Meatless Monday Visits Cuba
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the food in Cuba; I certainly heard plenty of mixed reviews before I left. Once I arrived, mixed reviews were exactly what I found. You don’t go to Cuba for the food, but there are plenty of places to keep a foodie happy once you know where to look and how to order the most flavor packed dishes. I brought some of my favorite tastes home for Meatless Monday Visits Cuba.
Cuban cuisine is a fusion of different cultures. Recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish and African cooking, along with a small dose of the Caribbean. The result is a unique, interesting blend. The cuisine has been influenced by the heritage of its people, trade during Colonial times and circumstances of modern day living. Simple and straightforward, the dishes have underlying flavors as complex as the variety of life you will discover here.
The most common spices used in Cuban cuisine are cumin, oregano, bay leaf and garlic. Sofrito is used in a wide range of dishes and is one of the tastes I brought back. A combination of aromatic ingredients, it is used in many dishes as well a flavoring for rice. I found it the most distinctive of the savory Cuban tastes. This recipe is a combination of aromatic ingredients chopped and fried in oil to cook slowly for 15-30 minutes. In Cuban cuisine it is used as the flavor for beans, stews, rice and other dishes.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 3/4 cup canned tomato sauce
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent. Add the bell pepper, and saute until tender. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, oregano and bay leaves. Continue to cook for about 15 minutes until the mixture is like a paste. Stir in the tomatoes and cook stirring until all of the liquid is released. Gradually stir in the tomato sauce simmer until the sauce changes to a deep red. Adjust seasonings and remove bay leaves. Process the mixture in a mixer to form a thick puree.
- Use the Sofrito as an addition to rice, beans, fish or potatoes. If necessary the sauce can be thinned with water, broth, beer or wine.
Congri or Moros y Cristianos
Black beans and rice accompany every meal. By day 3, I was more than a little worried that years of rationing had taken the spark out of island cooking. My fears were allayed once I found what one restaurant called brown rice; a new world opened up. This black bean and rice dish comes with an interesting name—moros y cristianos. The literal translation is Moors and Christians, a reference to the Islamic Conquest of Spain and the Reconquista in the 15th century. The satisfying dish is great for vegetarians.
Ingredients (serves 6):
- 1 can of black beans
- 2 cups of already cooked white rice
- 1/3 cup of sofrito (recipe above)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon of oregano
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- 1 cup of beer (vegetable broth will work as a substitute)
- 1/2 can tomato sauce
In a pot, add olive oil and sautee garlic and sofrito for a minute. Add salt, pepper, cumin and oregano to sofrito and mix. Add beans and mix well. Add tomato sauce and beer or broth and mix. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add 2-3 cups of already cooked white rice (at room temperature) and mix well. Cook until all is absorbed (about 10-15 minutes).
Let sit off the heat for 10-15 minutes before serving.
This is almost too easy, but captures the flavor of guava, which is used in many cuban pastries. I had never tasted it in anything other than jelly. In Cuba, this yummy fruit was served fresh for breakfast and the paste was used in baked goods. It’s loaded with vitamin C (more than an orange) and gives an unusual taste to many dishes.
- 1 sheet of puff pastry
- 1/2 block of cream cheese
- 7 oz. guava paste
- 1 egg
Defrost 1 sheet of puff pastry and cut into 4 even parts. While pastry is defrosting, cover with moist paper towel so it doesn’t dry out. Mash together cream cheese and guava paste until it is well blended. Divide into 4 parts and place mixture in middle of each piece of puff pastry. Fold over and seal with a fork. Brush with egg wash and bake 350 until brown. Eat while still warm and enjoy with a big cup of Cuban coffee!
Be sure to come back and visit to see where I found the best food in Cuba.