Where the Jungle Blankets the Andes


You’ll find Colombia, where the mountain chain’s northern end reaches to within miles of both the Pacific and the Caribbean.  Here the cuisine celebrates the broad availability of goods from the mountains (potatoes), the temperate valleys (corn, peas and bell peppers) and the tropical plains (annatto seeds and, of course, the coconut).  Combine these ingredients, among others, in a luscious stew and you have Cazuela de Pollo y Coco, a soup favored in Colombia and, as this journal’s interest demonstrates, elsewhere.

Cazuela” is Spanish for “cooking pot” or “casserole,” and it applies to any number of South American stews, hearty with all manner of goodness.  Originally, this was going to be a Chilean cazuela,  until a site named My Colombian Recipes captured the imagination with its version from the continent’s northern coast.  Ultimately, it was the coconut, the coco, that sealed the deal and inspired the journey across a continent.  Maybe next time, Chile.

Not only does the coconut milk add an unmistakable tropical flair, but its mildly sweet silkiness smoothly unifies a potful – literally – of ingredients.  Corn, cilantro, fresh peas and red peppers contribute vibrant garden notes, while the potatoes add a textured substance.

Then there’s the chicken, both the broth which carries all these ingredients, as well as the bird itself.  It infuses the soup with a richness, while taking on the medley of flavors surrounding it.  Chicken thighs are well-suited to this purpose, as they have a nicer, more succulent flavor then does any other cut.

Before leaving,  a word about an ingredient that contributes not flavor, but color – lots of it.  A mere half-thimbleful of annatto seeds is ground and added to the pot, which gives the soup its deep yellow tones. In fact, annatto seeds serve Latin American cooks the same way that saffron does the Spanish.  While saffron sometimes is used in South American cooking, annatto usually is favored as a purely “local” option.

Meanwhile, Colombia’s cazuela offers a culinary and geographical tour of the continent, from towering peaks to the emerald flatlands belw.  Each bite offers a variety of tastes, elevations and topographies, as befits a land where the jungle climbs the Andes.

*****

Cazuela de Pollo y Coco

(Colombian Chicken and Coconut Soup)

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions (*1)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 1/4 teaspoon groung cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground annatto seeds (*2)
  • 2 large yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 large chicken breasts, coarsely diced (*3)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 ears of corn, cut into pieces or kernels
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup peas
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, to garnish

Place a stockpot over a medium flame and melt the butter.  Add the onions, bell pepper, scallions, carrots, cumin and annatto seeds.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about five minutes.

Add the potatoes, chicken, tomato paste and stock, then increase the flame to medium-high to bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partly covered, for 25 minutes.

Add the corn and coconut milk, and continue cooking for another 10 minutes.  Add the cream and peas and cook for another five minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste, ladle into individual bowls, garnish with cilantro and serve.

NOTES:

1 – Of course, you know what I’m going to suggest.  1 large shallot fills in perfectly.

2 – If you can’t find annatto seeds, use a pinch of saffron.  Or, you can skip it altogether without diminishing the taste, though the color won’t be as striking.  We eat first with our eyes, right?

3 – As mentioned in the intro, chicken thighs are a better, tastier choice.  Five thighs are equal to two large breasts.  Honestly, that wasn’t intended to sound…

 

44 thoughts on “Where the Jungle Blankets the Andes

    1. Thank you, Angela. Your appreciation is, well, appreciated!

      What obsesses me very well may remain obscure to many, hence the brief explanation. Better that, than to leave readers with little more than, “What is he on about?” Once we have a common starting-point, let the expedition begin.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Truly a savory recipe that will delight not only the taste buds, but the eyes, and sense of smell, as well.

    I imagine you have neighbors yearning to be your “Best Friend Forever” with this dish. Hey, I’m one of them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why, thank you, Tamara! That’s it, exactly – basic cookery aspires to engage the taste buds, whereas those who aspire to more pursue the full range of senses. Stir the imagination, from across the yard, or from across the continent. That’s my goal, at least.

      Meanwhile, it starts all these great conversations, all these great friendships. All from such a small investment on my part.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. mm mh what a lovely combination of vegetables and spices, minus the chickadee this sounds delicious … am enjoying most of these veggies fresh at the moment! Love corn on the cob and peas etc

    How’s life treating you Keith?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your compliment means much, Kate. Greatly obliged!

      We got the last of our fresh corn about a month or so ago. Next summer, or the one following, Elote, or Mexican Grilled Corn, should make an appearance. If the deck corn will be as good to me as it was this year, what you see in the picture will be home-grown. Even if not, there still are plenty of farms and roadside stands within a fifteen-minute drive.

      I’m alright, Kate, thanks for asking. We’re headed into a busy time at work, autumn earnings season, but we should be done by late next month, and then then things should be placid, at least through Christmas/New Year’s.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much, Kate!

