During this time my father was in a labor camp, for the crime of wanting to leave the country. Alone, and with few provisions, as my mother struggled to care for us, she was struck with inspiration. One day she went out to the back patio to do the wash and saw a cute little frog sitting by the door to the kitchen. My mother has always liked frogs, and this little frog by the kitchen door gave her an idea...
My father and I were very close, but I did not always get along with my mother, so even though she was a marvelous cook, I had never been interested in learning her cooking secrets. However, after my father’s death, I witnessed my mother’s severe deterioration and overwhelming sadness. Looking for a way to engage her, I had the idea to ask her to teach me how to cook like her...
I really enjoyed the article and it reminded me that we all see the world through our own filters. As I read I found myself giving thanks, once again, that my parents took the difficult steps and made the sacrifice to leave Cuba. I am so grateful that we were fortunate enough to get out and I ache for the many others who still cannot. I joyfully gave thanks that we live in a country where we can argue about who makes the "right" sandwich!
Then I said a prayer for the people in Cuba who don't even have the freedom to set up a sandwich shop, buy a traditional Cuban sandwich, or even complain that they can't do so, without fears of repercussions.
Here is how our parents taught us to make "El Sandwich Cubano"
Roast pork slices (ideally seasoned with mojo)
Pickle slices (very thin)
Butter or mustard
Cut the bread in half length-wise. Spread butter or mustard on the cut side of the bread. If you live where you can't get Cuban bread like I do, you could use French bread, it’s similar.
According to my parents the traditional Cuban sandwich requires butter; they said that in the US mustard is substituted to accommodate the American palate. My father thought this was heresy!
Add slices of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese and several thin slices of pickle. Warm up in a sandwich press until cheese is slightly melted and enjoy!
A special sandwich press is needed to make this grilled sandwich. The press is made up of two round saucers that close over the bread and it has long handles. You can find one at most Cuban markets or on line. Click here to see one on Amazon.
A regular sandwich press would not shape it into a flying saucer, or toast the sides shut. My children loved to make these fun grilled sandwiches. Now I make them with my grandchildren. Be careful not to touch the hot metal parts of the press.
Butter (or non stick spray)
Hamburger buns or 2 pieces of bread (the press will cut these into the right shape)
Spread butter on the outside of the bread pieces, or grease the round flying saucer part of the “contraption” with non stick spray or butter. Put ham and cheese slices between the two pieces of bread, a little or a lot, to taste. Put the sandwich in the press and cook over a hot burner or gas grill, one side then the other. The sandwich is done when the cheese is melted. This takes 3-5 minutes per side.
SWEET DISCO VOLADOR
For a sweet and very Cuban version of this sandwich, use a couple of slices of guava paste and about 2 tablespoons of cream cheese as the filling. If you don’t have guava paste, you could use a tablespoon or two of jam.
Here is a video clip, if you'd like to see how to make these fun sandwiches!
This is the King of Bean Soups and about as Cuban as you can get. I can't imagine any Cuban get together that doesn't involve food, and specifically Black Beans and rice as a featured complement to the main course. Many people think of beans as healthy, sensible, inexpensive, something you make to stretch your food budget. This bean soup is all that, but it is also delicious and an exotic experience for your taste buds. Picture yourself on a veranda, feeling the tropical breeze, eating these wonderful beans!
There are a many versions of this recipe, none as good as my mother's. Mamina made this for every family gathering, now it's my turn to continue this delicious tradition.
FRIJOLES NEGROS-Black Bean Soup
1 lb bag (2 cups) dry black beans (you can use canned beans and add the sofrito, but it won’t be as good)
3-4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 large green bell pepper
1 large onion
4-5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon of vinegar
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Sort through the beans to take out any debris. Rinse and then cover them with water and soak overnight. Cook in soaking water, do not change it, so they don't loose any of their beautiful inky blackness. Add more water if needed, to about 2 inches above the beans, add the bay leaves.
If using a pressure cooker, cook 20- 25 minutes after pressure is reached. Otherwise use a heavy pan, bring the beans to a boil, then lower the temperature to low and cover them. Cook them for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the beans are soft; if they dry out you can add more water. I like to set them at the back of the stove and forget about them. Don't worry, the aroma will remind you that they are cooking.
