Latin American Cuisine: Colombian-style Cottage Pie

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

With Latin American Cuisine, we explore the wide world of food in South and Central America. Check back each week for recipes from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, and beyond.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

I want to say right off the bat that I had very little to do with this week's recipe other than eating it, loving it, and curating it. It was sitting there, hot on the table after a particularly long day at work. My wife doesn't always cook, but when she does, she does it right.

My first thoughts when I saw it were, "Oooh, shepherd's pie. There's not enough shepherd's pie in my life." I was wrong on several counts. First off, it's not shepherd's pie, as there's no sheep in it. Cattleman's pie is perhaps more like it. Secondly—and this only became clear after I started eating—that stuff that looks like potato on top? It ain't potato.

Not that Colombian's don't eat potatoes—as one of the ancestral homes of the vegetable, Colombia's got potatoes up the wazoo—but in this case, the mash on top is made with starchy yuca, which gives the whole thing an interesting buttery sweetness.

About half way through the meal, I asked my wife is this was actually a traditional Colombian dish.

Uh, no idea. I'm not sure if I had it in Colombia, but probably something similar? Dunno, my mom wasn't surprised to hear about it but I don't think I ever had it at home. I don't recognize it as a typical Colombian thing but probably not so far-fetched. Just went along with it and did what I thought would taste good. I just did what I want.

"Hmm," I said out loud. "Is it allowed in the column? Well you, my darling wife, are Colombian, this is cuisine, and hang on a second, I'm the one who writes the darn thing, so it's going in, by gum!"

At least that's how the conversation went in my head.

The base for the pie is a super-simple picadillo of beef flavored with guiso (a.k.a. hogao), the stewed tomato and onion sofrito that forms the flavor backbone of many dishes from the mountainous regions. After that, it's thickened up with a bit of broth, spooned into a casserole dish, and topped with buttery mashed yuca root before being baked until golden brown and bubbly.

With something this rich, comforting, and easy, tradition can go take the bus.