This Authentic Cuban Ropa Vieja Recipe 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.
This post was first published on July 31, 2018 and last updated on October 21, 2022.
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.
Its 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-American 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 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 translates to 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 green bell peppers, some paprika, cumin, white wine, and yes, garlic, but only three cloves.
A pleasant dish served over white rice that is easy enough to whip up on any given weeknight. Cuban dressing drizzled over the top for kicks, if you desire.
What Is Ropa Vieja Made Of?
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 cut of 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 bell peppers for a balance of flavors.
- Herbs and spices like bay leaves, oregano, ground cumin, paprika, pepper, chives, and parsley.
- Dry white wine. Substitute beef broth if you want to stay away from alcohol.
How To Make Ropa Vieja (step-by-step instructions)
Cook the beef. Fill a large Dutch oven with 6 cups of water, add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook for 10-15 minutes. Skim off any foam that rises to the top with a ladle then add the bay leaves, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper.
Slow cooking. Lower to medium heat (or even lower) just so it is barely simmering and gently cook until the beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender, about 3 hours.
Let cool. Remove the beef from the broth and let cool slightly. Strain broth and set aside 2 cups, save the remainder for making soup later in the week. Shred the meat into thin strips with a fork.
Sauté the vegetables. Heat olive oil or vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrot, peppers, the other two cloves garlic, onions, and chives. You’ve already added the tbsp of salt to the cooking liquid but season the vegetables with more salt and pepper. Cook until the onions start to become translucent, stir frequently.
Add meat. Add the shredded beef to the pan along with the reserved broth, the 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, cumin, and 1/3 cup dry white wine. Cook the beef dish a few minutes more just to allow the flavors to combine and serve!
What To Serve With Ropa Vieja
- Cilantro-Lime Rice is fragrant with fresh cilantro and lime zest and juice.
- Black beans are a given. If you’ve never made these Sofrito Black Beans, you need to STAT.
- Short on time? Give these Best Ever Canned Black Beans a try.
- Or potatoes would be nice. I recommend the most delicious Papas con Chile.
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 or sofrito black beans!
Can I Freeze It?
Absolutely! This recipe actually gets better as it sits. Once it cools store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze for up to 3 months.
If frozen, let thaw overnight in the refrigerator then reheat over medium heat on the stove or in the microwave.
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 the national dish of Cuba to your table tonight! If you make this Cuban Ropa Vieja recipe, 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 (don’t forget to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating)!
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