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Cooking kosher Cuban

Last updated: 2003-08-22

The fascination with Cuban food began long before President Carter’s publicized visit to the island 90 miles off the South Florida coast. The hundreds of thousands of Cubans who left the island when Castro came to power in 1959, brought with them their spicy melting pot cuisine, dishes rapidly welcomed by globe-trotting Americans. Much of the present Cuban cuisine goes back to the 15th century when the Taino-Arawak Indians introduced Columbus to corn. Spanish and Portuguese settlers cooked native fruits and vegetables using their culinary techniques. A prime example is Ropa Vieja. the shredded beef featured on every Cuban restaurant menu. The dish is originally Spanish, but in Cuba, it is seasoned with peppers and achiote oil, made from Cuba’s orange-red annatto seeds. African slaves and Chinese laborers have also left their mark. Their diet consisted mainly of black beans, rice, plantains and yuca. Combinations of rice and black beans, and plantains and yuca are typical side dishes. Light Bacardi rum and sugar from the abundant crops of sugar cane, adds aromatic sweetness to the rich, creamy desserts. Although pork plays a major role in Cuban cuisine, cheap beef cuts such as flank steak used in Ropa Vieja and Picadillo, a spicy beef hash are easily duplicated for the kosher kitchen. Most Cuban ingredients are mainstream and are easily found in supermarkets. The recipes below are made less time consuming than the originals by using convenience products; canned black beans instead of dried eliminates long soaking and cooking. Packaged Spanish pilaf mix adds authentic spices and rice making short work of the popular Cuban Black Beans and Rice. Yuca, also called cassava, is a staple. Buy it fresh or frozen, ready to cook, available in ethnic supermarkets. Here are some frequently used items including those in the recipes below Beans: especially black beans are a cheap, staple Cuban ingredient. If using dried they must be soaked overnight or for 8-10 hours at room temperature before cooking. Red and white kidney beans are also used. For a shorter preparation and cooking time, use canned beans. Drain and rinse before using. Cilantro (coriander) is a popular flavoring. It looks like flat parsley but has a distinctive flavor. Use sparingly. Corn husks: used to make wrappings for traditional tamales. Use the soft inner layer of husks from fresh corn. Dried husks are available in some supermarkets or in Hispanic markets. they need to be soaked in hot water for 30 minutes or until pliable before using. Onions: an essential ingredient for sofrito, which means sautéed. Many recipes begin with a basic sofrito of onion and garlic sautéed lightly in olive oil. Papayas: these range from small pear shaped to larger the size of a small melon. When ripe the skin is golden yellow and soft to the touch. The flesh is yellow or salmon colored. The center cavity is filled with gelatinous covered grayish-black little seeds. Peppers – these are not the hot variety as Cuban cuisine is mild in comparison to Latin American cuisine. Instead red and green bell peppers are used. Canned pimentos are sliced into strips for a garnish. Fresh chile peppers or dried red pepper flakes are used to add hotness. Plantains vary in size and shape. Unripe plantains are hard and green with a starchy taste. Look for ripe plantains which are brownish-black resembling over-ripe bananas. Inside they are sweet and soft. Green or yellow plantains will ripen on your kitchen counter over several days. Rice - Long grain rice is used for most Cuban cooking. In recipes calling for yellow rice, saffron or turmeric has been added. Yuca (cassava) is a root vegetable available fresh or frozen. The skin is brown and bark-like. Inside the flesh is white and dense.. Fresh yuca may be peeled, cut in chunks and frozen. It may be covered with cold water, and refrigerated up to one day before cooking. It is usually boiled and used in soups, stews, cut into strips and deep-fat fried or sauteed in a citrus dressing. Ropa Vieja (shredded meat)serves 4-6
1 pound flank steak 1 small onion, cut in chunks salt 3-4 peppercorns 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 large onion, diced 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced 1 (4.5 ounce) can chopped mild chilies 2 tomatoes, chopped 1/2 cup barbecue sauce 2 tablespoons snipped cilantro pinch cayenne pepper or to taste In a large pot, place the flank steak, onion chunks, 1 teaspoon salt and peppercorns. Add enough cold water to come about 1 1/2 inches above the meat. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender and almost falling apart. Cool. Remove meat from liquids adding enough water to the liquid to make 2 cups. Set aside. Using your hands, shred the beef into strings. With scissors cut into approximately 1 1/2 –inch lengths. Set aside. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the diced onions, garlic and green pepper. Saute 5 minutes or until onion is wilted. Add the chilies, tomatoes, barbecue sauce, cilantro and saved broth. Cook, covered for 5 minutes. Add the shredded beef. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper. (Cayenne pepper is ultra hot so add judiciously). Serve hot with Black Beans and Rice. Approx. nutrients per serving: calories – 217 protein – 21g carbohydrates – 4g fat – 13g cholesterol – 51mg sodium – 234mg
