In ‘Colombiana,’ recipes made for warm-weather entertaining in style
Over the last year, we’ve all become pros of sorts when it comes to entertaining outdoors. But hosting a dinner when it’s hot out is an entirely different matter. Cold food loses its appetizing chill too quickly, and piping-hot food just leaves the host drenched in sweat in the kitchen as the guests arrive. You want food that is made for casual, air-temperature grazing while friends sip cocktails in glasses sweating from the heat.
As the days have gotten warmer lately, I find myself yearning for that kind of entertaining, the kind that fits the languid feeling of the day’s last exhale of heat, right before the sun sets and L.A. cools off once again. And when I think of that vibe, my mind immediately goes to Mariana Velásquez, a seasoned chef and food stylist who has worked on numerous cookbooks throughout her career and with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working in the past.
Velásquez knows how to make a meal look fashionable, sumptuous and inviting. And in her new book, “Colombiana: A Rediscovery of Recipes and Rituals From the Soul of Colombia,” she shows off her prowess via the foods and dishes of her home country. Born in Bogotá, Velásquez documents the foodways of Colombia and shows the breadth of the country’s cuisine, which all seems intentionally made to sate during sweltering temperatures.
The term colombianas, from which the cookbook takes its name, is a nickname for the women and matriarchs of Colombia, and they are the chief inspiration for Velásquez’s book. Their influence is felt not only in her recipes but also in her entertaining style, which is generous and hospitable, a colombiana attribute. She composes menus filled with dishes that, on a practical level, fit a theme for a late-summer party or a night in with friends, but through her lens, they also feel touched by all the generations of colombianas that have come before her, each dish imbued with their wisdom and heritage.
Ripe plantains are simmered in coconut milk perfumed with orange juice, cinnamon and cloves in a sublime side dish called plátanos en tentación, inspired by a recipe from Teresita Román de Zurek, a cookbook author and the heiress to the famous Kola Román soft drink family of Caratagena. A dessert custard made with fresh coconut and sweetened condensed milk is a recipe from Velásquez’s aunt, Lilita.
The star of one menu — influenced by the city of Cartagena and also pictured on the cover of the book — is a meltingly tender beef roast that’s braised in broth infused with chiles, red wine and panela. It is served with fluffy coconut rice and a vibrant and fresh smashed cucumber salad — the intense tartness lifts the hearty beef roast. For this dish, Velásquez was inspired by an American woman, cookbook author Molly Stevens, from whom she learned all about the technique of braising. The roast, Velásquez says, is even better made the day before and served at room temperature, like the rest of the dishes.
Reading Velásquez’s headnotes is like reading small odes to the colombianas, whose influence is felt on every page. Her recipe instructions are filled with helpful tips and assurances about how the food can be served. But best of all, it’s all food that’s instantly satisfying and fits perfectly this time of year in L.A. when the summer air is still searing but the party must go on.
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