Funche Aliñado
One of the most interesting things about the Latin American culture is that we have
an extraordinarily rich African heritage that is manifested in many dishes, customs,
dances, and traditions. Our food is a mix of European, indigenous, and African
traditions. This last ethnic group brought with them recipes and techniques that we
still use in our kitchens.


According to history books, the first boatload of African slaves arrived in Venezuela
in 1526 and it was not until 1854 that slavery was abolished, freeing over 40,000
slaves. However, the abolition of slavery in Venezuela served as a political victory,
no economic measures were taken to guarantee work to a vast mass of freed
slaves, which caused many of them to return to their former owners to engage in
plantation labor.  The Blacks who were taken from Africa and transferred to America
by the colonizers had to adapt to a diet of the food that was provided by the
landowners. According to “La Historia de Mi Patria,” it is known that in Venezuela
meat and corn were given to the Black slaves of the mines and that this diet was
completed with some fruits grown in the area.


In many Caribbean countries with African influence, sofrito is used to cook as a
basic condiment. It is generally composed of onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes.
Annatto is added to give the fat a yellowish color. Funche made with ground dried
corn, beef, and sofrito was the most characteristic dish of slavery that became
typical due to the custom imposed by the plantation owners.


I remember my grandmother over the stove making big batches of funche. I also
remember my great grandmother eating funche with her hands, using it to soak up
the meat sauce on her plate. I never connected the image of the two women that
shaped my love for cooking to the fact that they were both Black. I never asked my
grandmother how she learned to make funche or why we ate Funche sometimes. I
never knew that Funche was a dish born from slavery.  When we think of Funche, it
is just something that our grandmothers made with no history other than it was
cheap, easy, and filling.


For Black History Month, I leave you a version of the traditional Funche Aliñado that
my grandmother used to make. Enjoy!

Ingredients
(serves 8 as a side dish)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small steak cut in small cubes.
1 small onion, diced,
2 cloves garlic, minced.
3 green onions, sliced.
4 small sweet peppers, diced.
1 jalapeño seeded and diced.
½ cup minced cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon annatto powder
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 cups corn flour

Method
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add cubed steak and cook stirring with
a wooden spoon until browned. Add diced onions and minced garlic, cook until
translucent, about 5 minutes. Add green onions, sweet peppers, jalapeño, and
cilantro, mix everything until well combined.  Add 4 cups of water. Incorporate the
seasonings and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, start adding the flour in a small
amount while stirring with the wooden spoon. Make sure the flour is completely
dissolved with no lumps before adding more flour. Continue until all the flour has
been added. It will start thickening rather quickly. You must stir constantly to avoid
the corn flour burning to the bottom. It is a laborious step, but it doesn’t take much
time. Once the corn flour absorbs all the water and it has a doughy consistency, turn
the heat off.  Transfer the Funche to a deep dish or baking dish, push hard to adapt
the shape of the dish. Using a rubber spatula smooth the top.  Let it cool at room
temperature. When ready to eat, turn the plate over a cutting board and slice the
funche.


Optional
Serve with sour cream and hard white cheese like feta.
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