Warning, these classic empanadas from Colombia are a labor of love. If you are going to make everything from scratch like I did, you will need a few hours. However, one of the good things about empanadas is that you can prepare a lot in advance. You may wish to make the filling and/or the dough one to two days prior and then “only” need to fill and fry the empanadas the following day. But before we get into the details, what are empanadas exactly? Empanadas are dumplings, each Latin American country has its own variation, heck, every region and city will be proud of their particular empanadas. Since I was born in Uruguay, I am used to empanadas made with wheat flour. The traditional filling in Uruguay is beef (duh) and they are usually baked in the oven. Yes, of course I have a recipe for Uruguayan empanadas on my blog. Colombian empanadas on the other hand are made with cornmeal, if using the right one, they will be gluten-free. Most of the time they are not baked in the oven, but deep-fried. The filling varies, some use a piece of meat that is later pulled apart, I simply decided to use already minced meat. One particularity of Colombia is the “guiso” or “hogao”, this is a thick sauce made of tomatoes, spring onions, onions and herbs that are typically mixed with the meat filling. This makes them Colombian.
Pandebonos are the Colombian answer to the Brazilian pao de queijo, these little cheese puffs do not require any flour and are thus gluten-free. I already published one recipe on the blog, which requires mozzarella and feta to replace the Colombian cheese queso campesino. This variation uses farmer’s cheese and a quince paste. Normally Colombians make the paste from guava instead, this guava paste is called bocadillo.
I am happy to say that through the movie “Encanto” finally people are learning about Colombian arepa con queso, a gluten-free flatbread made from corn and filled with lots of cheese. So today I am going to present my version of this Colombian staple to you. Arepas are a popular dish in Colombia, you will find many different versions, thick, thin, crispy, with fillings (such as cheese or egg) and at any time of the year. It can be served for breakfast, as a snack, as a side, or even as the main dish. I already introduced the basic recipe for arepas previously. Filled arepas are more common in Venezuela, I also have a recipe on my blog of filled arepas with chicken and guacamole. But today I am presenting arepas with cheese, because Colombians love anything with cheese. I may be mistaken, but arepas with cheese are probably the most popular kind of arepa and will usually be received with excitement.
Today I am introducing Colombian tamales. This means an assortment of meat and corn mash, which is steamed in wrapped banana leaves for about an hour. I don’t think you can imagine how nervous I was when I found out that the local produce owner here in Munich actually could get me fresh banana leaves. So far I had only eaten tamales on vacation in Colombia. Usually they are served for breakfast and devoured with Colombian hot chocolate. However, since this is a savory dish, it will also taste great as the main course for dinner. I had often wondered whether it was possible to make them in Germany. But since I had not seen banana leaves being sold anywhere, I had not attempted Colombian tamales. This was over now! Finally I got hold of banana leaves! And I quickly learned why tamales are usually prepared by the entire family and not one person only. Preparing the tamales definitely was a full-family business. I had listened to stories of Colombians who had nothing else to do than to put their index finger on the yarn so that the designated mom/grandma/aunt could be sure that the tamales were sealed all proper. That was their entire job for the small children, nothing else. Since making tamales does require quite a bit of work and contains many components, usually they are made in large batches, anything below 15 tamales is not worth the effort. And if you keep in mind that Colombian families are large and include many more people than only the nucleus family, it does make sense to prepare 30 or more. Making Colombian tamales felt to me like an accolade of the highest nature and thus I was nervous of whether I could achieve this as a German who happened to be married to a Colombian.
Today I have the honor of introducing to you Colombian Christmas, rituals, and customs. Of course I am going to introduce to you typical Colombian recipes for Christmas as well. I by no means consider this extensive and is more based on my personal experience. As a German I can say though that Colombian Christmas is happier, louder, and more carefree than German Christmas. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Germans usually meet with their nucleus family; during these short winter days you need to be at home behind closed doors. Colombians, on the other hand, are found travelling in large groups to relatives, Christmas celebrations can start at 30 people or more, you may encounter a birthday cake for Jesus and see Colombians dancing Salsa happily. Of course the food plays an important role as well. Usually you will find a large amount of people being involved in some food preparation as it requires many hours of labor. By the way, New Year’s Eve is not that different from Christmas, usually Colombians will visit one side of the family on Christmas, and the other on New Year’s. Prepare yourself for eating large amounts of food. But let’s first get started with Christmas in Colombia!
Do you want to make a Colombian happy during the holidays? I have a very simple solution for you, just make him or her natilla, this is an easy milk custard, which doesn’t require you to turn on the oven. Natilla is, and this was confirmed by many Colombians, beside the deep-fried cheese balls buñuelos THE most Colombian Christmas snack. Yes, you read right, Colombians don’t necessarily have a main dish they associate with Christmas, instead it is the snacks, which are served beforehand which are dear to them. The most common ones being said milk custard named natilla or the buñuelos, which are deep-fried cheese balls. These are served throughout the season and on the 24th the very latest.
Today I am introducing a Colombian cake to you, which is similar to the Victoria Sponge Cake, it is called Torta María Louisa! The main difference is that you will soak it in orange juice and instead of jam fill it with caramel cream made from sweetened consdensed milk. Torta María Louísa is not only common in Colombia, but also in Venezuela and El Salvador. Whereas I have seen recipes with two different fillings and a meringue outside, I decided to stick to the classic and keep this cake simple. Two layers of orange cake sandwiched together with caramel.
It is about high time that I finally introduce a recipe with plantain on my blog. Plantains are soooo versatile, they are often used as a side if green and are treated like potatoes. Once they are ripe and yellow, they are often used in desserts or as a sweeter component. Today I am going to show them as a sweet dessert with quince paste and melted cheese or in Spanish “platanos con queso y bocadillo.” It is a super simple dessert, which is etremely popular in Colombia. Normally you would use guava paste, however, as this is close to impossible to get in Germany, we will use quince paste instead. My Colombian friends revealed to me that it is close enough to revoke the sweetest memories.
Today I am introducing arepas with chicken and guacamole filling. Arepas are Colombian corn flatbread with no gluten and serve as the base for a hearty sandwich. I already introduced one filled arepa on this blog. Arepa boyacense is a popular arepa with cheese filling. Today I decided to make a plain version with a hearty filling. If prepared this way, arepas can serve as the main course, in this instance they are filled with crispy chicken pieces and the famouse avocado cream called guacamole. Many people instantly go to Mexico when they hear guacamole. However, I have learned that actually Colombians are the ones eating most avocados per capita. Every time I visited Colombia, I saw avocado being sold on the street, every bbq would have guacamole served with the rest. But rest assured, Colombian guacamole is much milder than the Mexican version, so this is not spicy at all.
Finally I am introducing the basic recipe for arepas on my blog! Arepas are a flatbread made from cornmeal. They are most popular in Colombia and Venezuela. As a German I have to say that these countries offer the same kind of varieties of arepas as breads are offered here. I already introduced arepas boyacenses, however, so far the basic recipe was missing. The reason being simple, I just felt I still didn’t know how to make perfect arepas even though it only consists of three ingredients, cornmeal, water, and salt. But now the waiting is finally over, below I am offering many tips. Hopefully they will make you confident enough so that your first arepas turn out great from the start. If making the very basic recipe, arepas are naturally gluten-free and vegan.