In her new book Colombiana, Mariana Velsquez revisits her roots to give traditional hominy mazamorra a delicious makeover.
Gentl & Hyers
Mariana Velquez recalls her grandmothers mazamorra vividly. Growing up in Bogot, Colombia, the hominy-and-milk porridge was a staple in her family. And most days after school, Velquez would enjoy a bowl of it at the kitchen table.
My grandmother was from Antioquia, says Velsquez, a Brooklyn-based food stylist, photographer and recipe developer. And even though she lived in Bogot, she would make mazamorra for us all the time. There would always be a pot of a mazamorra in the fridgeit was something that was a constant growing up.
Antioquia is in the northwest corner of Colombia, where arrieros historically transported goods and supplies on mule back to rural and remote communities around the mountainous region. Of course, this kind of hard labor requires a hearty breakfastenter the mazamorra. Those traveling through the region today can still find roadside mazamorra stands.
Its very much a part of the cuisine of Antioquia, she says. Even though the distance in kilometers or by plane [across Antioquia] is very short, the terrain is so rugged that it takes quite a while to drive from point A to B, which is part of the reason Colombias food has stayed so regional and local.
Velsquez moved to New York when she was 17. Thanks to a love of food instilled in her from a young age, she knew she wanted to cook for a living. After graduating from culinary school, she worked in kitchens, in a magazine test kitchen and collaborated on more than two dozen book projects as a stylist and recipe developer, including Michelle Obamas American Grown. However, it wasnt until she began working on her fourth and latest cookbook, Colombiana, that her native cuisine took center stage.
After 22 years of being in the U.S. and working in the world of food, I found myself ready to write about the food of my own country, she says. I needed to do the full circle of understanding everything else I wanted to understand and experience to be able to look inwards and think about the food of my country and how it has influenced the chef and stylist that I am.
Around the same time she began writing her book, she also discovered that she could easily find cracked corn in the U.S. This inspired her to start experimenting with how she could update the mazamorra recipe she grew up with to make it an even more enticing breakfast or brunch dish. Ultimately, she created a new version that is now a staple in Velsquezs home and is featured in her new book.
Here are Velsquezs tips and tricks for making mazamorra at home, and her recommendations for giving it a modern, fruit-forward makeover.
The base of Velsquezs mazamorra recipe sticks to tradition, blending hominy with milk and panela (an unrefined cane sugar). If you cant get panela, you can substitute brown sugar.
The dishs name pays homage to the Spanish word for corn, maz, and uses hominy corn that has been treated with an alkali to make the grains carbohydrates and proteins more receptive to cooking. This process is called nixtamalization. Its sweet, but the hominy also has kind of a musty taste, says Velsquez. Its a complex grain. You can really taste the corn and the depth of the grain.
To make the porridge, Velsquez uses pre-cooked canned hominy rather than dried to simplify the process, though she says both produce a delicious mazamorra. It cooks in a saucepan with the milk and panela for about 15 to 20 minutes, resulting in an oatmeal-like porridge.
The corn keeps its texture, its firmness, she says. Because it cooks a little bit in the milk, its not completely liquid, it has a little bit of thickness to it.
When considering how to update the mazamorra she used to enjoy with her grandmother, Velsquez focused on adding a bit of brightness to the dish.
My own twist was adding fruit marinated in a bit of sugar and lemon juice, she says. The acidity really balances out the sweetness of the milk, the panela and the liquid.
This time of year she likes to use blackberries, since theyre in season, but shes yet to find a fresh fruit that doesnt taste good atop mazamorra.
Other seasonal fruits such as plums, cherries, mango or pineapple will do nicely as well, says Velsquez. In the peak of summer, Ill do nectarines. In the fall, I do pears or even pomegranate seeds. And in the winter, Ill do apples. Seasonal fruit really celebrates the flavors and the texture of this recipe.
With the porridge and fruit ready to go, all thats left to do is assemble the dish. After topping a bowl of mazamorra with a few marinated berries, she adds a dollop of skyr or Greek yogurt for texture and a bit of tanginess. The finishing touch is a garnish of edible flowers to make it extra pretty.
While its common to enjoy mazamorra while its still warm, as you would with oatmeal, Velsquez likes to serve it chilled, too. When stopping at roadside stands with her grandmother in Colombia, she always ordered it cold.
I love it cold because the corn, the cold milk and chunks of panela sort of start melting into the milk, she says. With a dash of sea salt its really good and the addition of fruit really balances it out.
Serves 4 to 6