Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cuban Night -- #recipes @LeslieBudewitz

LESLIE:  A few weeks ago, my friend, pastel painter Jeanette Rehahn, fondly recalled a Cuban rice pudding she’d eaten while away at a painting class. “Cuban Night!” I said.
Reverie of Golden Light, by Jeanette Rehahn
(collection of Leslie Budewitz and Don Beans)
Never let it be said I didn’t get carried away. Or, thankfully, that Mr. Right and our friends don't go happily along.

So last weekend, Mr. Right and I hosted Jeanette and her husband, Mark, and another couple, Francesca and John, for dinner. The assignment? Bring a dish and a story or interesting fact about Cuba. We talked rum and cigars (thank you, Mark), music (courtesy of Mr. Right and John), the fascinating old cars that catch the eye in Havana, and much more. (Spot a few of those cars and read up on their history here.)

The menu:
Mojitos (recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan) (and here's Lucy's post on mojitos, with a recipe from earlier this month)
an Argentinian red blend and a Spanish white
Pulled Pork Cubana on crostini – Mr. Right bought a serving of pulled pork from the BBQ truck that parks in front of the distillery on Thursdays, made a sauce from HeartBeet Kitchen, and heated the mixture in an ancient little crockpot that served the purpose perfectly. If your pork is already cooked, as ours was, an hour or two will suffice.
Cuban-Style Black Beans (recipe below)
Picadillo on white rice, the classic Cuban beef dish with a bright and lovely combination of spices (recipe from New York Times, below)
Spicy Cuban Mojo Chicken with Mango-Avocado Salsa (recipe from AllRecipes.com)
and of course, the rice pudding, redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.

We didn’t cook it all ourselves -- Jeanette brought the pudding, and John the chicken dish. I highly recommend it all! And I can tell you, we'll be making the beans and Picadillo again. All the dishes were bright and pretty -- I had hoped to use my new camera to show you, but messed up the light meter settings -- grrr -- so you'll have to take my word for it.

Or try it yourselves. Put Gloria Estafan and the Bueana Vista Social Club on the stereo, swill a little rum, and get cooking!

Congratulations to Daryl Wood Gerber on today's release of Pressing the Issue, the 6th Cookbook Nook Mystery! 

Cuban-style Black Beans

The original recipe, from Epicurious, says it serves 6-8, but my goodness, THREE cans of black beans? We used two, cutting everything else, and that was plenty as a side dish for 6 with lots of leftovers; I’ve used the original measurements but put mine in parentheses.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (medium onion)
1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 large garlic cloves, chopped (4 cloves)
1 tablespoon dried oregano (2 teaspoons)
3 15- to 16-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained (2 cans)
3/4 cup canned vegetable broth or water (½ cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar (1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional) (½ teaspoon; we didn’t need it)

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic and oregano and sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of beans to pan. Using back of fork, mash beans coarsely. Add remaining beans, broth and vinegar and simmer until mixture thickens and flavors the blend, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Mix in sugar, if desired. Season beans to taste with salt and pepper and serve.


I found this recipe in the New York Times, which calls it “one of the great dishes of the Cuban diaspora.” We made two substitutions, one from necessity, one from logic and the state of winter tomatoes. The original recipe calls for dried chorizo and I’ve left that in, because most of you will be able to find it—my grocery happened to be out, so we used 6 ounces of fresh chorizo,  adding it with the ground beef. My mouth waters at the thought of the dried chorizo and its intensity.

It also called for 4 fresh tomatoes or a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, drained and crushed; why not use a can of crushed tomatoes? (As you can see by the rim of the can, I took that "crushed" part literally.) The spicery is simply lovely, and not at all hot. The raisins and olives are a delightful surprise. The onions, garlic, and tomatoes are called a sofrito, a word as wonderful as the flavors, which will scent your home well into the next day, and you won't mind.

2  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2  medium-size yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2  ounces dried chorizo, diced
4  cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½  pounds ground beef
 Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2  tablespoons red wine vinegar
1  tablespoon ground cinnamon
2  teaspoons ground cumin
2  bay leaves
 Pinch of ground cloves
 Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup pitted green olives, pimento-stuffed.

Put the olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over a medium-high flame, and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add onions, chorizo and garlic, stir to combine and cook until the onions have started to soften, approximately 10 minutes.

Add the ground beef, and allow it to brown, crumbling the meat with a fork as it does. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Add tomatoes, vinegar, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, cloves and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Lower the heat, and let the stew simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes.

Uncover the pan, and add the raisins and the olives. Allow the stew to cook for another 15 minutes or so, then serve, accompanied by white rice.

And a few bonus pics:

The pulled pork in the aptly-named "Crock-ette:"

 The chicken fixings:

The results:

Ay, Cuba! It was a lovely trip, perfect for a chilly winter night in Montana. I hope you can make the trip yourselves, and enjoy yourselves even half as much as we did!

From the cover of AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES, Food Lovers' Village Mystery #5 (Midnight Ink, 2018, available for pre-order now):  

In Jewel Bay---Montana's Christmas Village---all is merry and bright. At Murphy’s Mercantile, AKA the Merc, manager Erin Murphy is ringing in the holiday season with food, drink, and a new friend: Merrily Thornton. A local girl gone wrong, Merrily’s turned her life around. But her parents have publicly shunned her, and they nurse a bitterness that chills Erin.

When Merrily goes missing and her boss discovers he’s been robbed, fingers point to Merrily—until she’s found dead, a string of lights around her neck. The clues and danger snowball from there. Can Erin nab the killer—and keep herself in one piece—in time for a special Christmas Eve?

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. A past president of Sisters in Crime, she lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat, an avid bird-watcher.

Swing by my website and join the mailing list for my seasonal newsletter. And join me on Facebook where I announce lots of giveaways from my cozy writer friends.


  1. Spicey...to warm up your cold temps. What spices would Pepper include...if she was cooking for Cuban night?

    1. I think she would probably do as we did and make the recipe as written the first time -- always a good idea, IMO, when the flavors are unfamiliar, especially when the sources are reliable. The second time we made the picadillo, Mr. Right increased the cumin a little to up the heat; happily, it didn't throw off the flavor balance, which can be a concern. A friend with roots in the Keys uses golden raisins, which would also change the flavors a bit, and I think they'd be delightful!

  2. My mother's parents lived in Cuba for a few years when they were first married (until a hurricane took down the house in 1928), because my great-grandmother gave them an orange plantation. On paper my sister and I still own the property. The only recipe that survives from that era is arroz con pollo, which we ate often when I was young. That was my first encounter with saffron, which I love.

    1. What a great story, Sheila! Your family stories are fascinating.

  3. Thanks for the recipes. I’m the only one who really likes beans so it’s nice to have one that scales down.

    1. My pleasure! You could cut the bean recipe even further, I think, using one can of beans. You'll have leftover onions and green pepper, but those have plenty of other uses.

  4. You read my mind! I was just thinking yesterday that I wanted a recipe for black beans!
    This all sounds wonderful. Wish I had the collection of friends to help contribute (and eat) it all.
    A question--"The spicery is simply lovely, and not at all hot."
    What is spicery?

    1. Thanks, Libby! I'm sure you'll enjoy any part of our menu you want to play with.
      "Spicery" is not an ingredient, but a reference to the spicing itself, or the combination of spices. Like "the cookery."