Serve some heritage. Feel the love.
Sisters Olga and Carolina Belmonte have a 12-year age gap, but the separation melts away when they get together to cook. These Leawood kitchen masters have been serving up Spanish culinary creations to their families and friends for years, and sometimes their guests have no words.
“At a dinner party once my guests just started clapping,” Olga says. “When someone likes your food, you can tell on their face and in their attitude. Everything seems better after a good meal.”
Olga’s and Carolina’s great grandfather came to the U.S. from Spain in the late 1800s, and their family has been “coming and going ever since.”
“Our parents came in the 1960s,” Olga says. “I came as a baby, and Carol was born here 12 years later in Indiana. Our mother would cook every day. Although she mainly cooked Spanish meals, she soon adopted American recipes as well.”
Olga says that it wasn’t until Carolina moved to KC seven years ago that they were able to start cooking together: “I love how cooking together takes us back to our roots and mom’s kitchen.”
With four children between them, these sisters believe in the importance of the family table – a fixture that in Spain brings families together several times a day, usually with a glass of wine.
“Spain has some of the best weather in Europe and so much coastline that they have great fish, fruits and vegetables. Some recipes can be very old and have been passed down for decades and in some cases centuries. For example, during the Roman Empire the delicacy of that time was a sauce made in Spain out of fish and their intestines called “garum,” and the Roman elite had it in their meals.”
Olga says that one of her favorite Spanish dishes is tapas or small plates for sharing: “It’s an important way to bring people together and a simple way to try and eat different things in one meal.”
Olga and Carolina believe that food unites people and creates memories.
“Pass on your recipes by cooking with your kids,” they implore. “Ignite a little curiosity towards trying new food – we suggest from Spain and preferably in Spain to get the whole experience. Trying food from other countries gives you ideas and expands your palate. It inspires you to travel and share your experiences through food.”
Olga says that her family started a new tradition at Christmas in which every family member prepares a secret recipe for the day: “Later, we all eat them and give our opinions. It gets intense!”
Olga’s specialty is paella, which she will be incorporating into the menu of her new catering company, AliOli, that will feature her Spanish and European cuisine. On the home front, Olga’s cooking is what she describes as mainly “comfort food,” with most of her recipes in her head.
“My kids have been bugging me for years to write my recipes down,” Olga says. “Good thing my kids cook with me, so hopefully they’ve been learning.”
Olga and Carolina believe the key to great cooking is to buy the best basic ingredients and then keep it simple. Olga says she loves having dinner parties and getting invited to them, too.
“I sometimes try new recipes on my guests,” Olga says. “That’s usually a no-no, but I do warn them ahead!”
Olga adds that she believes cooking meets a heartfelt need in the lives of others and quotes her brother-in-law who told her that he feels like crying for joy after a particularly delicious and memorable meal.
“Food absolutely feeds the soul,” Olga says. “It creates and later brings back memories. We can’t live without food. It feeds us not only nutritiously but feeds our mood, mind and emotions. There are a lot of obsessions with eating ‘right’ these days. But good food… is good food.”
To contact Olga for any catering needs, you can reach her at email@example.com.
Mama’s Pollo a la Cazuela
2 lb. chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, cut into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, whole
4 plump red tomatoes, peeled and diced with juices
¼ cup white wine
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. thyme and oregano
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper
4 large potatoes
Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks.
Heat oil and fry potatoes till done. Drain on paper towel. Add salt.
In a large casserole dish or stockpot on stove, add 3 T. olive oil, chopped onion, whole garlic cloves, and bay leaf. Simmer a few minutes, add chicken pieces, and let brown.
Add wine and let it evaporate a few minutes before adding tomatoes, spices, salt, pepper, and sugar. Stir well. Cook over medium heat. When tomato begins to soften and blend with chicken, add ½ cup water. Stir in potatoes. Partially cover with lid. Let simmer until some of the liquid evaporates. Cool before serving.