Category Archives: Cuba

Cuban Black Bean & Potato Soup

I recently found myself ‘wasting’ an afternoon at the Cameron Village library in Raleigh, where I sat down to look through a couple of cooking magazines. I found a recipe for Cuban Black Bean soup which I jotted down.  It’s not the first Cuban black bean soup I’ve made, but this one looked like it would be worth a try.  It starts with a sofrito mixture (in Cuba, that’s onion, garlic and sweet pepper) for an authentic Cuban taste.

I ended up tweaking the recipe a bit (as usual), my adjusted recipe is shared below.  Because I only had a couple of small white potatoes on hand, but also a nice sweet potato, I decided to mix them up instead of only using white potato, as called for in the original recipe.  After tasting the soup I realized I wanted a little more of a flavor kick, so I added cayenne, black pepper and lime juice.  I also added cooking sherry, since I remembered using that in many other Cuban recipes in February. I think the additions were in the spirit of Cuban food, so I’m still calling it a “Cuban” soup!

Cuban Black Bean & Potato Soup
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
6 cloves garlic
3 cans black beans, drained
2 small white potatoes, diced (about 1 c.)
1/2 large sweet potato, diced (about 1 c.)
1 1/2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 Tbsp. cooking sherry
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (to taste)

Saute the sofrito ingredients (onion, peppers and garlic) over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add half the black beans and 6 cups water. Puree.

Mix in remaining black beans, potatoes, vinegar, sherry, cumin, oregano, bay leaf, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir well and bring to a simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste and add more salt and black pepper to taste. Add 1-2 tsp. lime juice just before serving.


Rum Custard and Banana Crisp

It seems fitting to end the month like any good meal, with desserts! Bananas sliced and doused in a rum-sugar syrup, topped with crumbled nuts and cookies and baked.  And a rum custard topped with maraschino cherries and cinnamon.  Notice a theme? In Cuba, it’s all about the rum! :)

Banana Crisp
1 banana, sliced lengthwise into three slices
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. light or amber rum
a few drops of vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
dash of nutmeg
1/4 c. crumbled cookies (amaretti or ginger snaps)
1 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

This recipe is for one serving. Place the banana slices in a small baking dish. Mix together the brown sugar, lime juice, rum and vanilla in a small bowl. Pour over bananas. Mix the melted butter with cookies, walnuts and nutmeg and sprinkle the crumbs over the top of the banana slices. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Adapted from Memories of a Cuban Kitchen, by Mary Urrutia Randelman and Joan Schwartz


Rum Custard
2 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/3 c. whole milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. white rum
1 Tbsp. dark rum
marashino cherries

In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar and custard until well-blended and light yellow in color. Set aside.

In a saucepan, scald the milk (this means bring it to just almost a boil, but not quite, steaming but not bubbling). Remove from heat and add vanilla and rums. While whisking the egg yolk mixture, gradually add some of the hot milk, continually whisking to keep from curdling the egg.  When you’ve added about half of the milk mixture to the eggs, switch and pour the egg mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk, continuing to whisk vigorously until it is all blended.

Cook slowly over very low heat until the mixture thickens, continuing to stir constantly with a wooden spoon. The mixture is ready when it thickly coats the back of the wooden spoon. Carefully pour the custard into desired serving dishes. Chill and serve cold. Add a maraschino cherry to each serving and sprinkle with cinnamon to garnish.

Adapted from Cuba Cocina! by Joyce LaFray

Two Plantain Soups

If you’re like me, when you read this, you are thinking – “plantains in a soup… interesting… I wonder if it’s any good?” I have eaten sweet plantains most often fried up as a side dish, and both ripe and green plantains used like potatoes in main dishes.  But these two soup recipes caught my attention as something new, and I can testify to the fact that plantains are in fact a very tasty soup ingredient.  Both of these recipes were adapted from Memories of a Cuban Kitchen, by Mary Urrutia Randelman and Joan Schwartz, and make about 2 servings each.

The first dish a stew of okra and other vegetables, some of the pork I roasted earlier in the week, and a little bacon for flavoring. Ripe plantain is boiled, mashed and rolled into ‘dumplings’ that are added to the stew at the end of cooking. When I first saw that the soup contained plantain dumplings, I assumed the plantain would be mixed with flour into some kind of dough – but it’s just plantain flesh itself, so starchy that it holds together very well in the soup without the addition of any gluten. I would add more tomato sauce and broth if I were doing this again, so I’ve adjusted the recipe accordingly.

