Food is about so much more than nutrition—it’s one of the most personal expressions of our cultures, values, and traditions. Our series, Behind the Recipe, profiles a different healthy cook every month to explore the personal, untold stories of their favorite dishes.
This month, Mariana Velásquez shares a recipe for cayeye con huevo y hierbas (creamy banana puree) from her new cookbook, Colombiana ($24). The story behind the recipe comes straight from her childhood. Velásquez first had it for breakfast at her best friend's house and she perfected the dish herself as an adult. Keep reading to learn the story and to see how to make the dish yourself.
When I was 15 years old, my best friend Ana invited me to the coast of Colombia to spend a long holiday weekend with her family. I grew up in Bogotá, and she would vacation with her family in a different town called Santa Marta in the state of Magdalena. This part of Colombia is near the Magdalena River, which crosses the entire country, ending at the Caribbean Sea. It has a really rich history and there are so many legends about Magdalena. In fact, Gabriel García Márquez chose this specific part of Colombia as the setting for his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. It's just a really magical place.
Bananas grow in abundance in Magdalena; they are a very important crop for this region. They're incorporated into Colombian dishes in many different ways, both savory and sweet. I was certainly no stranger to banana-centric meals, but that Saturday morning when I woke up at my friend's house, her mom served a banana breakfast I'd never tried before: Cayeye.
If I close my eyes, I can still taste this creamy banana puree, which is also made with eggs, garlic, and salt. The bananas themselves weren't ripe yet, so they added only a subtle sweetness to the dish; the perfect balance to the savory ingredients. You know what we topped it off with? Cheez Whiz! When I was 15, I thought Cheez Whiz was so cool because it came from the United States and was just fun and interesting to eat.
I didn't make cayeye con huevo y hierbas myself until about five years ago. At this point, I'd been living in New York City a while—where I still live—and had built a career as a chef and food stylist. I had bought a bunch of bananas for a food styling job and after the shoot, I was trying to figure out what to do with them. Most of them weren't ripe yet, so I thought, you know what, I'm not going to wait for these to ripen. I'll just have a bunch of people over for cayeye con huevo y hierbas.
After I prepared it—just winging the recipe from memory to be honest—it brought me right back to that moment of being 15 at my best friend's house. I forgot just how deeply delicious this dish is. And you know what? It's easy. None of the ingredients are expensive or hard to find. It's just not-yet-ripe bananas, eggs, garlic, butter, extra-virgin olive oil, lime juice, salt, pepper, and scallions and cilantro if you happen to have them. After I was reminded of how vibrant and flavorful it is, I started making the creamy banana puree more often.
The main thing to keep in mind when making this dish is that the bananas should be green; not even a little bit yellow. The consistency is also important to get right: It should be creamy, almost like mashed potatoes. Personally, I like mine a little chunky. Other than that, you can really customize it to your own liking, using whatever herbs you love most.
Taste and memory are so intricately linked, but sometimes you don't know what powerful memory you're creating until you've lived past the moment. What I love about this dish is that it's comforting but it isn't time-consuming to make. That way, you're free to spend your time with loved ones around the breakfast table, enjoying the food and each other. Who knows, it could be the meal you close your eyes and come back to years later.
Mariana Velásquez's Cayeye Con Huevo Hierbas (Creamy Banana Puree With Poached Eggs & Herbs)
6 medium green bananas, peeled
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
6 large organic eggs
1 cup grated dried, salty cheese (costeño, ricotta salata, or Cotija)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the peeled bananas, garlic, and salt in a medium pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until soft, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Over high heat, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high, and keep the water at a gentle simmer. Prepare a medium-size bowl of warm water and place near the stove. Crack one egg into a small strainer over a bowl and drain any watery egg white. Discard the clear liquid in the bowl. Gently slide the egg into the simmering water, and cook, for about four minutes, until the egg white is pulled together. Remove the egg from the water with a slotted spoon, and place into the warm water to hold while the other eggs poach. Repeat with each egg.
Remove the bananas from the heat and set aside. Discard the garlic clove and strain and reserve one cup of the cooking liquid. In a food processor, puree the bananas, cheese, butter, lime juice, and salt to taste. Scrape down the sides of the processor with a rubber spatula. Add a half cup of the reserved cooking liquid and puree to soften. The mixture should be creamy but not too loose. Add some or all of the remaining half cup reserved liquid if it feels stiff. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
3. In a small saucepan, heat the oil. Add the scallions and cook, stirring, until tender and the whites begin to turn golden brown, about two minutes.
4. To serve, divide the warm cayeye, plus more to taste among bowls, and top with egg, one tablespoon sautéed scallions, and the cilantro. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
As told to Emily Laurence.
Recipe credit: From the book Colombiana by Mariana Velásquez Villegas. Copyright © 2021 by Mariana Velásquez Villegas. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
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