When we went searching for ways to update a classic American meal, we looked to the flavors and ingredients of South American cooking for inspiration. Pot roast gets a fresh, sweet balance via Colombian posta negra, a slow-braised beef chuck flavored with an aromatic blend of cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and black peppercorns.
Quinoa takes the place of rice in our pilaf recipe. It’s spiked with sweet dates and crunchy almonds, and made all the more flavorful by soaking up carrot juice, ginger, and cumin. And a Bolivian corn cake called huminta inspires our search for a better corn bread, combining finely ground cornmeal and fresh corn kernels.
Colombian Braised Beef (Posta Negra)
Makes 4 servings
Named after its dark, sweet sauce, posta negra is a classic Colombian dish made by braising beef in a flavorful liquid seasoned with panela sugar and spices. For our version, we call for a 5-pound beef chuck roast; it’s a fat-rich cut, so trim it well before tying the roast. In Colombia, the dish might be served with fried plantains, yucca fritters, and a simple salad.
Don’t carve the roast without first letting it rest, which makes the meat easier to cut into neat slices.
5-pound boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and patted dry
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
10 medium garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole allspice
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cup dry red wine
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Heat the oven to 300 degrees with a rack in the lower-middle position. Using kitchen twine, tie the roast at 2-inch intervals. Season on all sides with salt and pepper.
In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the onion is well browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, peppercorns, and cloves. Pour in the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook until thick and syrupy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and prunes.
Place the roast in the pot, then turn to coat with the liquid. Cover and bake until a paring knife inserted into the thickest part meets no resistance, about 3½ hours. Transfer the roast to a shallow baking dish and loosely tent with foil. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Pour the contents of the pot into the strainer and press on the solids with a rubber spatula to extract as much liquid and pulp as possible; scrape the underside of the strainer to collect the pulp. Discard the solids. Let the liquid and pulp settle for about 5 minutes (you should have about 1½ cups), then skim off the fat. Return the defatted liquid and pulp to the Dutch oven and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons water and the cornstarch. Whisk into the simmering liquid and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the vinegar. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
Transfer the roast to a cutting board. Remove and discard the twine. Cut the meat against the grain into ½-inch slices and transfer to a platter. Pour about 1 cup of the sauce over the meat. Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.
Quinoa Pilaf With Dates, Almonds, and Carrot Juice
Makes 4 servings
We like toasted almonds, but buttery cashews work well, too. Finishing with scallion, lemon, and fresh dill brightens the final dish.
Don’t worry about rinsing the quinoa — most varieties sold in the United States are pre-rinsed (just check the packaging).
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced (about ½ cup)
1 small yellow onion, diced (about ½ cup)
1 cup white quinoa
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup carrot juice
4 Medjool dates, pitted and diced
1/3 cup chopped almonds or cashews, toasted
2 scallions, trimmed and chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more to garnish
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling (optional)
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the carrot, onion, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring, until fragrant and beginning to pop, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and cumin and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the carrot juice, ¾ cup water, and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce to medium-low, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, 11 to 13 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and uncover. Sprinkle in the dates, cover the pan with a kitchen towel, and replace the lid. Let sit for 10 minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork, then add the almonds or cashews, scallions, dill, and lemon zest and juice. Stir gently to combine, season with salt and pepper, then garnish with dill and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.
Bolivian Pepper Jack Corn Bread (Humintas al Horno)
Makes 12 servings
Bolivian humintas al horno have a moist, dense crumb and a savory-sweet flavor. They’re not unlike large, spiced tamales (anise and cinnamon are common) enriched with cheese. Though traditional recipes might wrap the corn mixture in husks before baking, we opt for a standard 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Corn kernels cut from fresh ears work best here although thawed frozen kernels are a fine substitute; drain in a colander before using. Don’t use coarse cornmeal because its texture is too gritty. And don’t overbake this corn bread or it will be crumbly and dry.
363 grams (2½ cups) finely ground cornmeal, plus more for pan
64 grams (1/3 cup) white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon anise seeds
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups corn kernels (cut from 3 to 4 large ears; see note)
1 orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1½ cups whole milk
4 large eggs
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) salted butter, melted and slightly cooled
8 ounces pepper jack cheese, cut into ½-inch chunks
Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray, dust evenly with cornmeal, then tap out the excess. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, cayenne, anise seeds, and salt. Set aside.
In a blender or food processor, combine the corn, bell pepper, and milk. Process until very smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in the eggs and butter. Whisk in the cornmeal mixture until smooth. Pour about half of the batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle the cheese on top, then add the remaining batter in an even layer.
Bake until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Serve warm.