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A Passion for Cuban Cuisine
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LIKE A DELICIOUS RECIPE, A GREAT COOKBOOK IS A MASTERFUL blend of quality ingredients. The best dishes are often a collaborative effort of more than one person. So many wonderful people have had a hand in this delectable stew. Perhaps that is why it is so very satiating.
I thank my family first and foremost for their unwavering support and almost giddy enthusiasm. Robert, thank you for embarking on this adventure with me, you are . . . everything. Kati and Beba, you are the driving force behind everything I do. Your pride in me fuels me. I am awed on a daily basis by the two of you. I am forever grateful and honored to be your mom. I wish I could celebrate this milestone with my Dad, my hero, who lost his courageous battle with Alzheimer’s in 2007. His pride in me could never be contained. He would have enjoyed this so. I would especially like to thank my mom, from whom I learned just about everything you’ll read in this book. I thank her for passing on that “nurturing” gene and for teaching me that a house where you eat out of takeout containers is not really a home. I thank my brother for always, albeit quietly, supporting my every endeavor and for willingly taste testing every recipe and loving every minute of it; and to my sister-in-law, Ana, who is convinced I am the best cook in the world. I thank Lilia and Oscar for their support. I thank my aunt and uncle Nene and Carmita for bragging about me to just about everyone who will listen. I hope you have not annoyed too many people. Of course, the support of an amazing group of friends is the backbone of any venture and I am very lucky in that regard. Silvia, thank you for your steadfast friendship and support. I will make a cook out of you yet! Glenda, you said I could do this and here I am. Thanks for believing in me more than I believed in myself. Thank you to Ivette and Lory for proving that true friendship does stand the test of time.
I must thank Amanda Richmond, the very talented designer of this book. Thank you for your patience and understanding, and for creating something I am so very proud of. Thank you too, Steve Legato, the amazing photographer I had the pleasure of working with on this book. Thank you for making what could have been an intimidating process two of the most fun days of my life. Finally, I’d like to thank Diana von Glahn, my wonderful editor. Thank you for believing in this project and for deciding that my voice is unique and meant to be heard. Despite the many hours dedicated to this book, it never once felt like work. Thank you all.
TECHNICALLY, THE SPANISH WORD “SABOR” MEANS FLAVOR. And because this is a cookbook, we are naturally using the word with regards to the flavor of Cuban cuisine. But we all know that flavor can encompass more than just food. There is the flavor of a place, of its people, of an entire culture. You can cook with sabor, speak with sabor, and of course dance with sabor! There is even a well-known ballad called “Sabor a Mi,” which translates as “the flavor of me” or the “taste of me” . . . but we won’t go there. Sabor, as far as I’m concerned, is a state of mind and a way of life. It connotes a lively independence, a delicious flair, and a relaxed elegance. Even the word rolls off the tongue beautifully (especially if you can roll your “r”s).
All cuisines have their own distinct flavor and feel, but I am partial to—you guessed it—Cuban cuisine. As far as I’m concerned, Cuban food is meant to be made and eaten, savored and enjoyed with family and friends. That is why this book is so much more than just a collection of Cuban recipes. It is a peek, a little window if you will, into the life, the flavor—or sabor—of all things Cuban. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be Cuban to enjoy this book. This book is for everyone who enjoys food. You can be half Cuban, a quarter Cuban, married to a Cuban, dating a Cuban, or have a Cuban best friend. You can feel a special affinity towards Cubans because you enjoy the food, the music, or the salsa (pun intended). Maybe you’re simply in a Cuban mood or are planning a Cuban-themed party so you and your guests can eat Cuban food and dance to Cuban music.
Everything about our heritage seems to be back in vogue these days. Cuban cigars, the ever-popular classic drink, “mojito,” and of course the music! Cuban music moves you, making even the painfully shy involuntarily move in their seats. You just can’t help but tap your fingers on the table or your feet on the floor once the bongos have begun to play.
