The Best Cuban Holiday Dishes
One of the best parts of being part of a Cuban family is the food. Especially during the holidays. Whether you married into a clan of crazy Cubans or grew up smack dab in the middle of a kitchen steaming with black beans, roast pork stuck with garlic, sangria, and loud passionate voices, the Cuban holiday kitchen is the home of the epic feast, and a place where the world’s best holiday dishes are born and loved.
It starts in late November.
Photo courtesy http://imcookinhere.blogspot.com/2005/03/boliche.html
There are several ways to make boliche but it’s essentially an eye round roast hollowed out with a long carving knife and then stuffed with chorizo sausage, ham, or bacon usually mixed with a paste of garlic, oregano, onion, cumin, black olives, or whatever you decide will taste great! It’s roasted for several hours over a bed of potatoes, apples, green peppers, celery and onions. The vegetables caramelize with the juices from the meat and the cup of red wine your pour over them as they roast and then the meat is sliced into 1-inch “steaks” and served with rice, fried plantains (platanos) and plenty of red wine. It is a very unique dish, and because of the intricacy and care that goes into its preparation, a Cuban holiday dish that is best enjoyed on special occasions. Perfect for a Thanksgiving feast.
Quite possibly my favorite Cuban holiday dish, as long as it’s slow roasted over Christmas Eve night and ready the next day, dripping with a tangy mojo (moe-ho, not moe-joe) and served with lots and lots of rice. When you wake up Christmas morning, you’re greeted with the sweet smell of this slow-roasting pork marinated in a light garlic-citrus. Your mouth waters all day while you open presents, sip Christmas coffee and nibble on Christmas sweets. When it’s time to feast, you pile hoard and hoards of this ripe meat onto your plate and cover it with a mojo glaze. And like a Christmas turkey, there are enough leftovers to last for days!
New Year’s Eve: Cuban Sandwiches and Sangria
Photo courtesy http://ilivetodayav.ning.com/profile/LaDolceVidaCubanBakery
The greatest sandwich in the world goes great with a cold beer or a tall glass of sangria on ice. A great meal to start (or end) a night of partying. For more details on this awesome sandwich, check out my article The Cuban Sandwich – How to Spot a Fraud!!
When it comes to sangria, don’t buy the bottled stuff. Try this homemade version:
One bottle red wine (use a nice burgundy)
1 cup rum
1 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
Half a cup of sugar
2 cups of water (trust me, you’ll want to water this down a bit!)
Mix all of the above into a pitcher and then add the following:
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, sliced into thin wedges
Cherries, pineapple chunks and whatever tropical fruit you like!
Stir with a wooden spoon (using a wooden spoon is part of the charm)
Stick it in the fridge for about 30 minutes and serve cool. Have plenty of extra rum and wine available so you can make a second pitcher after you finish the first.
New Year’s Day: Ropa Vieja
When it comes to preparation, rope vieja is my favorite Cuban holiday dish, or favorite Cuban food (no, favorite food PERIOD). This is a joy to cook. Imagine a kitchen smelling of simmering flank steak steaming in a kettle flavored with garlic, lime, tomato, onion, and bay leaves. Once the steak has been simmered and shredded, it’s slow cooked in a pot of chopped green peppers, garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, tomato sauce, and lots of dark, red wine. Serve it over a bed of rice with plenty of platanos and slices and slices of fresh Cuban bread.
Freeze the leftovers and when you thaw them weeks later, the sauce has been soaked into the meat creating the most tender, most tasty Cuban dish you’ll ever know.
What are platanos?
Platanos are simply nothing more than ripe, sliced plantains cooked in olive oil until they’re crispy and golden brown. For best results, once they’re light brown, turn off the burner and let them cool in the olive oil until they’re lukewarm. Then drain, top with salt and serve as a side dish to any of the above Cuban entrees. They’re awesome!!
Here are some more ideas for excellent Cuban side dishes:
Photo courtesy http://gliving.com/mango-avocado-salad/
Sliced avocado served with raw onion, cilantro, oil and vinegar or lime juice. The above photo uses mango instead of onion. Works for me!!
Black Beans and Rice
Although this is commonly served as a meal unto itself, it also makes a great side. Serve with fresh chopped onions.
I grew up with this stuff, and now I’m making sure my daughter, who is 5, will experience these Cuban holiday dishes too. She seems to enjoy them as much as I did. When she gets a little older, I’ll teach her how to prepare these feasts and soon, perhaps she will begin to prepare them herself, and may even teach them to her children.
I almost forgot the best part: dessert!!
Flan de Leche
My mother used to do this homemade but you can find it in bakeries or even in a small, single-serving container like pudding. This simple yet elegant caramelized custard is a common dessert in Latin America. It might take a few tastings to get used to – then again you might love it before it even touches your tongue!
Cuban drunken sponge cake. Soft and sweet and dripping with juicy syrup than covers your fingers and runs over your palm and down your wrist. Bliss.
Fresh Papaya and Sliced Mango
Photo courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/yummyinthetummyblog/2693721496/
Who says you need to kill yourself making dessert? Sweet tropical fruits are a great finish to any Cuban meal. Just make sure you wash them down with a swig of rum!
Most of these recipes can be found in Clarita’s Cocina a Cuban-Spanish cookbook that has been in my family for decades. To read about how these dishes become part of the Cuban lifestyle in America, check out The Cigar Maker.
For more information on Cuban Cuisine, click here.
Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker and Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy. His work has appeared in Cigar City Magazine and La Gaceta.