|Photo by John Brady|
|Trinidad ration store, photo by John Brady|
But meanwhile, I know you want to hear about the food. The people of Cuba are not well off. In fact, as it's a communist nation, everyone earns about the same amount of money, that is $20-$25 per month. Government ration stores still exist, where the citizens go to purchase their rations for the month, mostly dry goods like rice and oil. As you can see from this photo that my husband took in Trinidad, these ration stores are on the bleak side.
We barely saw the kinds of markets that exist in other countries but here are a few farmers markets in Havana. Honestly they were not that appealing.
One recipe that appeared on most of the menus, both government-run and private, was called Ropas Viejas otherwise known as "old clothes" or Cuban beef stew. Of course I had to try making it for you.
We had guests for dinner the night I made this stew, including one friend whose mother was Cuban. He told me mine turned out to taste almost exactly like his mother's, which I took as a high compliment.
3 lb. flank steak
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
6 oz. tomato paste
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. dried oregano
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups beef stock
1 (28-oz.) can peeled tomatoes, crushed
½ cup halved, stuffed green olives
1 small jar sliced pimiento peppers
3 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
Season steak with salt and pepper and cut it into large pieces. (You will shred this later, so size isn't crucial.) Working in batches, cook until browned on both sides, about 6 minutes; transfer to plate.
Add onion and peppers; cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add tomato paste, cumin, oregano, garlic, and bay leaf; cook until lightly caramelized, about 3 minutes. Add wine; cook, scraping bottom of pot, for 1 minute.
Return steak to pot with stock and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until steak is very tender, 2–3 hours. Remove steak, and shred; return meat to pot with olives, pimientos, capers, and vinegar. Cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in cilantro before serving.
The Cuban eateries we visited always served this dish with black beans and white rice, so that's how I served it too.
Are you wondering what to drink before dinner? Worry no longer, the answer is always "Mojito!" You can find my recipe here.
Lucy writes the Key West food critic mysteries:
DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS is here now!
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