7 March 2010

Welcome to Cuba with Mojo Chicken and Black Beans and Rice on the FOODalogue Tour

A Cuban Feast
Joan of FOODalogue  started the year off with another armchair travel adventure with her Culinary Tour 2010 - South of the Border . I hope you have been travelling with us since Joan is an excellent travel companion. Her tour is almost at an end and if you haven't had a chance to travel with this very popular event check out her site for all the round-ups of delicious recipes and stories by all the participants. This year she has featured the cuisine of 10 of our south-of-the-border neighbours.


 So far I have travelled to Mexico where we sipped on tequila and margaritas and enjoyed each others company virtually. Then we travelled to El Salvador and the "Ruta de las Flores" (Route of Flowers) where we enjoyed the fiesta atmosphere at the feria gastronómica (food festival) in a small mountain village. We immersed ourselves in the culture of Nicaragua where we volunteered on local projects, brushed up on our Spanish and stayed with the locals. We ate ñoquis in Argentina and traveled to Estancia Ranquilo a remote family-owned 100,000 acre horse and cattle ranch nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. We watched the ocean waves ripple golden beneath the sun and gazed at the emerald Jamaican landscape sipping Planters Punch and eating jerk chicken.  We travelled to the island nation of Haiti which took on a different perspective than the paradise on earth we were hoping to visit virtually since rocked by a devastating earthquake. Each one of these destinations in her culinary tour so far has challenged us to create a dish outside of our comfort zone and experience new taste and food sensations. We have also been able to do a little armchair travelling and daydreaming. Our next stop in our armchair travel is:

CUBA
  


A few years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Cuba for several weeks. Although staying at an all- inclusive resort in Varadero is a relaxing way to spend a vacation I would not be satisfied with this type of vacation for more than a few days. In true MTBT fashion we travelled farther afield and tried to immerse ourselves in Cuban culture. In Havana we found a glimpse of the true Cuba even if only briefly. Do not leave Havana without visiting one of its private restaurants known as “Paladars”. These are one of the few private businesses the government has authorized to Cubans and some of them are really excellent. What better way to immerse yourslf than to eat in the home of a wonderful Cuban cook!!!

Havana is really one of a few cities in the world that still conserves a very characteristic and unique charm. The Havana city we met was one of fascinating contrasts and the ironies wrought by history and circumstance. In Havana, you'll discover some neighborhoods filled with houses that are crumbling behind their ornate Corinthian columns. You'll see 1950's Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles traveling beside Soviet-made Volgas and Ladas, tiny motor scooter-powered coco-taxis, and ciclo-taxis (bicycle rickshaws) for two. The air can be almost asphyxiating, the heat and humidity is relentless (keep in mind we travelled there in July), and most things are in disrepair. Yet all this only strengthens Havana's allure to me.

Cuba is famed for its beaches, diving, lifestyle and dancing. But one aspect of the Cuban holiday which is often overlooked is the Cuban cuisine, which is unfortunate because the mixture of cultures from Spanish, Chinese, African, Portuguese, French and Arabic combine to make a truly unique combination of flavours and textures. The country’s cultural influences are so diverse and add a unique flavour to the food.

 Let me go on record to say that I love Cuba and all it has to offer!!!! "If I get lost look for me in Cuba", wrote the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca. Cuba is the home of simple snacks and light treats. Masitas de Puerco Fritas (lightly fried pork cuts, slow cooked until tender), Pinchos (kebabs) and Fritas (the Cuban hamburger, spiced with shoestring potatoes and onion) all put our own country’s fast food to shame not only in terms of value, but flavour. You will not find a McDonalds or a fast food restaurant anywhere that I could see, and this suits me just fine.



Most of their food is sauteed or slow-cooked over a low flame. From what I have read very little is deep-fried and there are no heavy or creamy sauces as in some cuisines. Most Cuban cooking relies on a few basic spices, such as garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay laurel leaves.
 
Many dishes use a sofrito as their basis. Sofrito consists of onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, and ground pepper quickly fried in olive oil. The sofrito is what gives Cuban food its flavour. It is the main ingredient for almost every traditional Cuban dish next to olive oil.

