Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I've always had a strong desire to get to Bolivia. Perhaps this is due to my deep love of potatoes, or it might be the joy I get whenever I see a photo of llamas and snowy mountains. Maybe its my love of pan flute music. For whatever reason, Bolivia is at the top of my list of countries I regretfully have never visited. Our dear friend, Carl, however, had the fortune to study and travel in Bolivia during his wilder years. While I am eternally jealous that he has had this opportunity, I do my best to hide my inner rage whenever he dines with us. Also he has been our main source of knowledge for any South American cooking we have attempted.

The food of Bolivia receives little attention from the foodie community. The country does not have the extensive food culture of nearby countries like Chile, Brazil, or Argentina. Undoubtedly, this is a result of Bolivia's impoverished economy and geographic reality of being for the most part an extremely mountainous country where few crops successfully grow. Also, historically speaking, Bolivians have been on the losing end of just about every power struggle since the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Consider them as the Ireland of South America. Meat and potatoes are the country's staple foods. Judging by the recipes I've come across, the food and its preparation are extremely simple and are more concerned with providing sustenance than gourmet flourishes.

But don't get me wrong! The food is quite good. There's a lot to be said for a country that can stick to the basics and do it well. Bolivia has a cuisine that any Midwesterner can connect with that is rooted in the simplest of home cooking.

Sopa De Mani: Hominy Soup

Disaster nearly occurred with this recipe. I was going through internet sites and piecing together a recipe from a myriad of different ones and mistranslated 'mani' as 'peanut'. In Bolivia it translates to hominy instead of peanuts, and Carl was able to alert me to this moments before I was about to throw a bunch of peanuts in a blender. So catastrophe was averted and a delicious soup was the result.

32 oz can hominy drained and rinsed to remove excess salt.
2.5 quarts water
4 tbsp corn oil
1.5 pounds stew beef (I used round) cut into 1 inch cubes
2 potatoes chopped into 1 inch cubes
3 onions chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano
3 carrots
3 eggs
2 poblano peppers (seeded if you want less heat) cut into thin strips
1 red bell pepper seeded and cut into thin strips
handful of parsley for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pot brown the beef over medium heat for five minutes in the corn oil. Add the chopped onions and continue cooking for another five minutes.
2. Add the water to the pot, raise to a simmer, reduce heat and cook covered for 1.5-2 hours or until the beef is tender.
3. While that's boiling away put the drained hominy, oregano, and garlic in a blender or processor and blend to a smooth paste pouring in a cup of water while it's grinding.
4. Once the meat is tender add the hominy paste, and remaining vegetables (except the parsley) and simmer covered for an additional 25 minutes or until the carrots and potatoes are cooked.
5. Allow the soup to cool for 20 minutes.
6. Whisk the three eggs in a bowl. Add a ladleful of the warm soup to the eggs and stir. Add the bowl to the pot and gently heat until the soup is hot but not boiling. You do this to avoid cooking the eggs.
7. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa is the protein rich super grain of the Andes. It can be found in just about any U.S. supermarket for way too much money and it tastes a bit like couscous. If you fall in love with the grain and don't want to buy it in small pricey quantities, I'd recommend looking for it at bulk stores like Costco or ordering online. You cook it in exactly the same manner as rice or other grains.

2 cups quinoa rinsed well
4 cups water
1 chile poblano seeded and chopped
1 red onion diced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar
salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lime
A handful of chopped cilantro

1. Put the quinoa and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Raise to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Cut the heat and let sit for ten minutes. Remove the lid and rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold water and until chilled. Drain this thoroughly and put it into a large serving bowl.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and toss with the quinoa. Serve.

Papas Fritas: Fried Potatoes

There's an old controversy about who came up with french fries. I've heard it said it was the Belgians and not the French. Bolivians would find this line of argument to be strange. The people of the Andes have been enjoying fried potatoes for thousands of years, and the French and Belgians only came to know the glory of the spud well after its introduction to Europe in the 16th century. There's also a strange argument about the best way to fry potatoes. Some insist upon soaking them in salted water for two periods of 24 hours before cooking. The best way I've found is a bit more intuitive and is explained below.

