Beans, Beef, Latin, Pork Products, Salad, Vegetables

Cuba libre.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that we’ve been eating a certain amount of Cuban food during the past several days. One of my favorite people in Washington is leaving town for good, and moving back to her hometown, Tampa. I’m happy for her and all, but I wish she weren’t leaving. We’ve had some great times together over the past ten years – her office was right next to mine at my old job and over the years we’ve had cake parties together, eaten our way through a lot of DC restaurants, tried to find something good to eat in Oklahoma City (I don’t think we were successful), and consumed a lot of wine and boar sausage in Languedoc.

So to celebrate her awesomeness, some of us friends decided to throw a party. Cuban food seemed the natural choice – Tampa has a long relationship with Cuba and Cubans, starting with the establishment of Ybor City in the late 19th century as a cigar manufacturing center and vibrant Cuban community. Normally I gravitate toward the more obscure foods, or update the classics. But a buffet for forty seemed a time to play it straight. With the greatest hits of Cuban cuisine – long braises like ropa vieja, hearty dishes like black beans and rice ( frijoles negros), plátanos or plantains, and slow roasted pork – how could we go wrong?

To cater to the vegetarians at the party, I elected to make the frijoles negros a meatless dish. Along with the plátanos and the avocado/mango salad, they make a totally filling meal for vegans. For meat eaters, the ropa vieja, with its falling-apart tender beef in a seasoned tomato sauce, and the slow roasted pork, with a counterpoint of crisp, pickled red onion to cut through the fatty meat, complete a perfect home-style meal.

Family style.

Frijoles negros

Here it is – Cuban black beans and rice, suitable for vegetarians. Beer and pimentón, smoked Spanish paprika, make up for the absence of meat-based stock and ham hock. Pimentón is not traditional in Cuban cuisine but it adds smokiness, a slight sweet flavor, and depth to the dish.

1 1/4 lb black turtle beans, rinsed and picked over
olive oil
two medium onions, peeled, fine dice
8 cloves garlic, minced to a paste
1 large rib celery, strings removed, fine dice
2 cubanelle peppers, seeded, deribbed, skin removed, fine dice
1 1/2 tsp pimentón, preferably dulce (sweet)
1/8 tsp cayenne
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp cider vinegar
1 12 oz bottle beer – pilsener style
salt and pepper

Soak beans if you have time; otherwise just simmer until cooked completely through to the center. Drain, reserving 2 c cooking liquid, and set aside.

Place a large pot over medium low heat and add oil. Sweat vegetables, adding in the order prescribed. When all vegetables are tender, add pimentón, cayenne, and oregano and saute for one minute. Add bay leaves, thyme, 1 tsp sugar, and drained beans. Add vinegar, beer, and about 1/2 c water. Simmer, covered, until very tender – about 30 mins; remove lid and add the reserved bean cooking liquid. Continue to simmer another 30 minutes. If the mixture requires more water to stay moist and somewhat soupy, add more water (add 1 tbsp vinegar per additional cup water). Remove thyme branches and bay. Taste for salt and pimentón, and season. Do not be surprised if you need to add quite a bit of salt – beans often require aggressive seasoning.

Serve with steamed rice.

Slow roasted pork shoulder, sour orange mojo

Sour oranges are not widely available outside of Latin markets, and even then, you may not find them. I was fortunate to find them at the Berkeley Bowl. But don’t worry – the bottled juice, available at most Latin markets, is just fine. You also can substitute a 50/50 blend of orange juice and lime juice.

6 lb pork shoulder, or Boston butt, bone-in
3 c sour orange juice, either freshly squeezed or bottled (jugo de naranja agria)
8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
kosher salt

Combine the orange juice and garlic cloves at least 24 hours before roasting the pork. Rub the pork with salt, about 1/2 tsp per pound, and marinate in the orange juice about 24 hours. If you don’t have the time, you can marinate for as few as 4 hours.

Oven 400F/200C. Remove the roast from the marinade and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Season evenly but lightly with kosher salt. Reserve the marinade in the refrigerator.

Roast at 400F/200C for about 20 minutes, until a golden brown crust begins to form. Reduce the heat to 200F/90C and roast for 6 hours, rotating the pan a couple of times.

Slow roasting pork shoulder.

Remove the roast from the oven and allow to rest for 45 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, pour the excess melted pork fat from the roasting pan and place the roasting pan, with drippings, on the stove. Pour in the reserved marinade and bring to a simmer, incorporating the fond (drippings) into the marinade. Strain.

Delicious roast pork with pickled onion.

Slice the pork and serve, drizzled with sauce, with pickled red onion.

Pickled red onion

I’ve flash pickled red onion on these pages before. Here’s a slower version that you can store, in the pickling liquid, in the refrigerator. It’s best after about two hours, and within a few days.

2 red onions, peeled and sliced pole-to-pole
2/3 c red wine vinegar
2/3 c filtered water
2 tsp kosher salt

Dissolve the salt in the vinegar and water. Pour over the onions and allow to sit, covered, for at least 2 hours. If you wish to pickle overnight (the onions will be totally pink if you do), refrigerate the container.

Ropa vieja

Ordinarily, the beef for ropa vieja is simmered first in a mirepoix-based broth; the beef is shredded into ropy strands and simmered in a spiced tomato sauce. But I hate to lose that beefy flavor to the simmering water, so I always simmer the beef in the tomato sauce. Bonus – not only does the hearty taste of the beef enhance the sauce, but the acid in the tomato helps tenderize the meat, and the dish can be completed in one pot, rather than two.

2 lb skirt steak (flap or plate)
two medium onions, peeled, fine dice
8 cloves garlic, minced to a paste
4 cubanelle peppers, seeded, deribbed, skin removed, fine dice
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
2 28-ounce cans crushed or diced tomato

Place a large, deep pot over medium low heat and add oil. Sweat vegetables, adding in the order prescribed. When all vegetables are tender, add the oregano and cumin, and saute for one minute. Add 1/2 tsp salt, bay leaves, thyme, and the tomatoes. Add the beef and bring to a bare simmer. Cook at a very low simmer, covered, until very tender – about 2 hours.

Remove the meat from the pot and shred it roughly into long, ropy chunks of strands about 1/2″ wide. Return to the pot and bring to a bare simmer again. Cook until very tender, another 45 minutes. Season with salt and add oregano or cumin if necessary. Remove thyme branches and bay.

Serve over rice (especially yellow rice, arroz amarillo, made golden with achiote).

Avocado and mango salad

Jicama adds crunch to this salad, and lime juice keeps it tart. Don’t skimp on the lime – the mango can be too sweet, and this isn’t a dessert; it’s a salad.

2 avocadoes, peeled and pitted
1 large mango or 2 small mangoes, sliced parallel to the pit
1 small jicama root, peeled
2 limes
watercress, washed and dried
sea salt and black peppercorns (I used smoked peppercorns)

Slice the avocadoes into about 8 slices per half. Slice the mango into thin batons, about 1/4″ thick or less. Arrange the mango slices on top of the avocado slices, squeeze lime juice over all, and season with pepper.

Julienne the jicama and toss with lime juice. Arrange atop the mango. Season with a little salt and garnish with watercress.

Avocado, mango, jicama, lime.