Cuban Ropa Vieja made with peppers, onions, and garlic. Easy and deeply satisfying, this dairy-free dish can be made in advance and reheated for a quick dinner or lunch.
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 is cuban food?
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.
what is cuban ropa vieja?
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 buffets add sugar and canned bamboo shoots to everything.
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 sauce, 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.
It keeps the idea of beef, simmered until tender and shredded—Ropa Vieja means old clothes in Spanish and the strands of beef resemble the tattered threads.
But the remainder of the recipe is pared way back from most I’ve read.
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.
The best thing about this dish, is you don’t need anything too crazy to make it. You will find everything you need with a trip to any grocery store whenever the urge hits. Here’s what you need:
- Beef. The recipe calls for skirt steak but you could also use flank steak or even chuck roast.
- Onions and peppers, garlic and a carrot. Use a combination of green and red peppers for a balance of flavors.
- Herbs and spices like bay leaves, oregano, cumin, paprika, pepper, chives, and parsley.
- White wine. Substitute beef broth if you want to stay away from alcohol.
tips for success
This is a simple dish that is made in two steps.
First, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the garlic, beef and other aromatics like onion, bay leaf, parsley, oregano, and black pepper then simmer until the beef is very tender.
This is the longest part of the recipe. It takes 2-3 hours for the beef to get supple enough to shred. If you’d like, you can do this part in a slow cooker. Follow the same instructions, just put everything in the slow cooker instead of a pot on the stove. Cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8.
Next, simmer the shredded meat with the carrot, peppers, more garlic and onions. Deglaze the pan with white wine and add a few more spices like paprika and cumin.
Serve with steamed rice and sautéed green beans!
more cuban recipes you might like:
- Cuban Grilled Chicken
- Roast Pork Burger with Mojo Onions
- Jose Garces’ Cuban Sandwich
- Easy Chicken Empanadas with Garlic Mojo Sauce
cuban comfort food at its best!
Looking for a taste of Cuba? Bring their national dish to your table tonight! If you make this Cuban Ropa Vieja, let me know how you like it! Share a photo and tag me on Instagram using @holajalapeno and #holajalapeno so I can see or leave me a comment below.
- 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.