Cuba is not really known for it’s incredible food and the general lack of ingredients forced Cubans to be creative with what they have. While I was visiting Cuba, I found the food to be a bit bland but that’s not to say all Cuban food is boring. In the US, I’ve gone to many Cuban restaurants serving bright and lively tasting food. If the embargo is ever lifted, I think there will be a great food scene in the country. Everything I ate was not boring though! Cuba’s national dish of Rope Vieja is always a hit in my book. Traveling around Cuba gave me the opportunity to try different variations of the famous meal and it was actually one of the highlights of my trip.
What is Ropa Vieja?
Well, when you’re served Ropa Vieja you might be turned off a bit because it looks as though a bunch of food is piled on your plate. There is no fuss to this meal and there’s no way to dress it up. So, in short, it’s a delicious pile of shredded beef, vegetables, and fruits that resembles a heap of colorful rags. The name of this dish translates to “Old Clothes,” because of the way it looks and it’s an extremely popular and beloved dish in Cuba.
Ropa Vieja History
Spain played a very important role in the history of Cuba and therefore had major influence on much of Cuban culture, including food. Ropa Vieja actually dates back to the Middle Ages and is based off a dish still popular in many parts of Spain. Basically, Rope Vieja is a dish that helped people stretch leftovers and avoid waste. The Spaniards brought the dish to Cuba where the Cubans made it there own.
The dish is traditionally made using beef but I’ve eaten Rope Vieja made of chicken, goat, and lamb. However, if you would like a traditional and authentic experience for your friends and family, stick with beef flank steak. Check out the recipe below and let me know what you think!
Cuban Rope Vieja
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 lbs of beef flank steak (cut length wise if possible)
1 small onion, sliced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 cup of dry red wine
1 14-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup of chicken stock
3 teaspoons of smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
1/2 cup of pimiento-stuffed olives.
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Pat the beef dry and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown the flank steak on all sides and transfer to a plate.
Note: Do not discard the drippings.
Add the onion and peppers to the pot and cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bit from the bottom of the pot. Cook until onions are slightly tender and caramelized. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Lower the heat to medium.
Add the tomato paste, cumin, oregano. Stir to combine. Cook, stirring and scraping for 1 minute.
Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Boil for about two minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and stock. Return the beef to the pot and nestle it beneath the onions and vegetables. Add the paprika, bay leaf, and parsley to the pot. Add more stock if necessary (only enough to just cover the ingredients). Cover the pot with a lid and transfer to the oven. Cook until beef is very tender for about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the bay leaf. Stir in olives. Simmer until the juices have reduced enough to coat the beef in a glaze. Season with salt and pepper.
You may add fresh cilantro as a garnish. Serve with rice and black beans.
Thinking about a trip to Cuba? Well, here’s my guide to Trinidad, Cuba!
Ropa Vieja means Old Clothes but this certainly doesn’t taste like it.
What do you think?
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