Flavours Of The World: Cuba
If you cannot go to the world, let the world come to you. Last week we decided to go on a culinary journey through Cuba by cooking 5 popular dishes from this country. It was a great experience and super tasty. Not only did we learn about new flavours and cooking methods, we also learned about the country.
Why Cuba? Well, we got inspired by the movie ‘Chef', in which the famous Chef Carl Casper loses his job in a popular restaurant in Los Angeles and goes back to his roots serving ‘Cubanos’ out of a food truck.
It looked so delicious, that we could not resist. We had to try making them ourselves. Next thing we knew, we were researching about Cuba and Cuban cuisine. Here is what we learned...
Official Languages: Spanish
Population: 11 million
Currency: Cuban Peso
Cuba is a beautiful island in the Caribbean. Located just 93 miles away from Florida and 13 miles from the Bahamas, the island blends traditions, cultures, and flavors from its native people, Spanish and Africans.
The revolution was led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Raul Castro, who later formed the new government and aligned themselves with the Soviet Union. As a reaction to that, the U.S. put an economic embargo in place in 1960. This embargo as only lifted in 2015.
It was only in 1992, that the island was finally independent. The decades that followed were marked by economic development and political corruption and ended with the Cuban Revolution between 1953 and 1959.
The revolution was let by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Raul Castro, who later formed the new government and aligned themselves with the Soviet Union. As a reaction to that, the U.S. put an economic embargo in place in 1960. This embargo as only lifted in 2015 under President Obama.
It wasn’t an easy choice but in the end, we chose 5 local dishes sugar and tobacco products but also for its colonial old towns with cobblestone streets, rhythmic music, white beaches, and turquoise blue water.
Cuba, an incredibly beautiful country frozen in time.
It wasn’t an easy choice but in the end, we chose 5 amazing local dishes.
Just thinking about this makes us want to immediately look for flight tickets. Unfortunately, we have to be a little bit more patient. In the meantime, come on a culinary journey through Cuba with us.
It wasn’t an easy choice but in the end, we chose 5 local dishes that are relatively easy to make at home. All recipes that are suitable for vegetarians are marked with a (v). The indicated quantities are for 2 - 4 servings.
Now, put on some Latin Music, strap on your apron and let's get cooking!
About Cuban Cuisine
Sugarcane was not native to Cuba. It was introduced to the island in the early 1500s. Today sugar is among the country’s main export products together with tobacco. Now, let's get cooking. mark on Cuban cuisine.
Being an island nation, seafood naturally plays an important role in its cuisine. Other ingredients frequently used are chicken, beef, pork, eggs, rice, beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, cassava (yucca), coconut and plantain (This is a fruit similar to a banana.).
Add some of Cuba’s favourite spices such as garlic, onion, laurel, cumin, oregano, coriander, and pepper, and you have yourself an endless variety of delicious dishes.
Did You Know?
Sugarcane was not native to Cuba. It was introduced to the island in the early 14th century. Today sugar is among the country’s main export products together with tobacco. Now, let's get cooking.
The Dishes We Cooked
Preparation Time: 15 min
Cooking Time: 10 min
Thin sliced roast pork
We started our culinary journey with the famous Cuban sandwich - just like in the movie. Popular in Cuba and parts of the US, it is made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles on a base of lightly buttered Cuban bread. Easy to grill in a pan, it immediately became Navvin’s favorite sandwich of all time.
Step 1: Cut the Cuban bread into half and apply mustard on one side.
Step 2: Add ham followed by the slow-roasted pork, Swiss cheese, and pickles. Then place the other half of the bread on top. Brush the top with melted butter.
Step 3: Add some melted butter in the pan. Then place the sandwich in the heated pan and press the sandwich down with a pot. Cook both sides for about 5 min until the cheese is melted.
Arroz Con Leche (Cuban Rice Pudding) (v)
Preparation Time: 10 min
Cooking Time: 40 min
Long grain rice 1 cup
Water 2 cups
Milk 1 cup
Condensed milk 1 cup
Cinnamon sticks 2
Vanilla extract 1tbs
Ground cinnamon 2 tsp
Do you want some sweetness in your life? Try Arroz Con Leche. It is a deliciously creamy rice pudding made with sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Making this dish is super easy.
Step 1: Cook the rice with water and a cinnamon stick until it is soft.