 "A Cuban household without olive oil is like a bath without water"

Olive oil and sofrito are their secret ingredients used for cooking black beans, stews, meats, fish, and anything, really.  Bren of Flanboyant Eats refers to sofrito as the Holy Trinity of Cuban cuisine. To try and duplicate many of the Cuban specialties you must visit her site!!!   Bren will also tell you that the meal is followed by dessert, such as her killer flan, a Cuban caramel-flavored custard, and another shot of cafe cubano. Traditional Cuban cooking is primarily a cuisine that has little concern with measurements, order and timing. A Cuban friend of mine friend says," I'm surprised we don't use sofrito in our desserts, but hey, we must keep some things sacred! When you sniff the air and it smells exquisite, jam your finger into a piece of chicken, puncture it to the core, rip out a piece, taste it and make sure it's not pink inside. If it needs more salt, add it. This is the cooking method/skill I learned from Mami. She's the best Cuban cook in town!"

Meats and poultry are usually marinated in citrus juices, such as lime or snaranja agria juices (sour oranges) and salt, and then roasted over low heat until the meat is tender and literally falling off the bone. What I found out was that Cubans know how to cook slowly till the meat melts in your mouth!!!!!!
 
Another common staple to the Cuban diet are their root vegetables such as yuca, malanga, and boniato, which are found in markets all over the island. These vegetables are quite often flavoured again with mojo marinade, which includes hot olive oil, lemon juice, sliced raw onions, garlic, cumin, and little water.
 
While on the island we started our day with a typical Cuban breakfast of a tostada and cafe con leche. The tostada is a portion of Cuban bread which is buttered then toasted on an electric grill. The cafe con leche is a combination of strong, espresso coffee with warm milk. Cubans break the tostada into pieces, then dunk them into the cafe con leche, the same as we would dunk our doughnuts into our coffee. A shot of pure cafe cubano, Cuban coffee, would revive the dead!!!!
 
Lunch was usually quick and easy so we could carry on with the rest of our adventures and consisted of empanadas, chicken or meat turnovers, or Cubano sandwiches. The sandwich could be a media noche (midnight sandwich), consisting of a slice of pork, ham, and swiss cheese and then topped with pickles and mustard on sweetened egg bread. The pan con bistec is a thin slice of palomilla steak on Cuban bread garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, and fried potato sticks. We always had a side of mariquitas, thinly sliced plantain chips.

Sometimes we just snacked on finger foods, such as pastelitos, croquetas, bocaditos, and empanadas. Pastelitos are small flaky turnovers in various shapes filled with either meat, cheese, guava, or a combination of guava and cream cheese. Bocaditos are small bite size sandwiches layered with a ham spread.

I’ve barely scraped the surface of Cuban food and drink here. The beverages are unique and the desserts (unsurprisingly for an island with so much sugar cane) are some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted.  Hopefully this should convince you that a holiday in Cuba can be just as focused on the food as a vacation on any island paradise and not just bringing back your quota of Cuban cigars and rum.

 For our virtual trip to Cuba with Joan I decided to fix a traditional Mojo Chicken.  When the hint of warmer weather starts to tease me, I like to fix a batch of this island-inspired chicken and toss it on the grill for a preview of the warmer months ahead.  It is excellent with the Cuban Black Beans seen here (with or without the rice) and a Jicama Slaw. This was all washed down with copious amounts of daiquiris and mojitos. The recipes below come from  Table Magazine. Check it out the next time you need a culinary vacation!!!

**Cuban Grilled Chicken Breasts with Mojo**


Marinade:

Juice from two oranges
Juice from two limes
1 orange, zested
1 lime, zested
½ cup finely chopped fresh oregano
12 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mojo Dipping Sauce:

8 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
6 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless

Place chicken breasts in a zip top bag. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over chicken. Seal bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Place in refrigerator and let the chicken marinate for 2 hours.

 To make Mojo sauce, smash garlic and cilantro with a few pinches of salt to make a paste. This can
be done in a mortar and pestle or on a cutting board with the side of a large knife. Place paste in a
small bowl and add orange juice, lime juice and olive oil. Stir to combine and place in the refrigerator
until ready to use.

 Once chicken has marinated, heat an oiled grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Remove chicken
breasts from marinade and place on grill. Cook for 4-6 minutes on each side or until juices run clear.

Serve grilled chicken breasts with Mojo sauce.

**Cuban Black Beans**

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small sweet red pepper, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
salt & pepper
2 scallions
fresh cilantro leaves
sour cream

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add diced pepper, diced onion, garlic, cumin and oregano. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the onions and peppers soften.

Add beans and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

 Add salt and pepper to taste.

 Serve in small individual bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream, sliced scallions and cilantro leaves.

NOTES: To make a classic Cuban dish, serve the black beans over white or yellow rice as I did here. Delicious!!!!

