Spotlight on the Potato

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Potoates

I got mad at my family when they came to visit a couple of Christmas ago and it was time to eat. We were in Cartagena, the food mecca of the coast, especially compared to Mampujan, where I was living at the time.  They wanted rice and some sort of meat; I wanted artisan pizza and giant salads.  “We didn’t come to Colombia to eat Canadian,” they argued as I countered that every restaurant was using ingredients from Colombia and the chefs were also Colombia, therefore, Peruvian sushi could technically be classified as Colombian.

While don’t know if my argument is completely sound, I love the wide variety of raw ingredients that exist in this country. From exotic tropical fruits to ordinary rice, the possible combinations are endless. Without claiming that I am cooking Colombian,  I would like to share some of those combinations with you, while highlighting ingredients that are very Colombian. We’ll call it fusion food.

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There is a potato field behind me.

Besides the coast, my favourite place in Colombia is Boyaca. I love the farmlands, the strange onion statues, the paramos, and all the sheep. My friend Eli is from Boyaca and grew up as part of a large farming family. She is a small, soft spoken woman with an amazing ability to eat potatoes. At one of my first MCC retreats, I remember watching in amazement as Eli ate not only her own ample portion of boiled potatoes sprinkled with cilantro, but also polished of everyone else’s serving.

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It all made sense, however, when I learned that the potato is the staple crop of Boyaca. In fact, potatoes originated in the Andes, and from there spread across the world. I love visiting Paloquemao, just to see all of the different varieties of potatoes on display, many of which have been developed over hundreds of years.

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This tradition continues today- thousands of campesino families, like Eli’s, are dependent on the successful growth and sale of potatoes each year. In fact, some of the leaders of 2013’s national agriculture strike, came from a community close to Eli’s hometown. Campesinos shut down the country in August of 2013, as they blocked roads in protest of food insecurity and falling crop prices as a result of free trade agreements. The movement turned into a unified national wide strike.  Part of the protest was an outcry over seed sovereignty and a rejection of a government regulation that made it illegal to save seeds in order to provide a legal monopoly on seeds to US and European corporations ; thanks to community led action, the resolution was suspended for two years.  When I eat potatoes, I think about Colombian families and their determination to hold onto their potato growing way of life, complete with traditional varieties.

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Brittany and John, pretty close to a potato field.

Many traditional dishes around Bogota contain potatoes: ajiaco, papás saladas and more. This is not one of them. Rather, my sister in law, Brittany. introduced me to potato leek soup over the Christmas holidays this year. After doing a little googling, it appears to be French in origin. The ingredients, however, are pure Colombia: potatoes and leeks.

This soup is delicately flavoured, with the potatoes adding texture to the leek flavour. I added a little smoked paprika for more oomph but that could be omitted. I like my soup with a little more texture, so I only blended half the mixture, but feel free to blend everything depending on your preferences.

Ingredients:

4 leeks, washed and cut into rounds, discarding green stalks

4 white cooking potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

4 cups of stock (vegetable or chicken)

1 cup of whole milk

¼ cup of cream

½ teaspoon of smoked paprika (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter and olive oil together in a heavy soup pot. Add leeks and saute over low heat until soft and beginning to caramelize, stirring often to avoid burning. Add potatoes and cover with stock. Bring to a boil and lower heat; cook until potatoes are completely soft, about 45 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Add milk and paprika and bring back to a boil. Taste adjust for salt. Transfer half the mixture to a blender. Use caution- this is hot- blend until smooth and return mixture to the pot. Add the cream and bring to just under a boil. Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve with a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper.

Enjoy!

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Potatoes are so important, they are turned into saints and immortalized on Bogota’s walls.

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