Potatoes (I do about 1 big potato per person)
Corn oil for frying (about a quart).
Salt and pepper for garnish

1. Cut the potatoes into small sticks by using a fry cutter or do it by hand by cutting it in half, thinly slicing the halves horizontally leaving them in a stack and then cutting the stack lengthwise into long sticks. Amy prefers hers to be extra crispy so I cut them fairly thin. Feel free to cut them into whatever size you prefer.
2. In a wok or deep fryer heat the oil over high for ten minutes. Add the potatoes in small batches to the oil and cook for ten minutes each batch or until the potatoes turn a golden brown.
3. When browned remove the potatoes with a metal strainer and set them aside to dry on paper towels.
4. After all your batches have been fried and drained lay them aside in a large bowl to cool for at least 45 minutes. You could even freeze them for future cooking at this point.
5. Shortly before serving make them extra crispy by frying them yet again for about 3 minutes a batch being careful not to burn them.
6. Drain them again and serve.

Pique Macho

I have no idea what pique translates to but the name of this dish sure sounds manly. This dish resembles a sort of hash. The ingredients, though, are a bit different from what we generally throw into the standard hash.

1 lb cecina (semi-cured beef from the Mexican grocery) or just use thinly sliced skirt steak
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb sausage sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds (I used kielbasa, but traditionally this is made with low grade franks.)
1 large red bell pepper seeded and thinly sliced
2 medium onions thinly sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 eggs hard boiled and cut into fourths
12 large large black olives pitted and left whole
Juice of 1 lime
salsa golf for topping (recipe follows)

1. Set two skillets on the stove alongside one another. In the first skillet pour half the oil and begin frying the sausage.
2. In the other skillet pour the rest of the oil and add the vegetables.
3. Once the sausage is browned add the beef and brown for about 4 minutes.
4. Now add the vegetables to the meats. Pour on the spices, soy sauce, and about 1/4 cup water.
5. Reduce sauce til it is thick and remove from heat. Garnish with eggs, olives, lime and salsa golf. Serve on a bed of fried potatoes.

Salsa Golf :

It seems like a lot of countries have concluded that mayonnaise and ketchup go great together. Bolivia is no exception to the rule. We were feeling classy and had no mayo lying around so we made a garlicky mayonnaise from scratch to go with the sauce, but you can use store bought as well.

Simply mix 2/3 cup mayo with 1/3 cup ketchup and serve on top of the fries and pique macho.

Helado de Canela: Cinnamon Sorbet

We have no ice cream maker, but that didn't stop us from finishing this meal off with homemade sorbet. All you need is a metal bowl, a wooden spoon, and some basic pantry items.

5 cups water
1.5 cups sugar
2 short sticks cinnamon
1 tbsp starch
1 tbsp lemon juice

1. Boil the water with the cinnamon for 12 minutes.
2. Add the sugar and continue to boil for another five minutes.
3. Mix the starch with a small amount of water and pour it into the boiling mixture.
4. Boil another 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and toss into a metal bowl and put it into the freezer.
5. Every 30 minutes give the mixture a good stir. Continue doing this until it freezes and attains an ice cream gelato like texture (this took me about 3 hours).

In Conclusion

While many may turn their nose at the concept of piling beefy hash on top of fries and covering it all in mayonnaise ketchup sauce, I'm certainly not too proud to admit it's delicious. Thankfully, all of my guests were in complete agreement and a great feast was had by all. To top it off Carl managed to find a pan flute heavy Bolivian radio station streaming on the internet which we played throughout the whole meal.

While the food probably won't be scoring many Michelin stars anytime soon, there's a lot to be said for a big pile of comfort food. It all left me wanting to bust out my passport and again look for cheap flights to the Southern hemisphere. But it'll be a while before I can take that much time off. Ah well. Up next is Oman. Until then: salud!


  1. The macho part of pique macho, is the hot chili peppers(locoto) that come with it instead of the bell peppers. Its tastes so good and its much better when your mouth is on fire and you rush to douse it with some cold taquiña beer :D

  2. Thank you, anonymous! That makes perfect sense. I would have gladly made it much spicier if my lady friend didn't have such Midwestern tastebuds. Our friend Carl agrees with your choice of Taqiña! Cheers!