Guiso de Quimbombo
1 thick slice bacon, diced
1/2 lb. pork, raw chunks or pre-roasted
juice from one lime
1/2 c. onion, diced
1/2 c. green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. tomato sauce, or diced tomatoes w/juice
3 c. beef broth
1/4 c. cooking sherry
1 c. sliced okra, fresh or frozen
1 ripe plantain
salt and pepper to taste

Season the pork with salt, pepper, and lime juice. Over medium heat, fry the bacon and pork in a soup pot until browned, adding olive oil if necessary. [If using pork that is already cooked, brown the bacon first, then add the pork.] When meat is browned, add some olive oil, the onion, pepper, and garlic to the pot and continue stirring and cooking for another 5 minutes on low heat.  Add tomato sauce, broth, sherry, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer uncovered for about 10  minutes. Add the okra and cook for another 10-12 minutes, until the okra and meat are tender.

In the meantime, peel and cut the plantain into large chunks. Simmer the plantain for about 20 minutes in boiling water, until tender. Remove from water, drain and mash.  Using your hands, roll the mashed plantain into small balls or ‘dumplings’.  Add them to the soup, taste and re-season the broth with salt and pepper, and cook 5-10 minutes more.  Serve with lime wedges.


This second recipe was simple, surprising and very tasty, I’ll definitely be making this one again. According to the cookbook where I found the recipe, it was originally published in 1856 in the Manual of Cuban Cuisine, and is still enjoyed today as a traditional Creole recipe. The green plantain is mashed and incorporated with the broth, which serves as a thickener for the soup. It doesn’t look very exciting but the resulting soup has a silky texture, with a nice sourness from the lime to balance the nuttiness of the almonds and comfort of the bread.

Sopa de Platanos Criolla
3 c. beef broth
2 c. water
1 green plantain, peeled and cut into 4 pieces
1/4 c. cilantro, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. almonds, sliced, slivered or chopped
2-inch slice of French or Italian bread, torn into chunks

Place the water, broth and plantain chunks into a minimum 2.5 quart pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until plantain is tender. Remove plantain from the pot and mash it in a bowl.  Add back to broth and blend with a hand blender, or boat motor (as we call it in my family). If you don’t have a hand-held blender, you can blend the broth in a traditional blender – but be careful to cool it first or do it in small batches so it doesn’t end up exploding all over your kitchen!  This step of blending was not in the original recipe, but I found that it gave the broth a really nice texture.

Bring the thickened broth back to a boil and add cilantro, lime and black pepper.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. If it forms a skin on the top, whisk it a little bit to re-dissolve. In a food processor with a blade, break up the bread and almonds into small crumbs.  Just before serving, mix the bread crumbs and almonds into the soup and serve hot.

Pescado Villaclarense

As with any island nation, fish is a popular ingredient in Cuba. Red snapper is a fish I saw mentioned regularly in the cookbooks I’ve been perusing this month.  In fact, my mother wanted me to make a stuffed red snapper recipe, which looks absolutely delicious.  However, it would also be very expensive after buying a whole snapper plus the 2 lbs. of shrimp and 2 lobsters used to stuff it!  Not to mention that I’d need to invite some guests to help eat it, though that’s not usually a problem :)

The recipe I decided to try recommends grouper instead of snapper. Pescado Villaclarense is a fish fillet encrusted with almond and herb paste, sauteed to a crispy golden brown, but moist and flaky on the inside.

Pescado Villaclarense
1/3 c. onion, chopped roughly
2 cloves garlic
black pepper, a few grinds
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. lime juice
1/3 c. almonds, toasted
2 tsp. red wine

Blend the above ingredients in a food processor to form a paste. Pat 2 grouper fillets dry with a paper towel. Spread the almond paste over both sides of grouper fillets, and wrap them in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.  Melt 1 Tbsp. olive oil plus 1 Tbsp. butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Unwrap and sprinkle fish fillets with paprika, salt and pepper. Fry the fish in the pan until the fish flakes easily and is nicely golden brown on both sides, turning gently to avoid losing the crust. Serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Adapted from Cuba Cocina! by Joyce LaFray

Cuban Sandwiches

I had my first Cuban sandwich in St. Petersburg, Florida a couple of years ago.  I had traveled there for a library conference and stayed for a couple of extra days vacation. As I was wandering around one day, I walked past a restaurant that looked less remarkable than a Subway shop, but advertised authentic Cuban sandwiches.  So I decided to give it a try, and loved it!

