Karina Korenblum, a native of Cali Colombia in South America, opens the door with a smile and leads the way into her home. I have come hungry and my stomach begins the conversation.
As she starts to cook she talks a little about the country she is from, Colombia. The third most populous country in Latin America it has more than 46 million ethnically diverse people calling it home. The cuisine from this region reflects the local vegetation and the mixing of the many cultural traditions of its immigrants. Dishes and recipes are based on region but national mainstays include lentils, legumes (beans), and rice.
She describes most of the foods from her home as little fried tasty treats like empanadas (meat pies), arepas (corn cakes), and chicharrón (Latin-style pork cracklings) and comfort foods like stews, soups, grains, and beans. Colombian cuisine also features many types of tropical fruits such as mango, papaya, guava, and lulo. These help to make favorite dishes more colorful and vibrant and it’s these colors along with the music, the sea, the dancing, and the people and their humor that Karina misses most about her country of birth.
She has lived in many places and has been able to adapt to many styles of kitchens and cuisine but after having lived in the Czech Republic for four years she still prefers the tastes of home to more traditional Czech meals. The main difficulty she faces in cooking these dishes is that some ingredients are missing or nearly impossible to find here like Plantains, which are small green bananas that must be cooked. Another difficult to find ingredient is Cassava or manioc, which is a root vegetable that has a potato-like texture and can be cooked much the same way.
Veggies are always on her shopping list and the farmers markets at Kubánské náměstí in Vršovice and at Jiřího z Poděbrad in Žižkov keep the fridge full of fresh produce. She also keeps plenty of her favorite seasonings like garlic, coriander, green onions and parsley on hand. For certain specialty food items she heads to the Afroafrik store in the Śtěpánská pasáž.
The meal she is making for us is a type of stew that is the country’s most popular dish. It is made all over and can be found on both the richest and poorest tables with only slight variations in ingredients according to local products. Originally called, Sancocho Valluno, after the region where she is from, she has renamed it; Sancocho Prageño in honor of the local Czech variation.
NOTE: You will need a pressure cooker (you can use a regular pot but may have to let it cook longer, until the chicken falls from the bones).
1 whole chicken (free-range if possible)
Rice (enough for each person)
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
Cilantro, 1 bundle
Green onions, approx. 6
Boullion, to taste
2 to 3 ears of corn, shucked and chopped into sections
1 or 2 Manioc roots, peeled and cut into pieces
2-5 potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
2-3 avocados, cut into wedges
Salt and pepper, to taste
Prepare the chicken by washing, trimming off the extra fat, and cutting into pieces. Prepare the rice in a separate pot and set aside. Put some canola oil into the pressure cooker, add the chicken, and place over low to medium heat. Add garlic and stir occasionally to keep from burning. Roll the cilantro and onions into a bundle, tie together with a piece of string, and add to the pot. Add 4 to 6 cups of water and boullion and put heat on high. Allow chicken to cook until very soft and the meat is falling off the bones, approx. 20 to 30 mins. After 15 to 20 minutes, add the corn. When the chicken is fully cooked remove the herb bundle and the chicken from the pot. Throw the herbs out and put the chicken in a bowl to the side. Skim the extra fat from the top of the liquid in the pot then add the chicken, potatoes, and manioc root and cook until soft. Season to taste. Serve with rice and wedges of avocado.
The smells emanating from the pot make my stomach rumble even louder and I feel my salivary glands kick in as Karina dishes out the meal to an international table of tasters. The stew doesn’t disappoint. It’s like home; solid, savory, and filling.
We finish off with a delicious desert of American-style banana muffins complete with cream cheese icing. It’s these muffins, along with the French wine, Italian coffee, and multi-national table that reinforces the integration of cultures and tastes that make up an average meal for expats in Prague.
The Afroafrik store
Mon-Fri. – 12-20
773 501 280
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Photos by Margot Buff