How to cook authentic Cuban food the easy way.
Cuba of yesteryear courtesy of travelfilmarchive & youtube.com
Christopher Columbus called her "The pearl of the Caribbean" when he first laid eyes on the island of Cuba. Rich in culture and beauty Cuba is also famous for it's astounding culinary creations with an array of colors, aromas and unforgetable flavors!
Food in Cuban culture is a labor of love.
To cook is to love
To present the meal is to love
To eat and enjoy the food is to love
Thus in the Cuban culture to share a place at the dinner table is a high honer indeed.
Politics may have closed our ports of entry and many of Cuba's delights have been left to memory alone however with so many diverse neighborhoods here in the United States we can still have the pleasure of consuming these delectable dishes. Every Cuban chef has his or her own slant on traditional Cuban dishes the same applies to this Cuban girl's Grandmother's and Mother's recipes. I have included some of our family favorites, easy to make with ingredients just as easy to get right from your local grocery store. I hope you will find the inkling to give it a go and savor the flavor! "Que disfruten" which in spanish means...ENJOY!!!
Frijoles Negros (black beans) are a big part of the Cuban diet. They can be served as a soup or a side dish or to top off a hot steaming helping of white rice! here is what you'll need to make this delicious dish:
1lb bag of dried black beans
1 large (not humongous) yellow onion
1 large green pepper
1 1/2 tbls of virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp of salt
Garlic to taste (you can use fresh garlic or crushed garlic or even garlic powder but for petes sake don't forget the garlic!)
1/2 tsp of sugar
dash of vinegar (yes I said vinegar...trust me on this)
1 bay leaf
Soak the beans in a large pot overnight this will begin the tenderizing of the beans. When you'r ready to start cooking drain the water the beans were soaking in and replace with fresh water just enough to cover the beans. place pot on stove and start cooking over medium heat.
in the meantime cut your onion into chunks and add to beans, do the same with the green pepper then add the rest of the ingredients. Continue to cook over medium heat occasionally stirring the mixture. This will allow all the flavors to mingle! Continue to cook until broth becomes a semi thickened consistency and beans are tender to the bite, cooking time will vary and depends on the broths consistency and how tender the bean is. Overall remember that like any other bean it takes a while to cook, soaking them overnight helps the tenderizing process however you may have to cook them for several hours, this is why moderating them is is essential. Check them often, stir and see how they thicken and become tender. Taste testing is a good idea. 2-3 hours of cooking time if not more is normal.
Enjoy as a soup with a piece of Italian bread or better yet if you can get Cuban bread even better! or you can serve as a side dish to enhance whatever other dish you have made or you can just pour over each serving of white rice as well!
Arroz con pollo
This dish will make your eyes roll to the back of your head! It is truly from the Gods! why they chose to share it with us mere mortals is beyond comprehension. The aroma while it's cooking is tantalizing, the golden hue is mesmerizing and the flavor once you taste it will render you to your knees! A bit dramatic? well...what can I say?... I'm Cuban! Here's what you'll need:
Arroz con pollo:
Each cook has their own way of making this dish, I like to prepare things as easy as possible if I can so that being said with this dish I cook everything in the same pot, it's easy and it works fabulously!
1 whole chicken cut up (obviously you don't have to cut up the chicken itself you can get that already done from the grocery store. You can also use just thighs or drumsticks or even breast)
Make sure to clean and dress the chicken. Cut off any fat and skin the chicken may have then season it however you like. I usually use salt and garlic since I'll be using other spices in the mixture itself.
1 large yellow onion
1 large red pepper
1 4 oz can of tomato sauce
garlic ( you can use fresh or crushed or even garlic powder)
virgin olive oil
4 cups white rice
1 tsp of Bijol ( Bijol can be found in the Spanish food part of the grocery store. It is called the poor mans saffron but it works wonders! It gives the rice that yellow color and incredible taste. If you do have saffron you can use that as well)
1 can of beer ( yes beer! again this gives the dish an incredible flavor and you can sip it while you cook ;) )
Optional: 1 can of chicken broth ( I don't use it myself but you can if you want to)
Prepare by cutting the onions and peppers into chunks. In a large pot heat olive oil where it is really hot. Throw in onions, pepper, tomato sauce, garlic to taste. This is what we call "Sofrito" sauté (stir) until onions and pepper are translucent. Throw in chicken parts and mix with sofrito. Lower heat a bit & cook until chicken is done.
At this point you are going to add in the rest of the ingredients.
add in the 4 cups of rice
add in half a can of beer
add in 5 cups of water (if your going to use the chicken broth substitute one of the cups of water with a cup of broth)
Lower heat to medium and let cook. All these flavor will start to intermingle and the aroma will begin to fill the air! This is where you can again moderate, check it occasionally tasting the broth, see if you need to add salt or more garlic. Your taste buds will tell you everything you need to know!
The arroz con pollo will be done when the water has evaporated and the rice is done...again make sure to taste test it every once in a while. If the rice isn't tender enough add in more liquid, half a cup at a time should be sufficient.