You can also cook them on high in a slow cooker for 7-8 hours. This actually works quite well. Then proceed with sofrito, etc.
Add the tablespoon of salt after they are soft, if you add it before cooking, the beans will be tough.
While the beans are cooking, chop up pepper and onion. My mother stressed that the secret to her marvelous black beans was lots of green pepper. Sauté in olive oil, be generous with the oil for this one. Cook until the onions are translucent. Mash or mince the garlic and add to the sofrito, continue cooking for another minute or so.
When the beans are soft add the Sofrito to them, also the oregano, cumin and sugar. Stir and cook on low, covered, for about 20 more minutes. It will thicken a bit and all the flavors will blend. Taste it and add more salt if needed. Some people like to take out a cup of the beans, mash them and add them back to the soup to thicken it.
The last 2 ingredients, vinegar and olive oil, are for drizzling over the beans before serving. My mother would invariably tell me “most people add vinegar and oil to their black beans”, but she rarely did, as the kids would complain. I also skip the vinegar and oil as they are delicious either way. I say try it without and then if you want to, try adding the vinegar and oil, see what you think.
Serve over white rice or add the rice to your soup bowl. If they are not too thick, you can also eat them as a soup, with crusty Cuban bread.
This blog is already blessing my life, I am making new friends I have not yet met in person, or at least not since I was a small child. One of these friends is Rosa Hernandez, and I am thrilled to introduce her to you. Rosa also grew up in Tuinucu, right around the corner from my grandparents. Our parents were friends, her mother and my father went to school together. She remembers coming over to my grandparents house to see my little sister Nina who was just learning to walk. Rosa loves to read, books are big in her world. She also loves cooking and photography and never goes anywhere without a camera! She likes the beach but prefers mountains and meadows and fields. Rosa loves animals, specially dogs.
Just like in my case, in her younger years she wasn't very Cuba oriented. She says, "It was something I was born into like being a Hernandez or having dark hair or wearing glasses. But once I moved away from Miami, I became more aware of my heritage and now I am very interested in all things Cuban". She is passionate about vintage Cuban music (and I hope she will post about that in the future). She would love to visit Ireland, says she has a strong connection with that country for some unexplained reason.
Rosa & her friend Alicita, in Cuba
BACALAO CON PAPAS by Rosa Hernandez
Traditionally, this was made with dry bacalao (codfish). Long, thin, dried as a bone salted fish was soaked overnight. However, in the Cuba I knew (under Communism), dry bacalao was no longer available. Fortunately for us my maternal grandfather worked in the trains that went to Trinidad daily so he was able to bring back fresh fish and shrimp from the coast, often. It always came wrapped in newspapers and hidden inside a milkcan, because it was forbidden to buy anything outside your rations. My mom would use whatever fish was available and she would have to omit some ingredients.
Once we came to the United States, although the salted fish was available in the Cuban markets, she was busy with two jobs and taking care of us all and setting up a house from scratch. So she would buy the frozen cod from the American market and skip the soaking as she had already been doing in Cuba. Sometimes depending on her budget, she would use Pollock fish. It tasted the same and was cheaper. I use the frozen cod to this day. This dish is like a stew or fricasse.
About a pound or so of frozen cod filets
4 medium red potatoes
about 3 tbsp olive oil
1 green bell pepper finely chopped
1 large onion finely chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
1 bay leaf
A handful of olives (optional)
1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
1/2 tablespoon pepper (she and I used white but it's your choice)
1/2 tablespoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 cup white cooking wine
about a cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup of water
Peel the potatoes and cut them up in medium sized chunks. Set them to boil until they are soft enough to be pierced by a fork. Set them aside when done.
Make the sofrito and add the bay leaf after it's done. Simmer this on low for about a minute.
Add cooking wine, spices and water. Stir, cover and cook for about 3 minutes stirring now and then.
Chop the cod filets into medium to large pieces and add to the sofrito mixture. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes. Keep covered.
Add the potatoes and olives (if using). Stir softly to keep potatoes from breaking up too much. Reduce heat to low. Cook about 5 minutes.
If after 5 minutes it's too watery, uncover and cook another 2 or 3 minutes.
My mother served it over rice. I still do at times but a lot of times I eat it plain with whole wheat rolls.