Roast Chicken with Papaya Glaze (meat)serves 4-6
1 (3 1/2 pound) roasting chicken cut in 8 pieces salt and pepper 1 cup orange juice 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 small onion, cut in chunks 1 tablespon dijon mustard 1 teaspoon chopped garlic 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1 ripe papaya, peeled, halved and seeded watercress to garnish (optional) Preheat the oven to 375F. Rub the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan and refrigerate while preparing the glaze. In the food processor, place the orange juice, brown sugar, onion, mustard, garlic, thyme and half the papaya. Process 15-20 seconds until smooth. Brush the chicken with the papaya glaze.Place in preheated oven basting with glaze every 15 minutes. Cook for 1 hour or until juices run clear when pierced in thickest part with sharp pointed knife. Place any remaining glaze in a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Pour over chicken. Garnish with remaining papaya, thinly sliced, and watercress (optional). Approx. nutrients per serving: calories – 644 protein – 50g carbohydrates – 18g fat – 40g cholesterol – 198 mg sodium – 641mg
Snapper or Tilapia in Coconut Sauce (dairy)serves 4
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 medium onion, sliced 1 rib celery, thinly sliced 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon ground cumin 3/4 cup vegetable stock 1/2 cup canned coconut milk 1/4 cup light cream or evaporated milk salt and pepper to taste 1 1/2 pound snapper or tilapia fillets 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cloves, cumin, stock, coconut milk and cream. Bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the fish fillets, spooning some of the coconut mixture over. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until fish is cooked. (flakes will be opaque when separated with the tip of a knife). Sprinkle with cilantro and serve. Aprox. nutrients per serving: calories – 202 protein – 229 carbohydrates – 1g fat – 12g cholesterol – 61mg sodium – 487mg
Black Beans and Rice (pareve) serves 6
3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 medium onion, diced 2 teaspoons chopped garlic 1/2 red bell pepper, diced 1 large tomato, chopped 1 (6.75 ounce) package Spanish pilaf mix 2 cups water 1 (14 ounce) can black beans, drained salt to taste In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper and tomato. Saute 5 minutes until onion is translucent. Add the pilaf mix, water and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Stir and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 25 minutes or until rice is tender. Add the black beans and fluff with a fork. If desired, add salt to taste. Serve hot. approx. nutrients per serving: calories – 199 protein – 5g carbohydrates – 31g fat – 7g cholesterol – 0mg sodium – 686mg
Yuca sauteed in Lime-Garlic Dressing (pareve) serves 6
1 1/4 pounds yuca or 1 pound frozen yuca 2 slices lemon 1/3 cup olive oil 2 tablespoons chopped garlic juice of 2 large limes lemon pepper seasoning to taste Prepare fresh yuca be peeling the outer brown skin. Cut into 2 inch chunks. Place in a saucepan with lemon slices and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until translucent and tender. Drain well. Remove strand-like strings from center of yuca and cut into bite size pieces. Set aside. For frozen yuca, add lemon slices, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes until tender. Cut into bite size pieces as for fresh. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the lime juice, turn heat to high. Add the cooked yuca and stir fry 3-4 minutes until heated through. Season to taste with lemon pepper seasoning. Serve hot. Approx. nutrients per serving: calories – 227 protein – 1g carbohydrates – 29g fat – 12g cholesterol – 0mg sodium – 11mg
Frozen Banana Custard (dairy) serves 4
1 cup milk 2 eggs 1/4 cup sugar 3 tablespoons light rum 2 large ripe bananas, peeled and sliced whipped cream or shaved chocolate (optional) In a medium saucepan , heat milk until small bubbles form at side of pan. Cool slightly. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the eggs to cooled milk, whisking constantly. Stir in the sugar and rum. Cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Pour the mixture into the food processor or blender. Add the bananas. Process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Pour into a shallow container and place in freezer. When mixture is beginning to freeze at the edges, whisk until smooth. Cover and return to freezer until firm, 2-3 hours. Scoop into small dessert dishes and top with a swirl of whipped cream or shaved chocolate.(optional) approx. nutrients per serving: calories – 210 protein – 6g carbohydrates – 32g fat – 5g cholesterol – 115mg sodium – 62mg