While Cuban culture is the epitome of sabor, there is no better example of that Cuban flavor than Cuban women. We tend to be a little more mysterious, a little more curvaceous—not fat! Curvaceous! We love to cook and—no surprise here—we love to eat. Contrary to popular waif wisdom, men love curves. Especially Cuban men. They appreciate a woman who can cook and eat! The notion that a woman is somehow more fabulous because she nibbles on celery sticks all day or because the only thing she can manage to make for dinner are reservations is . . . well, sad.
Cuban cuisine encourages us to nurture a seemingly lost art. Cooking and feeding our loved ones is a very satisfying, yet seldom embraced, concept. Cuban food, in particular, is substantial and abundant. It’s spicy. It’s delectable. And it’s always brimming with Sabor!
Cuban women are nurturers, an art that seems to have been lost nowadays. Cooking for others can be incredibly satisfying, and the food we feed our loved ones shows that, It is substantial and abundant. It’s spicy. It’s delectable. And it’s always brimming with sabor! When we eat the food of our land, we are never left feeling hungry, and are always completely satisfied. Which is why I wanted to write this book. I think we can all stand to feel this way from time to time, and when you make the recipes within these pages, you are certain to feel that way, too.
IF YOU WERE BORN AND RAISED IN A CUBAN HOUSEHOLD, you probably already know what I am about to tell you here. I will nevertheless state some things for the benefit of those of you who are experimenting with Cuban cuisine for the very first time.
The main thing you should know when cooking and indulging in Cuban food is that your house will smell like Cuban food, your clothes will smell like Cuban food, and your hair will smell like Cuban food. My friend Glenda refers to this phenomenon as “Eau de Cuban House.” Depending on the ventilation in your home, this glorious aroma may last well into the following day. If you grew up in a Cuban household, you’ll remember that the smell never really went away. But don’t let this discourage you. It is by no means unpleasant. In fact, to most Cubans, it’s as inviting as the aroma of fresh bread baking.
In order to make many of the dishes in this book, you need to be in possession of three essential items. Get in your car, or better yet, walk (you’ll need to burn calories to eat this stuff) to your local market and arm yourself with a head of garlic, a green bell pepper, and a large Spanish onion. Look at them, smell them, massage them. Become familiar with them because they make up the holy trinity of Cuban cooking. These vegetables are the foundation of one of the essential ingredients in Cuban cuisine—sofrito. I’ve included the recipe on page 14. It is the base, the heart and soul, the flavor, the salsa (if you will) of almost everything we cook. Without it, we would cease to exist! A little dramatic, no? What can I say, I’m passionate about my sofrito.
With respect to olive oil, we don’t generally use Italian extra-virgin olive oil that is subtle in flavor and light in color and aroma. We use the hard-core stuff—so pungent and dark, it’s almost green. This kind of olive oil is usually packaged in a rectangular tin can with a Spanish dancer on it. Any good quality olive oil from Spain will do. It really adds so much depth to a dish. In this book, whenever I call for olive oil, I highly recommend you use Spanish olive oil, but in a pinch you can use any good quality olive oil.
I also suggest you use large Spanish onions in these recipes because they add agreat flavor. However, white or yellow onions work well too. There are a few ingredients in these recipes, like chorizo (Spanish sausage), that I would not recommend substituting with anything else. You are just going to have to go out and hunt for some of these ingredients! But don’t worry, most of them are very easy to find. To make things even easier, I’ve provided you with a glossary of traditional Cuban ingredients in the back of the book. And I’ve also recommended a few online stores to make your shopping even easier.
Another Cuban staple is the bay leaf. If you grew up in a Cuban household, you spent many a night fishing out the bay leaf from that evening’s creation. If you are anything like me, you must have been convinced that there was some kind of conspiracy, since the bay leaf always found its way onto your plate.
