Sunday, November 14, 2010


Cuba is a beautiful country filled with decadent food, and we Americans can never directly go there. Oh sure, we can legally go to Canada and then to Cuba, but still it's so spatially close but in reality, so far out of our reach. I don't really feel the need to go into Cuba's history too thoroughly, because everyone is aware of Fidel Castro and the embargo. All I will say is that they are doing amazing things with pork down there, and it's a shame that we cannot fully join in.

Cuba's cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Caribbean flavors. There is a lot of filling and savory food floating around and of course, some refreshing drinks filled with booze and fresh fruit juice. Like most Caribbean countries, they do not eat many vegetable dishes, but when they do it is usually fried, covered in olive oil or thrown in as an afterthought (ex. in a pilaf). I feel like what we came up with as a full dinner turned out to be sort of like a Cuban picnic.

Plantain Chips

This is a quick simple snack that fries up very quickly. The result is a sweet, crisp chip that is definitely more filling than your average potato chip.

Canola or corn oil for frying

Peal the plantains and slice them into rounds as thinly as you can with either a knife or a mandolin (way easier with the mandolin). Heat enough oil over high heat for submerging large batches of the slices. When the oil is hot fry them in batches and set them aside on paper towels to dry. Salt to taste.

Moros y Cristianos

This dish literally translates to Muslims and Christians. Although the name of this dish has its origins in Spanish history, the dish itself is completely Cuban. The white rice and the black beans are supposed to represent the Christians and the Muslims, which yes, does seem a little racist, but it happens to be a delicious pilaf made with chicken stock.

1.5 cups dried blackbeans, or for the big spenders: 32oz canned black beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large red onion diced
2 large green bell peppers seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground pepper
3 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups long grain rice
6 cups chicken stock
Salt to taste

1. Soak the dried beans at least 8 hours and drain them. Place them in a deep pot and cover them with 6 cups of water. Raise this to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook them for 1 to 1.5 hours or until the beans are tender. Drain the beans again and set them aside. Or just be a lazy bourgeois cook and open a can.
2. Rinse the rice in a colander under running water for two minutes. In a large pot (perhaps the same one you used for the beans) heat the olive oil over medium heat then add the onions, garlic, and peppers.
3. Sauté these for about two minutes, then add the tomato paste, beans, vinegar, and spices. Stir these together for about five minutes or until a lovely sauce begins to form.
4. Add the rice and the stock. Taste the broth for salt. Raise the whole mess to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes over a low flame.
5. Taste the rice to be sure it's fully cooked. If not don't panic just add a bit more water and continue cooking until it is tender.
6. Serve it hot with lots of pork.

Pork Roast

We made this pork roast in order to make some Cuban sandwiches. The pork that we used was from a very happy pig raised in Indiana that we purchased from one of my college friend's family owned butcher. If you are ever around Fort Wayne, Indiana, you should definitely drive a few miles out to Columbia City and visit Krider's Meat Processing. I promise it is worth the trip and they only use local pigs that are killed on site and Grampa Bob will be happy to tell you anything you would want to know about the shop.

Pictured below is some of the things we put on our Cubanos including some of our homemade pickles. There is also a cilantro mayonnaise and some olive oil and garlic mixture. Of course you don't have to make your own pickles or mayonnaise to make a Cubano, but it's not as hard as you may think and it does taste a bit better.

5 lb pork shoulder in one piece
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp whole peppercorns
4 cloves garlic minced
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup sherry
1/3 cup lime juice
4 tbsp olive oil

1. Toast the cumin and peppercorns on a skillet until they are fragrant. Pound them in a mortar and pestle with the garlic and salt until you have a gooey paste. In a bowl large enough to hold the pork, mix this paste with the rest of the ingredients (except the pork).
2. Cut hexagonal slits into the fatty side of the pork shoulder, place the pork into the bowl with the prepared marinade, and gently work the marinade into all the crevices with your hands.
3. Refrigerate the pork 24 hours flipping it once or twice during the process.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 f and roast the pork with all the marinade for about 3 hours in a large roasting pan making sure to baste the meat every 20 minutes or so. When an internal temp of 150 is attained the roast is ready to be removed.
5. Allow the roast 15 minutes of rest on a cutting board before carving into it.

Here is the Cuban all put together with the side dishes. I apologize for the poor form of using a paper plate for the plating picture.

Polvorones con Canela

These cookies were oddly the lightest part of the meal. The lack of flour in them make them very light and crisp. A little tasty treat that I think would go really well with some coffee or hot chocolate.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract or brandy
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
2/3 cup finely ground pecans or walnuts
1 tsp ground cinnamon (cassia)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Beat the butter in a bowl with an electric beater until creamy. Add the 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and vanilla, and continue beating until light and fluffy. Mix in the flour and salt very gradually, a tablespoon at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Add the nuts with the last of the flour. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly. Using your hands, form the dough into 3/4" balls. Place on an ungreased baking pan about 1 inch apart.

Bake in a moderate oven about 15 minutes, or until the edges turn pale gold. Place the remaining cup of sugar in a shallow bowl or plate with the cinnamon.
Remove the cookies from the oven and, while still hot, carefully roll each in the powdered sugar mixture. Set aside until cooled completely and roll them again in the sugar, shaking off any excess.

Mojitos (made by the pitcher)

No Caribbean country meal would be complete without a little boozy refreshment on the side. I'd like to thank our friend Ben for bringing us rum and mixing up some lovely mojitos. I would also like to thank our landlords for growing mint in our backyard, it has really benefited us.

1 cup mint leaves
1 cup lime juice (freshly squeezed is important for this)
1.5 cups rum
2/3 cup simple syrup
3 cups club soda

Take one 64oz pitcher and place all the mint leaves in it. Crush the mint leaves together with a muddler or an empty beer bottle to release their oils. Pour on everything else and stir. Fill glasses with ice and serve. Obviously you can add more booze to this recipe if you're trying to have that kind of evening with your friends.


The Cuba meal was one of our bigger success stories, as far as Caribbean countries are concerned. Tom was very happy that he got to make a pork roast and everything turned out right. The issue we seem to always have with Caribbean countries are the lack of recipes or that the recipes we find do not always turn out because of unavailability of certain ingredients or missing steps. Cuba was our exception thus far and it was apparent that Cubans take great pride in preparing their meat.

Next is a very special New Zealand dinner. Until then, Salud!