Friday, February 10, 2012

Discovering our tastes – Creole breakfasts: feasts that seem like lunches

Our breakfasts are lengthy feasts that may look more like a lunch than anything else. But, that’s the way we are. For the morning meal of Hispanics, there’s no room for saying: “mine without onions,” or “the sauce on the side” or “light butter please.” No, our creole breakfasts are just that and nothing more: a breakfast with everything. It is like a saying in Spanish about being served lentils that suggests that one eats what is served – or eats nothing.
There are no half measures.
For chef Sumito Estévez, breakfast “is a whole culture,” as he said in a note entitled “Sylvia’s Breakfasts,” published in his blog in 2009. “I’m not exaggerating one bit about breakfast.”
In general our breakfasts are very different from the corn flakes invented in 1906 by Will Keith Kellogg.
With such a feast, Hispanics live up the adage: “Eat breakfast like a king, have lunch like a prince, and dine like a beggar.”
Venezuelan creole breakfast
Hispanics start the day with a voracious appetite and proof  of that was the breakfast served in the restaurant “Los Bohíos” in the city of Coro in Falcon state in Venezuela. The menu was simple, stated in just two words: Creole breakfast. That was it. First there was black coffee, sweetened with brown sugar in a tiny, soufflé type cup known as “guayoyo.” Next was a plate with bits of cheese, lightly salted; these were the appetizers.
The traditional arepas are called “pelá” in that region. This is because cooking takes place in a griddle or comalthat is heated with wood or coal, and after they are cooked, they have to literally be scraped or “peeled” with a knife to remove the soot. The smoky flavor and bits of tender corn make the arepa a dish unto itself.
Finally comes the dish that will end the fast. There are so many components that it could be said that there is a competition for space between them.
A juicy plate of shredded meat, dotted with colorful bell peppers, is the main attraction. Next to it is a large serving of black beans, sprinkled with shredded white cheese, and bordering it is a fried egg with the yolk cooked through and with crispy edges, so it looks like a puff pastry.

Receta del desayuno criollo venezolano
Recipe for a Venezuelan creole breakfast

The recipe is from chef Armando Scannone and can be found in his book, “Mi Cocina,” (My Kitchen).

Arepa Pelá
12 servings

1 pound of white corn
23 cups of water
5 tablespoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Oil to grease the griddle or comal

The corn should be cooked a few hours in advance or the day before, so that it will be cold when one grinds it to make the dough.
Select the corn.
Wash the corn in a pot with running water until the water runs clear. Drain.
Put the corn in a large pot with water to cover well — about 13 cups — and the baking soda. Stir. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for 1 hour, until it is “al dente.”
Remove from heat and let cool in the same pot with the water that remains.
Once cooled, drain the water, wash and let drain in a colander.
Place the corn on a table and grind until all the husks are removed. Wash again.
Put the corn into another pot with about 10 cups of water and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Then wash and drain.
Grind the corn.
Knead in a large bowl for about 10 minutes.
To make the arepas, make two-inch balls of dough and flatten a bit.
Place in a preheated oven, heated with firewood (f a wood-fired oven is available.)
Set the griddle or comal on a burner. When hot, add a little oil and spread.
Cook the arepas for about 15 minutes, turning once letting the other side cook for about 8 minutes.
The burned part is scraped off with the blade of a knife.
Serve hot.

Carne Mechada (shredded meat)
6 servings

2.2 pounds of beef, preferably flank steak

Meat marinade:
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¾ cup grated onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons of salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cumin

Seasoning for the meat:
¼ cup oil
4 tomatoes, seeded, chopped into quarters
1 red pepper, seeded, chopped into quarters
1 onion, chopped into quarters
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato sauce

Clean the meat and make several cuts so that it is 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Mix the ingredients for the marinade and cover the meat well with this mixture.
Let it sit for at least a half an hour.
Preheat the oven.
Place the meat on a baking sheet and place in oven for about 10 minutes or until done.
Remove from oven and shred the meat, separating into strands.
Heat ¼ cup oil in a skillet or pot; blend the tomatoes, onion and pepper and add the oil; cook for about 3 minutes over medium heat.
Add the shredded beef, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and tomato sauce.
Stir, cover and simmer at low heat, stirring occasionally, for about half an hour until the sauce thickens, the seasoning cooks and the meat absorbs all those flavors.
Taste and add salt or pepper if needed.

Black beans
(6 servings)

2.2 pounds of black beans
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large onion
1 medium green pepper
6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon cumin (or more, to taste)
1 bunch of cilantro
¼ cup oil
3 strips of bacon
2 pig’s feet

Select the black beans.
The night before, the beans are placed in a container with water and a teaspoon of the soda. The water should be at least two fingers above the beans (as they will expand a bit). Stir and remove any beans that float; cover and let sit overnight.
The next day, wash well with water, then place on burner with enough water to cover; add the green pepper, seeded and cut into four pieces. When it softens, add the pig’s feet; when these soften, replenish the water. All this is done before adding salt, otherwise they won’t soften.
Once soft, add the salt. In a pan with oil, brown the diced bacon, chopped onion and crushed garlic; when golden brown (almost burnt), add to the beans and add the cumin.
Let simmer until the broth thickens and they take in the flavor of the seasoning.
Some 10 minutes before turning the burner off, add the sprig of chopped cilantro.

Photos by Juan Miret 

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