The sandwich looked very much like this one, which I had today for lunch at the Old Havana Sandwich Shop in Durham. Typical ingredients are roasted pork, ham, pickle, mustard and mild white cheese (usually Swiss). The ingredients are pressed together in a thin crusty bread and grilled, panini-style. This one also had a garlic mojo sauce which stuck with me through the rest of the afternoon – but it was totally worth it!

I also roasted a Boston butt pork roast this week. First, I rubbed the pork with salt, pepper, cumin and garlic powder on the outside, and sprinkled it with lime juice. According to the basic directions laid out in Barbara Kafka’s Roasting: A Simple Art, I roasted the pork for 20 minutes at 500 degrees, followed by about another 1 hour 45 minutes at 450, until it was nice a crispy on the outside, and reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

I used some of this roasted pork to make a similar Cuban sandwich called the Media Noche, or “midnight sandwich”. It is made of the same basic ingredients as the traditional Cuban sandwich, except using a soft roll or bun. I just used the roasted pork without adding ham. I don’t have a panini press, but the cookbooks suggested buttering the outside of the bread and using a cast iron skillet to weigh down the sandwich on a baking sheet at 375 degrees. After 15 minutes in the oven, the sandwiches were nicely pressed and crispy on the outside.

There are a lot of other “Cuban” sandwiches, and most seem to have evolved as a way of using leftovers – I guess any meat pressed into a good crispy bread with some melty cheese is going to make a quick and tasty meal.  A common variation that I saw in a couple of places was named after a Cuban immigrant who moved to Miami. The Elena Ruz sandwich is made with strawberry jam, cream cheese and turkey breast, also pressed and grilled. That one may have to wait for my next Thanksgiving leftovers!

African flavors in Cuba

Black-eyed peas and okra are popular in many areas of the world, but I’m especially familiar with them as a part of Southern U.S. cuisine.  In Cuba, these vegetables were introduced into local cuisine in much the same way as in the American South – African slaves brought them along from Western Africa. The African influence on Cuban cooking is also obvious with many uses of the plantain. Here are a couple of tasty Cuban recipes for black-eyed pea fritters and okra creole.

Frituras de Carita (Black-eyed Pea Fritters)
½ lb. black-eyed peas
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
Ground black pepper
4-6 Tbsp. water
1 egg
Bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for frying

Rub the beans to remove their skins, and boil for about 15 minutes until softened. In a food processor, process the beans, garlic, salt and pepper. With motor running, add water and process until smooth. Mix in egg.

Heat oil to 375 degrees for frying. Roll balls of the batter into bread crumbs and fry until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels and keep hot in a 250 degree oven until all are fried. Serve hot, sprinkled with lime juice and salt.

Quimbombo con Mojo Criollo (Okra with Creole Sauce)
1 lb. okra, fresh or frozen
1 slice bacon
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 bay leaf
3 whole cloves
1 c. tomato sauce

Slice the okra into 1/2-inch pieces, and soak in cold water with lime or lemon juice. In the meantime, fry up the bacon until browned, crumble and saute onion, garlic and pepper in the same pan. Add tomato sauce, bay leaf and cloves, salt and pepper to taste. Drain okra and add to the mixture. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes, remove bay leaf and cloves before serving.

Cuban pork chops

Pork is a popular in Cuba, especially roasting a large cut of meat like pork loin or shoulder. Since it is just for me this week, I made a smaller portion of pork chops flavored with citrus, onions and sherry. The recipe makes tender and moist pork chops with a good amount of pan juices that could be thickened into a gravy with a little cornstarch, if desired.

Apologies for the second lapse in blog posts this month, I caught the respiratory flu that has been going around, and am only just now re-gaining my energy and my appetite!

Chuletas de puerco criollas (Cuban pork chops)
4 boneless pork chops
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 c. orange juice
1/8 c. lime juice
1/8 c. lemon juice
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/3 c. cooking sherry

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. In a  mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, oregano and cumin into a paste. Spread the paste evenly on the pork chops and place them in a shallow glass dish or casserole. Mix together the citrus juices and pour over top of the pork chops.  Top with onion slices. Cover and refrigerate to marinate for at least 2-3 hours.

Remove the pork chops from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick skillet and brown pork chops on both sides. Add the sherry, marinade and onions to the pan, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Serve hot with beans and rice.

Note: the recipe ideally calls for Seville orange, also called sour orange, juice which is available in some Latino markets, which I haven’t been able to find yet. This combination of orange, lemon and lime juice is supposed to substitute for that unique sour orange flavor.

Adapted from: Memories of a Cuban Kitchen, by Mary Randelman and Joan Schwartz