My love for Cuban food started with garlic. Any culture that drenches its food in garlic sauce is one I am in to. Mojo Criollo, the traditional Cuban dressing, calls for 10 cloves of garlic, bitter orange juice, and salt. Count me in. When Cuba: The Cookbook by Madelaine Vazquez Galvez and Imogene Tondre appeared at my doorstep, I couldn’t wait to dig in.
What I found most surprising about this book was not the number of garlic heads used in each recipe but the origins of how Cuban food came to be. You’d think being an island in the middle of the Caribbean would have an enormous influence on the country’s gastronomy but in fact there is very little fish consumption at all. Cuban food is a literal melting pot of Spain and Africa and even Russia and China. It’s food is more heavily influenced by its migrant populations than by its geography. You’ll find recipes in this book for Russian Salad, Vegetable Chicken Chop Suey, and Cuban Paella.
Maybe even more interesting is the relative subtleness of the cuisine. In addition to the array of cultural influences, Cuban food, it turns out, is a gentle mix of braised meats, steamed rice, sweet plantains, and tropical fruit. I feel as if the Cuban food I’ve had here in the states is amped up, maybe to suit the American palate, the way Chinese-American restaurants add sugar and canned bamboo shoots to everything they make.
This recipe for Ropa Vieja is a perfect example. A quick search of Ropa Vieja recipes online will give you 48,000,000 (not an exaggeration) and almost all of them are drenched in a thick tomato stew, typically flecked with sliced green, pimento-stuffed olives, white vinegar, cilantro, and a whole laundry list of ingredients.
The Ropa Vieja recipe from the book however is simple. Simmered beef, a few sautéed peppers, some paprika, cumin, white wine, and yes, garlic, but only three cloves. A pleasant dish served over rice that is easy enough to whip up on any given weeknight. Cuban dressing drizzled over the top for kicks, if you desire.Print
Cuban Ropa Vieja
Recipe from Cuba: The Cookbook by Madelaine Vázquez Galvez and Imogene Tondre This recipe, which has its origins in Spain, is considered a classic Cuban dish and is still popular today. Serve with an avocado salad and white rice, black beans, tostones, or Fried Sweet Plantains.
- Prep Time: 55 mins
- Cook Time: 1 hour 20 mins
- Total Time: 2 hours 15 mins
- Yield: 4 1x
- Category: Main
- Method: Braised
- Cuisine: Cuban
- Diet: Gluten Free
- 1 1/4 pounds beef skirt steak, cut into large pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 medium white onions—1 1/2 sliced and 1/2 left whole
- 3 garlic cloves—1 whole and 2 cloves crushed
- 1 sprig parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small carrot, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 chive, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- In a medium pot, bring 6 cups water to a boil. Add the meat and cook, skimming the foam from the surface, until tender, about 1 hour. After removing the foam two or three times, add 1 of the bay leaves, the 1/2 onion, the whole garlic clove, half the parsley, the oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper.
- Remove from the heat. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a plate to cool. Strain the broth and set aside 2 cups. Shred the meat into thin strips.
- In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrot, bell peppers, crushed garlic, sliced onions, and chives and cook until the onion turns translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the meat, stir, and add the reserved 2 cups broth. Add the paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, the remaining bay leaf, remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and the wine. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the remaining parsley and salt to taste. Cook for 2 more minutes.
Keywords: ropa vieja, cuban recipe, shredded beef
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