal served to someone special is such a sincere act of love. The enjoyment that follows – tasting something new, talking about the experience and exploring some culinary curiosities leads to unexpected discoveries. This one dish opened up a whole conversation between myself and my valentine of a husband about spices that had us chatting and speculating the day away. Also, while researching this blog post,  I discovered some new favorites courtesy of Brazil…

Two new vintage books to read by Brazilian authors Paulo Coelho and Jorge Amado

and a new art book to explore…

And it also led to the discovery of two new artists. I love this 1920’s era portrait, untitled, but referred to as Woman with Lemons by Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973)…

and the colorful botanical collage paintings of Brazilian-born artist Beatriz Milhazes…

So you just never quite know where your dinner will wind up taking you!  At the start of this particular cooking adventure, I thought this post was going to be all about a traditional romantic Valentine’s Day worthy dinner. An idea I understand now sort of bordered on the cliche side of things. But in reality, this seemingly unromantic Brazilian ground beef recipe turned out to be quite a little passionate catalyst that produced new loves in art, literature and conversation. That’s pretty romantic after all!

I hope this Valentine’s Day your hearts and bellies are full to the brim with thoughts and  foods that you make you feel happy, loved and inspired. Cheers to the holiday and cheers to foods that surprise and satiate us not only physically but mentally and emotionally!

Next week finds us making a sweet treat that hails from the land that Meghan and Harry now call home…Canada! Until then, happy cooking!