If there is one word I associate with Colombian food, it is fresh. This South American country lies close to the equator, meaning that Colombia’s citizens enjoy an abundance of tropical fruits and vegetables year round. Add to that fortuitous latitude coastlines that touch both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and you have fresh seafood to round out a local cornucopia of fresh culinary ingredients.
While much of Colombia’s food is produced using what are considered sustainable practices, organic production is just starting to gain a foothold. As such, I was pleasantly surprised during a recent visit to Bogotá to stumble upon Suna, an organic restaurant with a small natural foods store adjacent to its dining area. Here, cofounder Miguel Carrillo described to me his dedication to cooking with fresh, local, and sustainably grown and harvested ingredients that he prepares in an artisanal fashion that is elegant, simple—and delicious!
Below you’ll find a sampling of the types of dishes Carrillo serves in his delightful restaurant. If you have trouble finding any of the ingredients mentioned in these recipes, says Carillo, simply substitute with vegetables and fruits seasonally available in your area. ¡Que aproveche!
Subs for Colombian ingredients
tamarind paste : a tart fruit, such as blackberry or plum, pureed and reduced
passion fruit : blackberry, raspberry, or guava
rocoto pepper : jalapeño or Serrano sea bass : haddock or cod
Fresh Vegetable Rolls with Mango and Tamarind Sauce (Rollitos Silvestres)
Makes 12 / These lovely rolls feature an intensely flavored, sweet-sour sauce made with tamarind, a sour pulp found in tree pods native to Asia. Ingredient tip: Look for tamarind concentrate or paste sold in jars and cans in your natural market’s ethnic foods section. Prep tip: Blanching makes the chives pliable enough to tie around the rolls. To blanch, drop in boiling water for 10 seconds, then drain and run under cold water. View recipe.
Bass Ceviche with Passion Fruit (Ceviche de Corvina con Maracuyá)
Serves 4 / A fresh and easy appetizer. Prep tip: If you can’t find passion fruit, substitute four fresh or canned guava, available in natural and Latino markets. Serving tip: Serve with sturdy lettuce or endive leaves to scoop. View recipe.
Grilled Tofu with Portobellos (Asado de Tofu y Hongos)
Serves 2 / A hearty, easy, and beautiful vegetarian entrée. The sautéed mushrooms also taste great over chicken or fish. View recipe.
Sea Bass with Capers and Avocado Relish (Corvina Latina)
Serves 1 / A restaurant-quality entrée you can make for dinner tonight (it’s easily doubled for two). Sea bass, also called Patagonian toothfish, has a remarkably buttery flavor. Ingredient tip: If you can’t get it fresh, substitute another type of white fish, such as haddock, cod, turbot, or flounder. View recipe.
Grilled Shrimp Ceviche with Chile Sauce
Serves 4 / At Suna, Carillo uses rocoto, a very hot Peruvian pepper, so he cooks it five or six times to end up with a mild sauce. Less-hot jalapeños need only three or four cooking rounds—or fewer if you like a spicier sauce. View recipe.
Tapioca Pudding with Passion Fruit (Pudín de Tapioca con Maracuyá)
Serves 8 / Tapioca is a starch extracted from yucca, a root native to the Amazon. The tart passion fruit sauce perks up tapioca’s plain flavor (plus, passion fruit is very common in Colombia). Ingredient tip: You’ll find passion fruit intermittently in North American markets; look for those that aren’t dry on the outside (when they’re old, they end up shrinking a little, like raisins). Prep tip: If you can’t find passion fruit, substitute four fresh or canned guava, available in natural and Latino markets; or use any tart berry that’s seasonal and local to your area. View recipe.