Tuesday, May 10, 2011

¿Comístes?


If you were to sit down at a restaurant in Colombia and order a couple of the tamales on the menu for lunch, the waiter would look at your like you were out of your mind. Actually, I lied, Colombians are too polite for that-- what they would do is hide their reaction and try to explain to you that one tamal is more than sufficient as a meal, any meal.  


Tamales in Colombian are plate-sized, plantain-wrapped affairs. They are considered a Christmas-time specialty, though they are also eaten year-round. Each region has its own variation-- in some places the masa is made from corn, in others it's made from rice; some are square, while others are tied up like a gift basket. As far as I can tell, all contain some kind of meat and are steamed in plantain leaves.


One Sunday a bit ago, Felipe's mother Lucy and I spent a good 6 hours making 20 tamales. I would ask her how much of an ingredient she was adding and she would say things like, oh you know, until it seems right...and I would scramble behind her to quantify what she had just done. 6 hours for 20 tamales sounds like a lot of work for a not very large output, but it translates to 20 meals. The plantain leaf gives the tamal a special flavor, as does the meat that is marinated the night before, and the guiso thats heaped on top of the masa, meat and vegetables before folding the tamal up. The idea is to for all the flavors to come together as a whole, explained Lucy. 
 

By the way, these are tamales vallunos, called that because they are from the Valle de Cauca, where Cali is located. Los vallunos, the people of this region, have a very distinct accent and slang. If you were to translate Argentine speech into Valluno, che=ve and viste=ois (che~dude and viste~you know). Or my favorite, ¿oistes?, which is not in any way grammatically correct but is also used, a combination of ois (literally you hear) and oiste (you heard). They also don't pronounce the d's in words that end with -ado: rallado becomes rallao, asustado becomes asustao, and cholado becomes cholao (a magical creation native to Cali that consists of shaved iced, tropical fruit, sweetened condensed milk and fruit syrups. It sounds far too sweet and not very interesting, but I love them, and my sister adored them. I wish I could say they could be replicated successfully in other places but without 20 varieties of fresh tropical fruit all you're left with is a snow cone with some sweetened condensed milk, something I can do without.)

Tamales, on the other hand, can be made anywhere plantain leaves can be found. I told Lucy I wanted to make a vegetarian version for my family and she looked at me like I was insane. Or you can just give them the steamed plantain leaf to eat, she said disdainfully. She does have a point; the traditional ones are kind of the perfect comfort food. Store them in the freezer, already cooked, and you have a full meal in as long as it takes to reheat the tamal.


Tamales Vallunos

The meat:
20 small drumsticks, or 20 large chicken wings without the tips (save the tips for stock)
1 leg of pork

Cut off any big chunks of fat from the drumsticks/chicken wings. Remove around half of the fat from the leg of pork, then cut it into 2-3 in. squares.

For the marinade:
3 bunches scallions, including ¾ of the dark green tips (or 2 huge green spring onions), very roughly chopped
half a red pepper, deseeded
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. turmeric
½ tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Blend all the ingredients in an upright blender until mostly smooth. Taste to make sure it has enough salt. Pour the mixture over the chicken and pork and mix well; cover, place in the fridge and leave overnight to marinate.

For the guiso:
250 g. scallions (or spring onions), thinkly sliced
8 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded, and roughly chopped (To peel the tomatoes: put a pot of water to boil, cut x's in the bottom of the tomatoes, then throw them in the boiling water for 20 seconds. The skins should easily peel off.)
1½ red pepper, finely julliened
3 cloves garlic, crushed with a pinch of salt
2 small onions, chopped
½ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. turmeric
½ c. oil (don't skimp on the oil-- it seems like a lot, but remember it's for 20 servings)
2 tsp. salt

Heap all the ingredients into a large saute pan and cook over low heat for 15-20 min., until the ingredients have melted together. Don't let the vegetables brown. Taste for salt.

To form the tamales:
2 lbs. (~1 kilo) potatoes (small red), halved and then sliced ¾ in. thick
2 lbs. (~1 kilo) carrots, sliced ½ in. thick
24 plantain leaves (in Colombia, ~6 packets)
5 c. chicken stock (if you used chicken wings, use the wing tips to make the stock)
3 1/3 c. areparina
2 c. (360 g.) peas

Wipe down the plantain leaves for any dust and dirt. Keep any ripped leaves to use in case you need to reinforce the packets.
Place the potatoes and carrots in a bowl and add water to cover. Add 1-2 tablespoons salt to the water. (This helps season the carrots and potatoes.)
In a large bowl, mix the chicken stock with the areparina until there are no lumps. The texture should be such that it slops off the spoon into the bowl. Taste for salt; it should be well-seasoned. Cut one leaf into three equal pieces. Overlap them, making a rectangle: 


