Who’s Cooking: Marcela Hede of East Northport

By Rosemary Olander,December 28, 2008

MARCELA HEDE Lives in East Northport with her husband, Neil, and son, Ian, 3. She also runs a Web site called hispanic-culture-online.com.

When did you learn to cook? My family comes from the region in Colombia called Antioquia Department. It encompasses the Andes. We eat a lot of beans, mainly frijoles cargamanto – large red beans that puff up when you cook them. When I was a child we had full-time help because my parents worked. I would come home from school and stand with the cook on my little bench and help her. But the real moment I learned to cook was when I got married.

How would you describe your cooking style? I think it’s very practical.
We are busy, but we want to keep our Latin ties alive. And I find it’s very convenient to have a pressure cooker, for cooking beans or chicken, because otherwise our cooking style in Colombia can be very time-consuming.

What are some South American foods you incorporate into your daily diet? I like to buy the frozen [fruit] pulps that you can find in Hispanic markets. My son and husband love the blackberry pulp; you combine it in the blender with brown sugar and a little water, and it’s a perfect drink with lunch and breakfast. If you add a little ice cream, it makes it nice and frothy.

What’s a typical weeknight meal in your home? I like to buy South American-style meat – large pieces of beef that are very thinly sliced – season it with a bit of mashed garlic, adobo or cumin, and salt and then freeze it in individual packages. In the morning I put a package in the refrigerator, and that night I might caramelize onions with olive oil and then cook the meat very quickly. On the side I would have rice and salad with avocado. It’s a meal that’s ready in 20 minutes.

What’s the derivation of ajiaco? This is a typical dish from the capital region of Colombia; people there eat a lot of potatoes. This dish has three types of potatoes, which help thicken the soup, and a special herb called guascas, which adds a smoky flavor. It’s very good soup for this time of year because the area where it comes from is very cold.

Are there any Colombian restaurants where you enjoy dining? I like a restaurant in Brentwood called Mi Tierrita, which means “my land.” You have to wait on line for a long, long time. The portions are generous, and it’s owned by people from Bogotá. They have great juices – guava, blackberry, guanabana. What I really like is the fish soup, a piece of fish in a great thick broth that includes yucca and potatoes and onions.

AJIACO COLOMBIANO

South American potatoes and herbs (e.g., guascas) are available at markets such as Compare and C-Town that carry Hispanic foods.

  • 4 chicken breasts halves with the skin (about 3 pounds)
  • 5 scallions, white part only, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 pound criolla potatoes (Colombian yellow potatoes) or small white boiling potatoes, peeled, quartered
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed and trimmed
  • 2 1/2 pounds sabanera potatoes, or red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons dried guascas
  • 4 ears corn, each cut into 3 sections
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup capers with juice
  • 3 ripe avocados

1. Toss together chicken, half of scallions, salt and pepper; refrigerate about 2 hours. When ready to cook, put the chicken in a large dutch oven or Chambaware pot (a clay pot traditionally used for Colombian cooking) and cover with 4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover; simmer until chicken is tender, about 35 minutes.
2. Transfer chicken to a platter and let cool. Remove skin from chicken and shred the chicken into thin strips.
3. Add the bouillon cubes and papas criollas to the water and cook until they start to disintegrate, giving the soup a thick but fairly smooth consistency, about 30 minutes.
4. Add the remaining scallions, the garlic, chopped onions, cilantro, sabanera and russet potatoes, guascas and corn. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove cilantro and scallions, add shredded chicken and heat through. Ladle into bowls and top with a spoonful of cream, a few capers and a few thin slices of avocado. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

The original article can be found in the archives of Newsday, a Long Island, NY newspaper.