Throughout the time I called this colourful country my home, I continuously rebelled against the not-so-colourful food they served there. There are some positive aspects to Colombian cuisine; portions are decent sizes, meal times are centred around family and lunch is the biggest meal (and everyone gets a 2-hour lunch break from work). However, my taste buds were bored and the rest of my body needed some kind of colourful flavonoid-rich food, to the point where I started to have intense, scary cravings for broccoli.
Since “gourmet” cuisine (otherwise known as food with which they serve a salad), was too expensive for my English teacher’s budget, I started to cook. However, the types of dishes you can cook in Colombia is limited since most foreign ingredients are expensive or don’t quite taste right. Up until only last year it was almost impossible to find brown rice anywhere. These kind of experiences, however, make you appreciate certain things that we might take for granted (like vegetables). In Toronto we are lucky as heck to be able to eat from a variety of different continents over the course of one day, if we choose. (J and I experimented with this by eating one meal from each continent while in NYC one weekend). I realized how much I really missed a flavourful diet when I enrolled in the month-long Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) at the British Council in Bogotá.
Before taking the course, I hadn´t quite made lasting friendships with foreigners in Bogotá. First of all, in 2009, the number of foreigners in Colombia was small, and second of all, due to my determination to master the Spanish language and learn about Colombian culture, I´d mainly hung around Colombians. However, I did find good friendships in two UK citizens, R and S – who I imagine are no strangers to bland food! S was a world traveller who´d just got back from India and had brought back with him (to my jaw-dropping delight) a wicked stash of authentic Indian curries. In his apartment the three of us and R’s wife, created a mouth-watering, vitamin-deficiency-resolving, vegetable-full curry.
Living in what I came to affectionately call “The Country with the World’s Worst Food” (it’s really not that bad, but after a few years living in a foreign country everyone becomes a cynic), forced me to learn how to cook. Using what limited ingredients I could find and a few recipes, I learned how to mix ingredients together to create meals that would keep me sane and healthy. Some of the lessons I learned from my self-directed cooking classes are: recipes are just a set of loose guidelines, everything tastes good when you use fresh ingredients, great things are even greater when mixed together and don´t be afraid to burn things.
Despite some of the wonderful creations I happened upon in my Bogotá kitchen, I still remember the delicious meal we made at S’s Bogotá apartment and variations of this simple dish have become a staple. Here is the variation I made this month:
Eating Rainbow Curry
Vegetables: onions, carrots, celery, red and yellow peppers and a leafy green (in this case kale). You can also vary it up by adding potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach or anything else that tickles your fancy.
2 tbsp of oil (I always opt for olive oil)
1 piece of garlic
1 piece of ginger
2 tbsp of curry powder or curry spices (turmeric, fenugreek, cumin, coriander, etc.)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch black pepper
500 ml of chick peas (I use the canned variety, but I´m just lazy like that)!
2 cups of uncooked brown rice to be steamed (becomes 4 cups when cooked).
1 cup of water
In a large pan or wok, sauté garlic, onion and oil on medium heat – pretty much everything I make begins with this. Maybe it´s because I absolutely love the smell of browning onions. For some reason, though, the sound of sizzling onions terrifies Coco… any dog experts out there who can tell me why?
Cut up vegetables and admire the rainbow of colours you´ve created. This rainbow represents a vast spectrum of vitamins and minerals as well as the potent antioxidants, called flavonoids, that have been shown to contribute to optimal health and decrease cancer risk. Blah blah blah… Colours are pretty!
Add the vegetables to the wok or pan. Add spices and 1 cup of water (this helps coat the vegetables with oil, without having to add more). Cook on low-medium heat.
Rinse the chickpeas of the salts and preservatives – and who knows what else – that they shared their can with. Add to pan.
Tear up pieces of kale, wash and add to pan. Cover and cook on low.
Add 2 cups of uncooked brown rice to a rice steamer with 2 cups of water.
When vegetables are soft and rice is steamed, serve together and enjoy!
This meal is best accompanied by good friends, funny stories and laughter. Oh, and a bottle of wine won´t hurt, either.