Lastly, there’s Cuban bread. Cuban bread is similar to French bread except that it is made with lard instead of oil. It is baked a little differently, too, placed in a cold oven over boiling water before it reaches its desired baking temperature. It is a delicious part of Cuban cuisine and a must for Cuban sandwiches. Almost every Cuban household has at least one loaf of Cuban bread at the table at all times. Because it is so good, the loaf is usually hollowed out while it’s still warm. No one ever admits to the disembowelment of the loaf. The culprit, however, is inevitably revealed when he or she refuses the standard second helping of that evening’s fare. Most Cuban families buy Cuban bread instead of making it, so I’ve given you the names and websites of a few places that sell Cuban bread in the back of the book. In most instances, French bread is a suitable alternative. There is also a great backup to Cuban bread—Cuban crackers. Every Cuban household has Cuban crackers. They are as basic as running water. Although they are tasty on their own, Cuban crackers are almost always used as a vehicle for transporting your food to your fork.
Aperetivos y Bocados
APPETIZERS AND SNACKS
For as long as I can remember, a large group of families, including my own, converge yearly on a small island called Sanibel on the Gulf Coast of Florida. We rent somewhat modest but comfortable two bedroom condos that face the ocean. There is nothing particularly grand about Sanibel. Frankly, the beaches aren’t even that great, compared to Miami Beach. There is something about it, though. No matter how many luxury hotels I stay in or exotic locations I visit, there is something about being at Sanibel that I would not trade for the world. The second we cross the bridge onto the island, the decompression begins, during which the stresses of everyday life seem to disappear. The best pictures I have of my family have been taken in Sanibel. The large group of familiar faces, many of which we haven’t seen since the previous year, is also very comforting. I think the beauty of this place is that it is the closest our parents can get to what life was like in Cuba: the island, food, family, friends, rum . . . food, (did I say that already?) are all reminiscent of their native land. Well, except for the small detail that it’s not Cuba, and remember, everything was better in Cuba.
The patriarch of the family that began the annual pilgrimage to Sanibel, Reynaldo or El Alcalde (the mayor), as we affectionately call him, is largely responsible for keeping the tradition of visiting the island alive. Each morning, he prepares bottles and bottles of a deliciously addictive concoction of rum and juices that he calls “Whammy.” He shares this recipe with no one, mind you. I suspect that his wife of more than 40 years is not even privy to the sacred formula. (Don’t despair . . . I got my hands on it anyway. You can find it on page 222.) Around half an hour after drinking the first glass of the stuff (no one can drink just one), the sexagenarians* begin to find humor in the most mundane and ordinary things. The women begin to giggle like school girls and—I kid you not—flirt, yes, flirt, with the purveyor of this delicious libation.
Then there’s the tent. Each and every morning around 10 a.m., the tent (la carpa) goes up. It happens as if by magic. Mind you, this is no small tent. It is at least 15 feet in each direction and requires large stakes and the effort of four men to put it up and take it down. But nobody really seems to mind; there are always plenty of volunteers willing to aid in the task. Especially when the afternoon storms come in—and they always come in. There is also a small sailboat called “Tin Tin,” as well as a couple of kayaks. Once the storm “looks like” it’s coming, the meteorologists in the group (all Cuban men over the age of 40 are self-proclaimed meteorologists) begin to predict its course and time of landfall. Of course, they are never right. Once the storm is upon us and the wind seems like it’s blowing 100 miles an hour, the mad rush begins. Beach umbrellas and chairs become airborne, “Tin Tin” becomes in danger of capsizing, the kids in the kayaks are crying, and El Alcalde needs help with the tent. Heavy sigh. Somehow it all gets done and tomorrow the whole process begins again.
Not to be overlooked, however, is how we manage to stay sober enough—after all those “Whammies”—to be useful in a time of crisis. The answer is easy: it’s the food that accompanies the beverages. The food on this vacation is as varied and unique as the loving hands that prepare it. By “food,” I refer to the appetizer-type munchies that make their way to the tent on a consistent basis throughout the day. Everyone makes something different, and everyone has a favorite. My specialty are Empanadas de Chorizo (Chorizo Sausage Turnovers) but my favorite, by far, is my friend Guillermo’s Queso Brie Envuelto con Guayaba (Brie and Guava en Croûte).
