Cuban cuisine as we know it today is the result of influences from the cultures of Portugal, China, Africa, Spain and Arabia. Cuban cooking is largely, and traditionally, a “peasant cuisine”. Cubans cook with no real set standards regarding measurements, timing, and order of preparation.
You will not find creamy and heavy sauces in Cuban cuisine, and there is not much deep-frying. The preferred method of cooking is over a low flame or smoldering coals, slow-cooking the meals. Spices u
sed are from a smaller selection than more complex cuisines, but you will find, oregano, garlic, cumin, and bay laurel leaves.
Lots of Cuban recipes call for their version of a sofrito to serve as the dish’s basis. Cuban sofrito will typically be made of ground pepper fast-fried in olive oil, oregano, garlic, green bell pepper, and onion. This Cuban style sofrito is what gives Cuban cuisine its distinctive flavor. Tomato-based sauces, stews, plenty of meat dishes, and black bean recipes will very often have sofrito as its basis.
Poultry and red meats most often will be marinated, using citrus juices, like sour orange juice and lime juice. After being marinated, the meat is slow-roasted to where the meat is so tender it will fall off the bone with the gentle prod of a fork. Root vegetables, like malanga, boniato, and yucca (cassava) are common staples in Cuban cuisine. And these edible roots are often marinated. A typical marinade will consist of sliced raw onions, garlic, cumin, bay laurel leaves, hot olive oil, lemon juice and a little water.
Cuban breakfasts are usually simple. You might just have “cafe con leche” (hot, strong espresso with some warm milk in it) and a “tostada”, which is Cuban bread, toasted and buttered. Occasionally you might have “croquetas”, which is a smoky ham, rolled up around some cream into a finger roll, then breaded and fried. And if you have no time to eat a real breakfast? Take some strong Cuban coffee – you will feel like a million dollars for the next hour or two with the burst of energy it gives you. And you could stop at one of the many world-famous Cuban bakeries and grab a delicious pastry, such as an empenada, or a croquetta, a pastelito, or maybe a bocadito.
For the mid-day lunch, Cuban cuisine will typically be meat or chicken empanadas. Or, just as often, a Cuban sandwich. Cuban sandwiches are quite hearty and filling. They usually are made with a couple slices of sweet egg bread with mustard on them, and filled with slices of Swiss cheese, ham, smoky slow roasted pork, and pickles. You might also have some thin-sliced plantain chips, which are called “mariquitas”.
The main meal in Cuban cuisine is dinner, at the end of the work day. This meal will have several courses. There will be a main entree of chicken, fish or other seafood, or red meat. Side dishes will include rice, sweet fried plantains, and black beans. Sometimes a salad will also be served, and sliced onions, tomatoes, and avocados are commonly found on the dinner table, too. After the main meal, typically a dessert will be served, such as rice or bread pudding. One of the most famous desserts of Cuban cuisine is the flan. Cuban flans are a caramel flavored custard: light, fluffy, and extremely delicious. Accompanying the dessert will be some Cuban coffee – “cafe cubano”.
On very special occasions, such as holidays or important large family gatherings, a meal that is quintessentially Cuban cuisine will often be served. The Cuban version of the pig roast. A small pig is marinated with sour orange juice, salt and garlic, and then very slowly roasted over an open fire. It is not uncommon for the piglet to be marinated overnight, and then placed over low flames early in the morning. It will then be slow roasted all day, until served at dinnertime. Side dishes for such a festive meal will commonly include a black bean and rice dish known as Moors and Christians. Also you will often find boniato in a garlic dressing, and maduras. For refreshment drinks, most often will be served mojitos and daiquiris, both made with pure Cuban cane rum and lime juice.
Okay. Enough background. Let’s now get into what you are really here for! For your convenience, the recipes listed below are hyperlinked. Simply click on what you want, and you will be taken to a print-friendly page with just that one recipe on it. So click away, and enjoy your ethnic food adventure into the robust and tasty world of …
Ropa Vieja (Slow Cooked Shredded Roast Beef)
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