In the end you'll have a wonderful, hearty and elegant meal that serves 4...Enjoy!
Platanitos fritos (Fried sweet bananas)
This side dish is the movie star of all the Cuban side dishes! In fact when you say fried bananas people ask if your Cuban! There wasn't a meal we had that didn't include fried bananas. It is incredibly simple to make however you have to know a bit about the banana itself.
Fried Banana 101-
There are 3 ways of making fried bananas 1. Sweet fried bananas (everybody's fav) 2. Tostones (fried but not sweet) or Mariquitas which is also not sweet but cut and prepared differently. Now don't go running for the hills on this, it may start sounding complicated but it really isn't...trust me!
All three require the same banana which is called a plantain, I'm sure you have seen them in your produce section and wondered what the heck that was! They are hard and green and they are separated from each other otherwise they look just like a banana. So establishing that all 3 come from the same plantain we are off to a good start! To make the sweet kind you must get the plantain that is ripe, how do we know it's ripe? well instead of the plantain being green it is yellow and black and soft...it might even look like it went bad but it hasn't...in fact the riper it is the sweeter the fried banana! If your going to make the sweet kind then you must buy them when they are yellow and black and they are soft to the touch or if you cannot find them yellow and black you can always buy a green one put it in a paper bag and keep it on top of your fridge or on a kitchen shelf until they turn that color, make sure they are nice and soft and you will be ready to cook the sweetest fried bananas ever! I will give you all 3 recipes 1 for the sweet kind 1 for the tostones and 1 for the mariquitas.
Fried Sweet Bananas
1-2 plantains very ripe ( the more black there is on the plantain the riper it is!)
peel the plantain ( this may look a bit tricky ! Take a deep breath and just go for it!)
To peel the plantain I usually make a slit down it's middle, cut off the tips on each end and separate the peel with my thumb, it should come off easy that way if you have any peel residue you can slice it off with a knife.
The plantain will look like if it's naked so now your ready to cut them into pieces! I like to slightly slant the knife and cut them into slanted pieces this gives it a nice sleek look or you can just cut them in circles whatever you like.
In a frying pan heat up 1/4 cup of corn oil or vegetable oil, I don't use olive oil as it will change the taste of the banana. Make the oil nice and hot and place the slices of plantain in the oil. cook them until they are golden brown with the edges a bit darker, the more it caramelizes the sweeter it is but be careful not to burn them and never leave them unattended cause they will burn!
1-2 plantains ( the green,hard ones)
Tostones is like a cross between a potato and a potato chip that's the only way I can describe them but believe me you will fall in love with them once you taste them! For Tostones you will need to do things a bit different....don't despair it is still simple!
Peel plantain as described above
Cut plantain into semi thick circles
put plantain slices in a bowl and fill with hot water. Add salt and garlic powder , you can use whatever spices you like just know that whatever you use the tostones will pick up the flavor of the spice used.
let stand for about 20 minutes so the plantain slices can soak up the flavor.
Ok here you will need a small paper bag or you can get a tostones smasher in your grocery store some grocery stores carry them and some don't, you can also get one online but for now you can definitely use a small paper bag! Confused yet? ...just follow me.
Heat up oil ( remember corn or vegetable) in frying pan, make sure the oil is hot. take your paper bag and set it on the counter fairly close to where you are cooking these little devils, set a plate next to the paper bag...this is a process folks and yes there is a method to my madness! What I want you to do is to have your paper bag on the counter, next to a flat plate and then the frying pan fairly close to each other. (please don't put the paper bag next to the fire...that's a no no)
OK now we are ready to rumble...um I mean Rumba!
When the oil is hot place the plantain pieces in oil and slightly brown each side, you are going to have to turn them to cook the other side...remove each slice and place in plate continue to allow oil to be hot so don't turn off the heat. Take each plantain piece (one at a time) and place on one side of the paper bag... with the other side of the bag fold over plantain piece and smash plantain so it becomes flat...you will do this to each piece. At this point you will place each piece back into the oil and re-fry them until they get golden brown again do this on each side then remove each piece and set on plate...there you have it! You'll have a wonderfully crispy Tostone that will surely make your taste buds burst with flavor!
Mariquitas are really simple and they are like Tostones but with less work.
1-2 plantains (the green hard ones)
peel plantain as described above
cut plantains into thin slices
heat oil until hot
place slices into oil and cook until golden brown
remove from heat and salt to taste!
Salads are also a very important part of the meal on a Cuban table, we looooooove salads! One of the most popular is avocado salad! Incredibly tasty, healthy and easy to make. When we make an avocado salad we choose specifically the Florida Avocado, this type of avocado is large and the skin is smooth & the inside is really meaty.
Choosing one isn't that difficult. Make sure it is ripe but not too ripe, the avocado should be slightly soft yet firm at the same time. For this salad you will need:
1 Florida avocado
1 sm- med yellow onion
peel and cut the avocado into small chunks set in dish, dice onions and add them to avocado salt to taste and add olive oil and vinegar.
You can also add other things into the salad like tomatoes or sliced almonds or whatever pleases your palette!
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