Spread ¼ c. masa in the center of the leaves. Lay a chicken thigh/wing and a piece of pork over the masa. Add a couple of potato slices, a couple of carrots slices, and a small handful of peas. Place a heaping tablespoon of guiso on top of the vegetables and meat. Now bring the top leaf and the bottom leaf together, and fold them together, folding along the entire edge. Flip the fold on one side behind the filling, then flip the other side, making sure the filling doesn't squeeze out. Tie with kitchen string.
Place a metal steamer in the bottom of a large pot. Fill the bottom with water. Place as many tamales as can fit loosely in the pot; don´t pack them. Steam for 2 hours with the pot covered, adding water as necessary to keep the steaming going, until the meat is cooked through. To eat, simply unwrap. Some people serve tamales with rice and maybe avocado, though they are considered a complete meal in themselves (I agree 100% with this assessment). Store in the freezer, already cooked. Reheat in the microwave or by boiling the packet in water until heated through.



Los tamales vallunos (y creo que los tamales en general) toman mucho tiempo por hacer, pero lo bueno es que se demora casi igual si haces 10 o 40, entonces por lo menos uno puede hacer muchos para que le rindan. Los tamales vallunos son hechos con una masa de maíz y además llevan 2 tipos de carne-- cerdo y pollo o cerdo y res, más verdurita. Ésta es la receta de mi suegra, que las hace con cerdo y pollo. Rinde 20 tamales y para mejor sabor es preferible marinar la carne desde la noche anterior.

Tamales Vallunos

La noche anterior:

Para la carne:
20 muslos chiquitos, o 20 alas grandes sin las puntas (guarda las puntas para la sustancia)
1 pierna de cerdo

Quita las partes gruesas de la piel de los muslos/alitas de pollo. Quita la mitad de la grasa de la pierna de cerdo, después cortala en cuadritos de 5 cm.

Para la marinada:
2 cebollas largas (verdeos) enormes, incluyendo ¾ de la parte verde, picadas en pedazos grandes (en EE.UU serían 25-30 scallions)
½ pimentón rojo (morrón), sin semillas
2 dientes de ajo, pelados
½ cucharita de pimienta negra
1 cucharada de cúrcuma
½ cucharita de tomillo seco
2 cucharadas de sal
1 cucharada de aceite vegetal (usamos girasol)

Licua todos los ingredientes en la licuadora hasta que esté casi suave. Fijate que tiene suficiente sal. En una olla grande, coloca la carne y echa la mezcla allí, mezclando bien. Tapa la olla, guardala en la nevera y dejala marinar por la noche.

El día siguiente:

Para el guiso:
250 g. (9 oz.) de cebolla larga (verdeo), picada chiquita
8 tomates, pelados, desemillados, y picados (Para pelar los tomates: pon una olla de agua a hervir, corta una x en la piel del fondo de los tomates, echales al agua hirviendo por 20 segundos y sacalos. Las cascaras deberían quitarse fácilmente.)
1½ pimentón rojo, en julianas delgadas
3 dientes de ajo, molidos con una pizca de sal
2 cebollas pequeñas, picadas
½ cucharita de pimienta negra
2 cucharitas de cúrcuma
½ taza de aceite (acordáte que es para 20 tamales entonces no es tanto)
2 cucharitas de sal

Echa todos los ingredientes a un sarten grande y cocina a fuego bajo durante 15-20 min., hasta que los ingredientes se ablanden en el aceite y se vuelvan un guiso, revolviendo cada tanto. No dejes que las verduras se quemen. Probálo para sal.

Para formar los tamales:
1 kilo de papa (las pequeñas rojas), partidas por la mitad y después cortadas en tajadas de 1.5 cm de grosor
1 kilo de zanahoria, cortadas en rodajas de 1 cm. de grosor
24 hojas de plátano (en Colombia, ~6 paquetes)
5 tazas de sustancia de pollo (si usaste alitas de pollo para la carne, utiliza las puntas para hacer la sustancia)
3 1/3 tazas de areparina
2 tazas (360 g.) de arvejas crudas

Limpia las hojas de plátano con un trapo húmedo para quitarles cualquier mugre que tengan. Guarda las hojas rotas por si las necesitas para reforzar el envuelto del tamal.
Coloca la papa y la zanahoria en un bol y agregale agua hasta que las cubra. Agrega 1-2 cucharadas de sal al agua. Esto ayuda a dar sabor a la zanahoria y la papa.)
En un bol grande, mezcla la sustancia de pollo con la areparina hasta que no queden grumos. La textura debe ser ni liquida ni solida, como un puré aguado (o como mierdita, dice mi suegra). Fijate que está bien de sal, tiene que estar bien sazonada. Corta una de las hojas en tres pedazos iguales. Coloca los pedazos, uno sobre el otro, haciendo un rectángulo:


Unta ¼ taza de masa en el centro de las hojas. Coloca un muslo/alita y un pedazo de cerdo sobre la masa. Agregale un par de tajadas de papa, algunas tajadas de zanahoria, y un puñado pequeño de arvejas. Coloca una cucharada grande de guiso encima de las verdura y carne. Ahora junta las hojas de arriba y abajo y doblales, doblandola por todo el borde. Voltea la parte doblada de un lado poniendolo debajo del relleno, después voltea el otro lado poniendolo debajo también, teniendo cuidado que el relleno no se salga. Amarra con hilo de cocina.
Coloca un colador de metal en el fondo de una olla grande. Llena el fondo con agua. Coloca tamales para que quepan sin estar apretados. Cocinalos a vapor durante 2 horas, agregando agua según necesidad para que sigan cocinado a vapor, hasta que la carne esté cocida. Después de 2 horas, saca uno y abra la hoja para chequear la carne. Algunas personas sirven los tamales con arroz o quizás aguacate (palta), aunque están considerados una comida completa solitos. Guardalos en el congelador, ya cocinados. Recalentalos en el microondas o pon a hervirlos en agua hasta que estén bien calientes por dentro. Rinde 20 tamales.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Everything Would Change

For some reason that continues to elude me, the driver on the overnight bus from Cali to Bogota that I took last month decided to blast salsa to the back of the bus even though the lights were out and everyone (except for him presumably) was trying to sleep. Just as I was settling into some semblance of a comfortable sleeping position, a song I didn't recognize came on the speaker. "Si Dios fuera negro, mi compay, todo cambiaria...si fuera nuestra raza, mi compay, la que mandaria...", I turned to Felipe and said, disbelieving whatever I thought I had just understood, "did that song really just say, if God were black everything would change?" "Oh yeah, it's a salsa classic." In the dark sleepy haze of the bus my brain exploded a little bit. The next day, I asked a friend we were staying with in Bogota if he knew the song, "Yeah, that's a classic!" he responded immediately. "You don't find the lyrics totally crazy?" I asked them both. "Yeah, I guess so...I never really thought about it...they are pretty intense..." was the answer I got. I could chalk their answers up to obliviousness, but I think the whole race conversation is just different in Latin America, though from the song's lyrics you can tell that they aren't blind to race by any means. The song goes like this:

If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge

The president would be black, and the governor

The lawyer would be black and the doctor would be black, brother
If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge

Black lily
Black chalk
Black Snow White
Black Mona Lisa 

If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge
The day would be black
The sun would be black
The morning would be black
The cotton would be black

If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge
The pope would be black
And so would the minister
Black angels
Black Jesus Christ- brother-

If God were black- my brother- everything would change
If it were our race- my brother- in charge

So then, the jokes start about what the world would be like if black and white
were reversed—they're reversing black and white in common sayings (reverse
black and white to get the standard version):

I need a new tire because mine's all messed up. -I have a white one which I'll sell cheap but if you want it with the black line it's going to cost you more (because tires for vintage cars with white bands are normally more expensive)

You see that white dude over there? Even though he looks that white, he has a black heart (laughter) (to say someone has a white heart means they're a good person...)

(police sirens) Hey, what's going on? -You went over the black line! (road lines are normally white)

Man, I've got a white hunger! (I've got a black hunger=I've got a mean hunger!)

What are we going to play? -Let's play white eight ball with a black cue ball!

I guess we're already seeing what the world is like with a Black president (he can't possibly be legitimately American, obviously), but while we're on the subject, because it seems to be something that a lot of Americans at least are not aware of—there are lots of people of African descent in Colombia and in Latin America in general (just not Argentina). Henry Luis Gates Jr. just recently did a documentary with PBS on the subject, although from the previews oddly enough it looks like they've left Colombia out of the discussion (I say oddly enough because the Black population here is very prominent). All I can say from my limited experience is that the discussion here is a lot less politically correct, for better or for worse. And Latin Americans think Americans are obsessed with race and therefore racist. I did start wondering to myself after hearing the song...would it be "better" if it were written by someone of African descent? Would it be "worse"? When I looked at the video, it seemed to be a mixed race group...and the same people who were saying "our race" were the ones makes the "racist" jokes at the end...and all these questions makes me into the American obsessed with race...