I once volunteered to design a menu for my favorite Colombian restaurant at the time because all they had was a human sized chalk board in Spanish that they would place on a chair at your table when you sat down. They had nothing for the Gringos and God forbid 4 tables sit down at once. Even if you have two human sized chalk boards, that still doesn’t cut it.
I embarked on this menu-designing adventure with vigor and while exploring all of the dishes, I realized that every single dish was described as … in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and cumin… sometimes the type of onion varied from yellow or scallions, but the tomato and cumin were the same… the dishes read… beef with tomato, onion and cumin, chicken with tomato onion and cumin, fish with tomato onion and cumin… the cooking methods might have even varied from stewed to pan fried or grilled and occasionally garlic and cilantro joined the party, but the Colombian trio never faltered.
One of my housemates when I first moved to SF is Thai and she and I both shared a love of ground beef. It was our go-to “I’m starving” ingredient and she loved when I made it Colombian style with tomatoes, green onion and cumin.
Why the Holy trinity reference? The truth is, Colombians call it “guiso” (gee-so), but try getting a gringo to say that. Different cultures have staples that they begin many dishes with. The French have mirepoix which consists of carrots celery and onion, the Cajuns have their Holy Trinity, which is onion, celery and green pepper… the Cubans have their Sofrito, onions, garlic and green pepper or their mojo (mo-ho) of sour orange juice, olive oil, garlic and cumin and us Colombians have our “guiso”. Some will argue that it guiso is made with garlic and cilantro as well, but I don’t think it does in order to taste Colombian. I am sure other cultures have their own Holy trinities and I would love to know what they are.
I think it is time I shared a simple and yummy recipe that is made with guiso.
You can build on this by adding garlic, cilantro, chili powder and even curry. Just don’t tell a Colombian you did that.
CARNE MOLIDA CON GUISO (ground beef with guiso)
This is a great recipe to do Colombian taco night… We don’t eat tacos in Colombia, but this meat filling would taste amazing on a warm corn tortilla. Our version is the arepa, but that is a whole different post all together.
2 Lbs ground beef browned and simmered while guiso is coming together
2 bunches of scallions chopped
6-8 hot house tomatoes… you will need equal parts tomatoes and onions
2 T ground cumin
4 T olive oil
Bijol optional (natura annato coloring – optional – we like our food yellow in Colombia)
Sea Salt tt
Saute tomatoes, onions and cumin and oil on med to high heat for about 20 minutes or until tomatoes have dissolved. Add mixture to ground beef and simmer on medium to low for another 10 minutes or longer if you have time. The longer it simmers together the better.
Ideally served over white long grain rice, but I served it with brown rice and ice berg lettuce cups.
WHAT ELSE CAN I USE THIS IN?
Colombians use guiso on their beans, but I tried it on beluga lentils because they only take 20 minutes to make and they are super healthy. I also added a little cooked bacon to give a little extra flavor. Guiso loves any type of bean and if you want to go international, you can add garlic, green pepper, turmeric, curry or chile powder. We have also been known to pan fry a thin steak and serve it with a dollop of guiso on top. A rustic breakfast in Colombia might include a couple of fried eggs topped with guiso. We really do love our guiso.
A LITTLE AREPITA. (the word is arepa, but we add “ita” as a term of endearment… I’m Claudita)
This isn’t going to be the “arepa” post because it would be too long, but arepas are to Colombians as tortillas are to Mexicans. They may look different depending on the region of Colombia, but they all are essentially ground corn patties. I buy them frozen in LA. You can get them at any latin food store in the freezer section or order them online. I recommend heating them on a grill, but I use rack from a roasting pan over my electric stove. Very ghetto fabulous. (I forgot to mention that Venezuela and Colombia both claim to have invented the arepa. My dear friend Amelia makes beautiful Venezuelan arepas which are normally stuffed with things as opposed to Colombian, which are topped. She and I plan to make a Colombia VS Venezuela arepa challenge video. Stay tuned!)