Step 2: Remove the excess water and cook the rice again with milk, condensed milk, and some vanilla extract for about 30 to 40 min. Don’t forget to stir the pot occasionally so that the milk does not burn in the pot.
Step 3: Before serving sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top.
Spicy Black Bean Soup (v)
Preparation Time: 6 - 12h
Cooking Time: 30 - 40 min
Black beans (dried or canned) 1 cup
White onion 1
Celery 1 rib
Red bell pepper 1
Garlic 2 cloves
Bay leafs 1
Cumin 2 tbs
Oregano 2 tbs
Smoked paprika 1 tbs
Salt + pepper
Orange or lime juice (for the Cuban touch)
Black beSqueeze the orange or lime and set the juice aside to add it to the soup later. Don’t throw away the orange. Instead, add it to your soup for some more flavour together with the chopped carrots, celery, and red bell pepper.
Step 1: The dried beans need to soak in water for 6 to 12h before they are ready to be cooked. Using canned beans will shorten the preparation time significantly, which makes this the perfect dish for when things have to go fast without compromising on a well-balanced meal.
Step 2: Squeeze the orange or lime and set the juice aside to add it to the soup later. Don’t throw away the orange. Instead, add it to your soup for some more flavour together with the chopped carrots, celery, and red bell pepper.
Step 3: Add salt, pepper, cumin, bay leaf, and vegetable broth. Then, let it cook for 30 to 40 min.
Step 4: Once all is soft, remove the oranges and blend the soup until it has the consistency you like. For garnish, later consider adding some slices of avocado and nachos.
Pastelitos de Guayaba (v)
Preparation Time: 10 min
Baking Time: 15 -20 min
Puff pastry 6 sheets
Guava paste (guava, water, sugar)
Super delicious and very easy to make. The hardest part for us was to find the guava paste. In the end, we settled for fresh guavas from the region and made the paste ourselves. It is the perfect dessert for a Sunday brunch with friends or when mum and dad come to visit.
Step 1: Apply a bit of guava paste on a puff pastry sheet followed by cream cheese.
Step 2: Cover it with a second puff pastry sheet. Make sure that you squeeze the edges together with a fork all around. Once done, I like to cut some diagonal lines into the upper puff pastry sheet for decoration. Once ready, this pattern will make them look very professional.
Step 3: Apply some egg yolk on the pastry while preheating the oven to 200°C.
Step 4: Bake your masterpieces for about 15 min and sprinkle some powdered sugar on top before serving them.
Preparation Time: 40 min
Cooking Time: 2-3h
300g beef flank steak
Oregano 1 tsp
Cumin 1 -2 tsp
1/2 cup white wine
Fresh parsley (freshly chopped)
White wine 1/2 cup (optional)
Bay leaves 3
Garlic cloves 4
Carrot 1 (chopped)
Onion 1(large) (thinly sliced)
Green bell pepper (thinly sliced)
Red bell pepper (thinly sliced)
Chicken broth 1 cup
Crushed tomato 1 can
Pimiento 1 cup
Capers 1/2 cup
Black beans 1 cup (for serving)
Rice 1 cup (for serving)
We are finishing this week strong with Ropa Vieja, which literally translates into ‘old clothes’. Originally from Spain, legends have it that a poor man once cut his clothes into pieces and then cooked them because he could not afford food for his family.
In real life, this dish is made with flank steak, which is a fairly tough cut of beef. It is important that it cooks slowly for a long time in order to become tender. So, make sure you have got some time at hand because Ropa Vieja is definitely not fast food.
Step 1: Season the steak with salt and pepper. Heat oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the steak to the pan and let it cook until brown on all sides. This process takes about 5 min. Then remove the steak from the pan.
Step 2: Add onion and bell peppers to the pan and stir them until they are glazed. Add the garlic to the pan and continue stirring for a minute.
Step 3: Add diced tomato, carrots, celery, cumin, oregano, bay leaves, pimiento, and chicken broth to the mix and let it boil for 2 minutes. The broth should be covering the other ingredients.
Step 4: Return the beef to the pot. Make sure it sits nicely in the middle, surrounded by the broth and vegetables. Let the beef cook for about 2 hours until it is tender and can easily be pulled apart into shreds.
Step 4: Serve with white rice and black beans. Before serving sprinkle some fresh parsley and add some sliced olives.