Colombian Stew Warms The Soul

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Angelica Medina likes to tell the story of how, after a meal of ajiaco, a hearty Colombian stew, the guests, sitting in the living room, one by one drifted off to sleep. Apparently, ajiaco, a chicken and potato stew that is especially popular in the capitol city of Bogota, brings tranquility to those who eat it.

And as warned, after I ate the soup at the Westbury home of the Medina family—Angelica and her parents Maria Borras and Alberto Medina—just as my hosts had predicted, I felt warm and sleepy and ready for a bit of a nap.

The Medina family ( from left) Angelica, Blanca, Maria and Alberto
The Medina family ( from left) Angelica, Blanca, Maria and Alberto

Angelica is a bilingual outreach coordinator for the Adelphi New York Statewide Breast Cancer Program. Her family had immigrated to the U.S. 16 years ago when Angelica was a teenager. They first lived in Sea Cliff with Angelica’s married sister, Blanca Patricia, who had sponsored them, and five years ago the family moved to Westbury. Like many, they were attracted to Westbury because of proximity to the LIRR and central location in Nassau County, as well as reasonable housing prices.

The family characterizes Colombian food as hearty and a little bland. “We don’t use chilies,” says Angelica. She describes Bogota as similar to New York, very cosmopolitan with a variety of dining opportunities, from fancy restaurants to fast food. “Every corner had a rotisserie where you could get good flavored chicken,” she said. Locally, there are many Colombian places they enjoy frequenting, such as Pollos el Paisa on Old Country Road and Punta Rojo in Hicksville.

One change in the family diet since coming to the U.S. is that big breakfasts are reserved for the weekends. Another is that Alberto does some cooking, most particularly arepas—corn cakes stuffed with eggs and deep fried. “He’s got the magic touch,” said Angelica.

Ajicao with sides
Ajiacao (left) with sides of sour cream and rice

Ajiaco is a special occasion and weekend dish and a meal unto itself. The stew is made with three kinds of potatoes—russet, red and yellow—and each adds a special property to the dish. The russet melts in and thickens the soup; the red and the yellow (papa criollo, available frozen at Spanish markets) add color.

An interesting item in the stew is guascas (aka quickweed and galinsoga), an herb that is native to South and Central America. As I researched guascas, light bulbs went off. “Nutritionally, researchers have found that guascas contains phenolic and antioxidant compounds which could be beneficial for those who suffer with type 2 diabetes and hypertension,” it said. Hmmm. Maybe here is the secret of the sleep-inducing stew.

 

Check out the recipe for ajiaco here

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