Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ropas Viejas or Cuban Beef Stew or "Old Clothes" #recipe @LucyBurdette

Photo by John Brady

Trinidad ration store, photo by John Brady
LUCY BURDETTE: John and I had the privilege of visiting Cuba last November. Living in Key West, 90 miles from Havana, we are very interested in what's going on with this neighbor country. And imagine how excited we were to be back from the trip and three weeks later, hear the announcement about relations improving between US and Cuba. (If you'd like to read my blog post about things I learned, you can click here.)

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:


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  1. When they first married in the 1920s, my grandparents lived part of each year on an orange plantation on the Isle of Pines (we have a few pictures--and a baby dress of my mother's made in Havana), until a hurricane blew down the main house in 1928 while they were there. They held on to the property but never went back.

    The only recipes my grandmother (the non-cook) held on to was one for arroz con pollo, which became a family staple, and Cuban coffee. This one will make an interesting addition to the Cuban repertory!

    1. So interesting Sheila! I love arroz con pollo--will you do that here one day? And Cuban coffee--yes! Had my big cup this morning--a lifesaver...

  2. And then there is "viejo verde" which is a dirty old man! I guess he's green with age?

    My first mojito was in Key West. What a revelation! Too many since then have been overwhelmed by the amount of club soda. I don't like club soda (makes me think of Alka-seltzer) and it spoils the drink.

    Thanks for the quick trip to Havana. Boy is that store uninspiring!

  3. Funny Libby!! I'd never had a mojito until visiting Cuba. Now we are obsessed with getting the recipe right.

    And yes, that store was grim. And the little markets not much better. It will be so interesting to see how things change with the more open relationship with the US...

  4. I loved your blog post! Very interesting! And my first thought about the recipe was that no, I wouldn't be interested in "old clothes" but then after reading it through, I may have to try it someday. Thanks!

  5. I know, what a weird name for a dish, right Elaine??

  6. I loved this recipe, Lucy. Had something like in a 'local' restaurant in Havana. It was surprisingly delicious and Mojitos rule!

    The coffee and rum are wonderful there for sure too. It will be very interesting to see what happens when trade opens up again.

    Such an interesting post!


  7. Thanks MJ! Yes the rum was very good--and I don't even like rum:). xo

  8. I've tried 4 times to leave a comment. This one better take! I used to go to a Cuban restaurant where this dish was one of my favorites. I'm so glad you posted it, Lucy. Thanks for sharing some details of your trip with us. The pictures say it all, don't they?