When we last left off, the Ambassador had joined us, I had unfurled my napkin, and lunch was ready to begin. Here is what we ate, course by delicious course.
The chefs came out and we applauded!
A very funny thing: I really didn’t know much about Colombia or Colombian food when I was invited to lunch; as I spent time with the chefs and we all cooked together, though, I felt such warmth (always welcome in our British coolness). I loved the way they prepared the food: not just a job, not a statement of style or personality, not just how it tasted either though all the chefs agreed that was paramount, but the way the food was caressed into being: patted, stirred, and at the risk of sounding trite: made with love.
In fact, the taste that impressed me, stayed with me, was the taste of my grandmother’s cooking. Even though my grandmother had never been to Colombia, not even to a Colombian restaurant! Everything was homey, and hand-intensive, even when served up on the Ambassador’s exquisite China table settlings…..it was food meant to be eaten, food as a cultural caress, rather than food meant to impress. And I found it hugely comforting.
There was one dish, though, that spoke to me more than any of the others: Ajiaco Santafereno: chicken soup, with two kinds of potatoes for texture, corn because its such a ubiquitous ingredient, the whole flecked with coriander/cilantro, and served with capers, sour cream and diced avocado. The tangy fresh spunkiness of the capers– oh yes!–almost made me smile, while the diced avocado and sour cream added smoothness and richness each in their own way.
When I got home I made my own version of the soup, adapted from Colombia Cocina de Regiones, a regional Colombian cookbook in both Spanish and English, a book which our chefs contributed to. When I left, I requested a picture of myself standing in front of the national flag, with my new book.
Here is the recipe, a streamlined version of the soup we had for lunch. I cheated and used chicken broth as a base; if you like, you can make your own chicken soup as they do in Colombia. Either way, delightful.
Serves about 6-8
2-3 quarts chicken broth or stock
2 onions, coarsely chopped or thinly sliced
4-6 cloves garlic, cut up coarsely
1 bunch cilantro/fresh coriander leaves, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped, including the stems
About 5 floury potatoes, peeled and sliced
8-10 waxy salad potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
12 ish ounces chicken breast, boned and skinned, and cut into bite sized pieces
About 3 ears corn on the cob, cut through the cob so that they look like wheels
Salt and black pepper or white pepper
1/4 cup, aproximately (to taste) capers in brine, plus a few drops brine per bowlful
About 1/2 cup sour cream or as desired
1 avocado, peeled and diced (sprinkle with lemon juice if doing ahead, even by 5 or ten minutes, or it will brown unappealingly
In a large pot place the chicken broth, onion, garlic, half the coriander/cilantro and both of the types of potatoes. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cook at a medium simmer, for about 20 minutes or until the floury potatoes have fallen apart and the waxy ones are film but tender.
Add the chicken and corn on the cob, then cook a further 10 minutes or until the chicken is tender.
When ready to serve, ladle out the soup taking care each person gets a few rounds of corn and some chunks of chicken, then sprinkle avocado into each bowl, then the capers with few drops of the brine, and finally, a spoonful of sour cream.