Is there anything better than traveling? I doubt that. Sadly, we won’t be able to roam free anytime soon because of You-Know-What, but we can do the second-best thing: eat ourselves around the world.
This is why I’ve decided to launch a new project: Quarantine Food Travel. The plan is to cook some of the specialties I’ve tried during my travels, post the recipe (adjusted to the quarantine reality if needed), and write about the corresponding cities. This way, we can all travel with our minds and stomachs while staying home; maybe even plan some after-corona trips?
Today, I’m starting off with Cuba. I had the pleasure to go there last year and enjoy the colors, the music and the flavors of this magical place. I’ll show you the colors in my next post, but you don’t have to wait for the music nor the flavors – go on and listen to the Spotify playlist I’ve created with one of my travel buddies from the songs we’d heard there while you prepare yourself some delicious ropa vieja, tostones and a mojito.
Ropa vieja is definitely my favorite Cuban dish. If you know any Spanish, you may notice that it translates literally to “old clothes”. Why? There are two explanations for that: first, imaginative observers argue that this dish made of shredded beef and vegetables resembles a heap of colorful rags. If your old clothes look differently and you’re not convinced by this reasoning, there’s a legend that a poor man once tore and cooked his actual clothing because he couldn’t afford food. As he prayed in despair, his rags turned into meat, making his dish the juicy stew we know today.
The original recipe comes from the blog Tras la receta. I recommend you to check it out, as it comes with more background info (in Spanish) and many pictures of what everything should look like. As we’re in quarantine now and it’s not easy to get all the ingredients we need, I’ve slightly adjusted it; therefore, you shouldn’t have any problems finding these products in your supermarket of choice. I’ve left coriander and red chilli pepper on the list because even though I couldn’t get it, I believe that it is possible to find it in bigger shops.
I needed around 4 hours to make it; however, I was also videocalling my friends at the same time, so it probably takes around 3 hours if the cook is focused.
Ingredients (for 4 portions):
For the stew:
- 850 gr of beef brisket
- 3 liters of water
- 1 set of soup vegetables:
- 1 celery
- 2/3 carrots
- 1 leek
- 1 sprig of parsley
- (1 sprig of coriander)
- 2 bay leaves
For ropa vieja:
- shredded meat from the stew
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 onion (thinly sliced)
- ½ red pepper (thinly sliced)
- ½ green pepper (thinly sliced)
- ½ yellow pepper (thinly sliced)
- 1 ripe tomato (without skin and finely chopped)
- (1 tip of fresh red chilli pepper (finely chopped))
- 3 cloves of garlic
- ¾ teaspoon cumin
- 1 glass of white wine (100 ml)
- 200 ml of meat broth (from the stew)
- 150 ml of fried tomato
- black pepper
First, remove excess fat from the meat.
Prepare a big pot and fill it with 3 liters of water. Then, add the soup vegetables, coriander, meat, two bay leaves and a spoonful of salt.
Cover the pot, turn the heat to the maximum, and wait till the water starts boiling. When it does, turn the heat down to medium and let it cook until the meat is soft enough to shred it with ease. For me, it took 1,5 hours. If you have a pressure cooker like the author of the recipe, set the pressure selector to number 2, let it take pressure and when it starts beeping and releasing the steam, turn the heat down to medium intensity and let it cook for 30 minutes.
Take out the meat, let it cool down and shred it. Save 200 ml of broth for the ropa vieja; it’s up to you what you’ll do with the rest. Maybe a delicious soup to have a fancy 2-course meal?
Thinly slice the onion, as well as the red, green and yellow peppers. Finely chop the tip of a fresh red pepper. Remove the skin of the tomato and chop it finely. Mash the garlic in a mortar with the cumin, coriander and just a pinch of salt; if you don’t have a mortar, just press the garlic in a garlic press and mix it with the rest of the ingredients using a spoon. Once you have a paste, set it aside.
Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan or frying pan with a lid. Once it’s hot, add the onion. When it starts to poach, add the peppers, season them with a pinch of salt and let it fry for about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato, mix well and then add the garlic paste. Stir again and let it fry for another 5 minutes.
Then, add the meat, season it with a pinch of black pepper, mix, turn up the heat a little and quickly add the white wine. Once it has evaporated, add the meat broth, stir, lower the heat to medium intensity, and add the fried tomato.
Stir everything, taste it and add more salt if needed, put a lid without covering it totally and let it cook for 20 to 25 minutes until the consistency is right. Remove from the heat.
Serve with rice. For an even more authentic Cuban experience, cook the rice with black beans, so that it gets its signature grey shade (it’s called arroz congri). If you still have around an hour free, try making some tostones as well!
The original recipe comes from Tras la receta.
Important disclaimer: these quarantine-friendly tostones taste differently than the authentic ones because their main ingredient, plantain (plátano macho), is not available in regular shops in Vienna. Therefore, they are significantly sweeter and have a different consistency. Can they still be called tostones then? Probably not. Nevertheless, in my opinion, they’re delicious and still go well with ropa vieja.
Ingredients (for 4 people):
- 5 bananas
- 3 cloves of garlic
Cut the bananas into pieces of about 3 centimeters.
Put the pieces of banana in a pan, cover them with oil (not necessarily completely because normal bananas don’t need as much to get soft as plantains) and fry on medium to low heat until golden and soft.
Put them aside on kitchen paper to remove excess fat and leave them for a while to cool down. When they’re not hot anymore, press them with the palm of your hand to make them thin and round.
Crush the garlic cloves in a mortar or press them in a garlic press. Add a cup of water and salt. Then, varnish the tostones either with a kitchen brush or simply by putting the bananas in the mix.
Heat up the oil (this time it has to be very hot) and fry the bananas on both sides until they are golden brown.
Put them on kitchen paper to remove excess fat and add salt if needed.
What is a meal without anything to drink, though? Here comes one more classic:
- 1,5 shot of dark rum
- ½ lime cut into wedges
- 1 or 2 tbsp brown sugar
- soda water
- (ice cubes)
Put the lime wedges, sugar and mint in a glass. Crush them with a muddler. Fill the glass with ice cubes (if you want it cold) and pour rum over them. Fill the glass with soda water. Stir, taste and add more sugar if needed.