Once the food begins to arrive, those in the ocean doing the “Cuban Squat”* begin their mass exodus to land. Some, in a preemptive attempt to secure dibs on a particular food, will yell from a distance, “¡Oye! ¡Guardame una!” (Hey! Save me one!) or “¡No seas tan gandido!” (Don’t be such a glutton!). Basically, it’s survival of the fittest in our little beach jungle, but it’s a delicious and enjoyable struggle. I’m sure that once you taste the treats in this chapter, you will understand why.
* The word sexagenarian refers to those between 60 and 69 years of age. It is no coincidence that the word “sex” is involved. After all, Cubans are sex-y, even at 60!
* A phenomenon by which a large group of Cubans congregates in such shallow water that, in order to submerse themselves to the shoulder, they must squat. It is not uncommon to see these squatters bobbing in the water for hours at a time, most of them with a “Whammy” in hand.
Pastica de Jamón
When I was growing up, the little guy on the can of deviled ham always scared me. I mean, it’s the devil!!! Pitchfork, tail, horns—the works! I’m not scared now, obviously, but when I was four, I was concerned that the devil—sometimes 3 or 4 devils (depending on how many cans my mom purchased at the store)—lived in my cupboard!! I could just imagine multiple devils talking to each other at night in the dark spaces of my home, conspiring on how to wipe out my entire family with their tiny little pitchforks! I know, I know, I may have been a good candidate for Prozac. . . .
That aside, this ham spread is versatile and delicious and a cinch to make. I always keep the ingredients on hand—just not in the cupboard.
SERVES 6 TO 8
2 (4.5-ounce) cans deviled ham
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Saltine crackers or soft rolls, for serving
Skim the fat off the top of the cans of the deviled ham and discard. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well with a fork to form a smooth paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
Serve with saltine crackers or soft rolls.
Pastica de Pollo
CHICKEN SPREAD OR DIP
I like to call sandwiches made with these little spreads “hip” sandwiches. Not because they are hip, as in “cool,” but because eating them will cause your hips to expand ever so slightly. The culprit is the creamy consistency of pastica. When paired with soft dinner rolls, they are simply irresistible. They make great little party sandwiches, especially when served with Croquetas (pages 26–28) and Papas Rellenas (Stuffed Mashed Potato Balls) (page 35).
SERVES 6 TO 8
½ cup mayonnaise
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon ketchup
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce, optional
2 large boneless chicken breasts, poached or roasted, diced
Combine the mayonnaise, cream cheese, ketchup, onion powder, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce in a large bowl and mix until very smooth. Add the chicken and mix to combine well. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Serve with saltine crackers or spread on soft rolls as a snack.
Queso Brie Envuelto con Guayaba
BRIE AND GUAVA EN CROÛTE
I know what you are thinking: “Didn’t Ana say that there would be nothing but authentic Cuban food in this book? Doesn’t this en croûte thing qualify as fusion?” Well, the answer is yes and yes. I know what I said. However, every rule has an exception and this is the exception. After all, I promised my friend Guillermo that, in return for betraying his father-in-law by divulging the secret recipe for the Whammy (see page 222), I would include his simple but scrumptious Brie and guava creation. I always keep my promises, especially when betrayal is involved. After you try this, you’ll be glad that I did.
SERVES 6 TO 8
1 (8-ounce) can Pillsbury crescent rolls
1 (8- to 10-ounce) round Brie cheese
½ cup guava preserves
1 egg, beaten
Crackers, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Use a rolling pin to roll out the crescent roll dough into one rectangular sheet (ignore the perforations). Cut a 1-inch strip off each of the longer ends of the rectangle.
