Population: 11.2 million
Geography: A tropical island of flat fertile terrain
Signature flavours: Beef, pork, rice, beans, plantain, tropical fruit, spearmint, tomato
Eric’s father was Cuban, and Eric lived in Havana until he was eight years old, so he is familiar with traditional Cuban fare, like ropa vieja (shredded beef), bistec de palomilla (a thin grilled steak), and masas fritas (deep fried pork chunks). Unlike many of their smaller Caribbean neighbours that rely on seafood to make up the bulk of their protein, Cuba is large enough to allow grazing of cattle, so beef features heavily in traditional recipes. Eric found that these most representative Cuban dishes were difficult to replicate with the meat substitutes available in our area (our blog is pescatarian for my sake), but his menu showcased many of the island’s other distinct flavours.
Arroz con Pollo: Yellow rice flavoured with garlic, cumin, oregano, turmeric, saffron, and beer, and loaded with red pepper, olives, peas, and soy chicken.
Prep and cooking time: 40 min
Camarones al Ajillo: Garlicky (so, so garlicky) grilled shrimp with parsley and red pepper flakes, drizzled with lime juice.
Prep and cooking time: 25 min
Platanos Horneados con Queso: Whole baked plantains split down the middle and filled with mild white cheese.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
Mojito: A cocktail made from lime juice, sugar, and muddled spearmint, topped with sparkling water and rum.
Prep and cooking time: 5 min
Dulce de Guayaba con Queso Crema: Sweet guava jelly served with cream cheese slices.
Prep and cooking time: 10 min
The Shopping List
We have a fairly good market that sells a range of international foods about 45 minutes away, and Eric found everything he needed there, including plantains and guava jelly.
I had completely forgotten that it was Wooden Spoon Wanderer night — I had spent the day working in the forest and was famished as I stepped through the front door. I was met with an aproned Eric and the smells of a Cuban feast.
We started with the yellow rice. With a mild flavour and juicy chunks of soy chicken, it made a great centrepiece for the meal.
The platanos were pure comfort food — starchy, slightly sweet, thickly blanketed with gooey mozzarella cheese. Depending on ripeness, plantains can have a variety of flavours. For this dish, Eric used ripe plantains, which are medium firm and a little bit sweet.
The shrimp were delectable, each one perfectly tender and bursting with flavour. They also had a nice heat the we cooled off with sips of minty, citrusy, mojitos.
We finished the meal with scoops of guava jelly and cream cheese. For anyone who enjoys a salty-sweet combo, this dish is a treat. It put me in mind of a deconstructed guava cheesecake.
It’s been literally years since Eric last ate Cuban food, and this assignment was a nice way for him to connect with the some of the familiar flavours of his childhood.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.