        Rather random aside, but I still am slightly astounded that, for millions, Christmas and New Year’s are summer holidays. Never really thought about it, I suppose, until a friend (a Yank) and her boyfriend moved to Brisbane. Their first Christmas there, she sent me a card with a surfing Santa on the cover. “Well, what do you know?” I mused…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. yes but coming from British stock we were tortured with the traditional hot meal, then all fled down the beach to cool off!
        Nowadays people eat more appropriately for the weather … seafood, salads, fruits, stone fruits, melons, we eat well here 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, that you do, Kate, based not just on what I’ve read or seen on TV, but more influentially, recalling what my friend and our colleagues in the Brisbane office have related.

        The menu selection you list, are tempting. Sure, conditions are milder near the coast, but you still are smack-dab in the middle of the subtropics. The pictures you post prove the local birds’ plumage compliments the food wonderfully. A bright, colorful explosion!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Because, Kate, we don’t fancy living upside-down.

        Sure, life in Australia looks awfully tempting, until you get off that plane and fall onto the airport ceiling. Plus, you’d be expected to know the difference between a kangaroo and a wallaby.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. So true, Kate. Sadly, so.

        Much as I try to be optimistic, cheerful, a child of the Enlightenment, etc., etc., I worry that eventually (and probably sooner rather than later), WP is going to spin out of control. I think I understand the new Block Editor, at least the rudiments, but how long before that’s replaced?

        Exactly.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Oh, Sure, Kate. The WP universe was spinning long before I appeared, and it’ll remain vibrant for years after I leave, whenever that may be.

        As for your adventure, Kate, I do hope you maintain some presence, because reading and interacting with you is far too much fun. Naturally, though, you must do right by Kate first. After a lifetime of giving to others, you have to take on yourself as one of your wards.

        No matter where the trail wends, I do hope you visit every once in a while, as I have learned things and, consequently, better days are ahead.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Much appreciated, Kate! Best to realize I never am going to learn it all. Not even close.

        Still, I came into this world at 0%, and by the time I start blogging in realms beyond, maybe that number will be up to 1.72%. What a fun trip we’ll have getting there!

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Quite flattering, Kate. Still, a world traveler such as yourself knows how much is out there that I still scarcely have imagined.

        In a way, though, that’s reassuring. We, as a species, have built such an impressive inventory, there’s no way one individual will come remotely close to experiencing it all in one lifetime.

        Of course, we do have other people, though, and that helps.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I wouldn’t normally think of using the word beautiful to describe a soup, but it definitely applies here. And adding coconut milk sounds amazing…

    You did say you were going to be using stock for something, didn’t you? I guess now I know what. Sorry I’m so behind, by the way. Just, having one of those times…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rachel, and I understand completely, except, I’m having one of those…lives.

      The coconut milk was a really good addition, and this is the first time I used it in a non-Asian soup.

      Actually, the “something” that’ll use the stock still is off in the future. I covered last weekend’s recipe with what already was in the freezer, but then, I would’ve been fresh out. Not a problem anymore!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nothing of the sort, Rachel. How would you know what’s going on in my freezer, let alone in my mind? You were observant enough to determine homemade stock went into the soup, and you get a gold star on the forehead just for that alone.

        Actually, I ask nothing more of you (and of Dear Readers in general) than viewership. If something strikes your fancy and gets you thinking, even better. If it starts a conversation, totally a bonus.

        That you check back regularly is highly flattering. It’s up to me to see what I may devise for your entertainment.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You know, it occurs to me that I may have given you the impression I was offended, when I’m really not. As a poet, you’d think I’d be better at watching my connotations, but no…

        Or maybe, I’m just doing the mind reading thing again.

        Well, whatever the case, I’m grateful for your acceptance (and the gold star, especially seeing as how stars are so difficult to acquire when WordPress is involved). I know I can be a bit… erratic — especially where conversation is concerned…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh, Rachel, no suspicions on my part of anything being amiss. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you being one of this site’s most avid followers for, what, around a year now?

        Believe me, public interest wasn’t so forthcoming always. Just a couple springs ago (2018), I drew just five views one month. That’s a total. Those paltry numbers didn’t yield one single comment, either, or even a “Like.”

        That was the low point. Yet now, see where we are! That anybody notices, is gratifying. That, indeed, there’d be regulars, is astounding. That any of these repeat visitors would comment with your wit and style…

        Well…thank you, Rachel!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh. Well, thank you. ☺

        I find that… so hard to wrap my head around. You’re telling me that our acquaintanceship, times 2, plus X number of months, equals how long your blog’s been fully alive? Why, that means I’ve been around for no less than a third of that time! Perhaps even closer to a half…

        Heh. I’m more surprised that more people don’t notice, actually. I still think you have the monopoly on wit and style…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. If it is a monopoly, Rachel, it’s managed terribly. Just look at your latest post. There you’ll find wit and style beyond anything you’d find here. What gives? Clearly, the initiative no longer is mine. If ever I possessed it in the first place…

        Anyway, the blog’s first couple years on this planet were, well, different. As may have been mentioned previously, most readers gathered by word-of-mouth and thus, were friends, family and colleagues. As such, most “Likes” and comments were verbal. “Hey, I read your article yesterday.” Very little online interaction. Or much interaction of any sort, comparatively.