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips

31 comments:

  1. Nice! That mojo chicken looks wonderful!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  2. Val, your attention to detail and research is really something I admire.....and that is not even talking about your ability to cook!! Wow, you are amazing!!

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  3. This sounds delicious Val!

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  4. One word YUM!! This really looks good.

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  5. What a wonderful write up Val! It definitely seems like you explored a lot of Cuban cuisine whilst you holidayed there. The chicken breasts with mojo look so good!

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  6. You never fail to deliver! What a thorough introduction to Cuban cuisine for readers who are not familiar with it. Gracias.

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  7. How wonderful that you could visit Cuba. It sounds like you had a grand time and I enjoyed the tour. I've heard that the food is very good and I'm definitely going to try your black bean recipe. Yum. Thanks, Val.

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  8. You made me feel like I was there! Excellent post!
    xoxo Pattie

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  9. What an excellent write-up on Cuban cuisine and the chicken with mojo sounds absolutely delicious! Can't wait to try this!

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  10. Love the continuing world tour. Reading about Cuba is so fascinating to those of us in US who will never be allowed to travel to Cuba. I've grown up being told Cuba is an oppressive hellhole. In my country we need an unbiased eye to tell us what's really there (although Michael Moore did a little of that).

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  11. so much citrus, so little time! i do believe i'd like cuba if the rest of the food is anything as appealing as this!

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  12. I like that Cuban cuisine relies so heavily on sofrito, the flavors are so refreshing! I like the recipe for the marinade and Mojo. The mojo and black beans look great!

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  13. This look wonderful Vall, I love it.
    Thanks by visit me, you coomfort my heart! gloria

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  14. Val, I was thinking of joining this week and doing Mojo chicken, but didn't have time in the end. How can you resis a name like Mojo chicken? Yours look fabulous, I'm glad you did the honours.

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  15. Great post. You put me right in Cuba:)

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  16. Oh man! That was such an informative post. I have never been to Cuba, but love tropical climes. Count me in!

    I haven't made mojo in awhile, either. I want it now. NOW!

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  17. Your posts are always such a delight! Everything looks and sounds delicious!

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  18. What a tasty looking meal!

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  19. Well, Val, I wouldn't have expected anything less, considering you've been to Havana. Nice recap of what our food starts to look like! Like you said, you barely touched the surface, but you provided an excellent introduction to what I (unbiasedly) consider some of the best food in the world b/c of all of the influences you mention in your post.

    I'm glad you enjoyed your holiday there and that you'll be able to return one day. I personally can't wait to go back! Thanks for the mention and kind words! You know how much I love talking about our food! :)

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  20. Hey, I can make Cuban food. This is exciting. It sounds terrific.

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  21. Delicious!
    My daughter went to Cuba last year with her friends and loved it.

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  22. This looks so refreshing and delicious. I think this is something that would be perfect to have my students make. The flavours don't appear so foreign... Hello, Canada!
    Thanks for the recipe!
    :)
    Valerie

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  23. This certainly has been a great tour and the stops and food have been amazing! I love Cuban cuisine and every time I think about Cuba I want to dance some salsa. Great recipes my friend :)

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  24. Great information.I've never had Cuban cuisine...sounds yummy!

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  25. I loved my one visit to Cuba (not quite so easy for an American to do!), which was in 1996. Ever since, I've wanted to go back. The people were amazing and the food was fantastic, though there were real food shortages everywhere we traveled.

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  26. Cuban food sounds fantastic! Love the bean recipe! Your virtual trip sounds like so much fun and a lot less expensive than the real thing. :D

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  27. This dish looks sooo good!
    We went to Cuba for our honeymoon, to the Cayo islands off of Cuba (Cayo Guillermo) and the food was amazing! I put in half a stone in one week lol.

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  28. Mmmmm your Cuban flavours take me back to the Island too! I was there for my honey moon with my husband :D. Nice memories!!!!
    I hope I can participate and take Joan's train to Havana on time!

    Muy lindo y muy rico, Vali♥

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  29. Wow, your post was sooooo interesting. I really enjoyed reading it. The mojo chicken sounds delicious!!!!

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  30. Cuban cooking is very much like Nigeria.....no recipes, just straight from the heart and head and tongue! Hmmmm, looks lovely.

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  31. I'm so bummed I haven't been able to participate in any of Joan's country roundups! This looks really delicious. I make a very similar marinade for pork tenderloin and it's great grilled. Love the sound of the black beans!

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Welcome to my home. Thank you so much for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your comments, suggestions, daily encouragement and support.

Val

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