Carefully place the Brie in the center of the dough and pour the preserves on top. Fold the shorter edges of the dough over the Brie, then the two longer edges, and press to seal. Use the two strips of dough to make an X on top of the round, or roll each piece of dough into a little rosette and place them in the center of the Brie. (Obviously this is an optional step, but wouldn’t Martha Stewart be proud if you did it?) Brush the top of the pastry with egg.
Bake the Brie for 15 to 20 minutes, until the dough is golden and flaky. Remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it. Serve with crackers.
Empanadas de Chorizo
Many Cuban bakeries in Miami bake empanadas, which are small pastries that encase sweet or savory fillings. While the commercially made empanadas are delicious, they don’t compare to these homemade treats. First of all, these empanadas are—you guessed it—fried. Second, this filling is a combination of chorizo and sweet ham, providing a delicate flavor balance. I’ve also given you two other options for making them—one with ground beef and the other with guava and cream cheese, for a sweet treat.
I serve these chorizo empanadas with a creamy picante dipping sauce that complements them perfectly. I invented this recipe many years ago, in an effort to find a nice appetizer to serve with mojitos and beer. I have been famous for them ever since. In fact, I cannot seem to fry them fast enough, and inevitably people burn their tongues trying to eat the empanadas before they have had a chance to cool.
You can prepare the filling for empanadas well in advance and freeze or refrigerate it until you’re ready to proceed with the recipe. This recipe calls for frozen turnover pastry disks (discos para empanadas), which are available at most major grocery stores in the Hispanic frozen food section (Goya makes some).
MAKES 20 MEDIUM or 40 APPETIZER-SIZED
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced green bell pepper
½ cup tomato sauce
¼ cup vino seco (dry white cooking wine)
¼ teaspoon pepper
¾ pound ground Spanish chorizo sausage
½ pound ground sweet ham Salt
20 discos para empanadas (frozen turnover pastry disks), thawed and kept in the refrigerator
Canola oil, for shallow frying
1 cup thick, refrigerated ranch dressing (I like Marie’s)
1 to 2 tablespoons hot sauce (like Tabasco)
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
To make the empanadas, heat the oil in a shallow pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onion, and bell pepper, and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until soft. Add the tomato sauce, vino seco, and pepper, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chorizo and ham and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Taste and add salt, if necessary.
Remove one package of the pastry disks from the refrigerator. (Always leave the ones you aren’t working with in the refrigerator. They are easier to work with if they are firm.) Working on a lightly floured surface, separate the disks. If you are making appetizer-sized empanadas, cut each disk in half, creating two semicircles. If you are making the larger empanadas, leave the disks whole.
Place 1 to 1½ teaspoons of filling in the center of each half disk or 1 to 1½ tablespoons in the center of each whole disk. Fold each half disk to make a small triangle or each whole disk to make a semicircle. Using the tines of a fork, press around the edges to seal.
If you do not plan to fry the empanadas immediately, cover them with a damp towel or place them in an airtight container and refrigerate them for up to 5 days.
Heat the oil in a deep pan to 350°F over medium heat. If you do not own an oil thermometer, dip the corner of one of the empanadas in the oil to check if it is hot enough. The oil should bubble around the dough.
Add the empanadas, about 4 to 5 at a time, to the oil and fry them for 3 to 4 minutes, turning them once, until they are golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate and continue frying the rest of the empanadas.
To make the dipping sauce, combine the ranch dressing and hot sauce in a bowl and garnish with the cilantro. Serve in a small bowl alongside the hot empanadas.
Empanadas de Carne (Ground Beef Empanadas): Fill your empanadas with picadillo (page 144), omitting the potatoes. You can also use leftover picadillo for this.
Empanadas de Guayaba y Queso (Guava and Cream Cheese Empanadas): Fill the empanadas with 1-inch cubes of both guava paste and cream cheese. Make sure you use the full-fat cream cheese that comes in a bar.
Fina’s Famous Carne Fría
- On Sale
- Oct 23, 2012
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Running Press