        By the time the sun warmed 2018, though, the first “internet” people waded ashore. Of those initial visitors, sadly, few remain. Nothing personal, I’m sure; just typical internet ebb-and-flow.

        However, Rachel, you’re among the second wave which arrived when the blog started looking up. You and a few others still visit regularly, but none comment with your frequency and panache. That quality means so much, even as the quantity (audience filling seats) is greater now than it ever has been.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Nonsense! I just happen to reign over a pocket dimension that mirrors this one; thus, whatever of wit and style you may see is but a reflection.

        Indeed, I recall our prior conversation. Nevertheless, it boggles my mind…
        By the way, did anything specific change, or did people just finally start catching on?
        And don’t get me started on the “frequency” of my comments. 😝

        Liked by 1 person

      7. You’re oh so kind, Rachel. Your demurrals aside, though, I stand by my comments. If someone wants to know what English is capable of accomplishing, I’d point to your poetry. The stanzas cited, perhaps, above others.

        As for our readers’ progress, I have no idea why all of you appeared initially, but I’m grateful you did. Once that first person hopped over the fence many more followed. Was it word-of-mouth (“Hey, check this out.”)? Most likely, though other possibilities exist.

        As I recall, we discovered each other after a series of comments-and-responses on Eliza’s site.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Heh. Thanks.

        But I was only part of the second wave. The second wave naturally follows the first; but, what of the first? Were they from Mars? Venus? Did they come from a city under the sea after having been submerged for an era or two (or three)? Were they after resources? Did they come in peace? So many questions… But the world may never know…

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Apparently, Rachel, the first wave came to observe, and to copy. That accomplished, they left as quietly as they arrived.

        Perhaps they weren’t from another planet, but from another dimension. Which means, in some other alternate universe, a “Felix” and a “Rachel” are having a remarkably similar conversation right now. Except, perhaps, for one crucial detail.

        Maybe there, our skins are green. Or perhaps the pirate’s named Daisy. Could be, even, I blog about gypsum, and you, about monster trucks.

        No matter what distinguishes the denizens of Bizarro World, they never can get things quite right, can they?

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Well, I don’t know. Perhaps there is a pirate named Daisy, just not the pirate you were thinking of. No, Daisy is an ancient armor aficionado (who has almost drowned, repeatedly… Apparently, you can’t swim in heavy armor), likes swords, miniguns, and things that explode. Oh, and she’s a she. It’s also quite possible that she may have had some hand in a certain fire we were discussing elsewhere.

        Just think: in Bizarro, our alternates are probably talking about this very thing, and laughing at the thought of some version of themselves writing about, say, poetry and cooking, scoffing at such an idea’s utter ridiculousness.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Yeah, that’s right. Daisy started the fire. Let’s blame it on her!

        Meanwhile, on Earth 2-A, the idea of giving a whole blog to poetry or to food would be utterly ridiculous. I mean, how many topics even exist?

        They can, and do, spend years discussing the various applications of Texas Dry Gypsum, or Truckasaurus Rex’s destructive rampage through the Convention Center.

        Recipes, or the meaning of life? That’d get old after about three minutes. Come on, what planet do you think this is?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d like to say you had me with the mention of coconut but you had me well before that as I love all of these ingredients. A winning combination for sure!

    As a bonus you’re helping me practice my Spanish as well!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Why, thank you, JoAnn! Ah, the cosmopolitan’s tongue works its way first through words, then through flavors.

      Oh, no doubt the coconut took this recipe from being “maybe,” to being “definitely!” As mentioned to another reader, this is the first time coconuts appeared in a non-Asian soup. Unsurprisingly, they did great things, and they’ll be back.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So you’re saying you’re a thigh man? (Of course, me, too. Woman though.)

    I love the coconut concept—I have a weakness for Thai—and admit I’ve never tried Columbian cuisine. This one has all my standard favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my, the thigh. Why…

      In more than one understanding of the word, perhaps.

      Anyway, coconuts are a fairly powerful trigger for most people, myself included. With good reason, too. They’re creamy, refreshing and bright. Quite a rare combination.

      You hadn’t tried Colombian before, Crystal? That makes two of us, then. The latitude gives it the tropical, and the mountains give it the temperate. Thus, Colombians utilize the full range of ingredients. Seems like we haven’t heard the last of them.

      Like

      1. Thank you, Crystal!

        It’s remarkable, really, how seemingly unrelated cultural threads weave together to form a shimmering fabric. When we explore what someone eats, we soon appreciate his/her history, geography, etc., etc.

        Not just “others,” either. What we Americans prepare for the table speaks volumes about our national identity and our priorities. Our regional influences too, inevitable in a country as vast as is ours,

        So much, still, to try. Stay hungry!

        Liked by 1 person

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