Cuban cuisine is inspired by many different regions, but in my family, there is a clear Spanish influence. This should come as no surprise, as my mother is second generation Cuban-born, by way of Spain. Her grandparents made the trek from the motherland to Cuba, and brought with them their distinguished culinary traditions. Over time, our family recipes have morphed, depending on the ingredients available, as well as personal preferences. No matter how authentically Cuban our dishes may be, I can almost always find a nod to our Spanish origins in each bite.
Recently, while recreating one of my most coveted treats from the acclaimed Cuban bakery Portos (Guava and Cheese Pastry), I developed a new love for all things frozen puff pastry dough. After taking a bite of my sweet creation, and realizing how easy it was to work with store-bought puff pastry, I couldn’t help but imagine how the dough would taste with a savory filling. My mind quickly went to work envisioning different pairings, and finally, I settled on a Spanish-inspired combination. For the first time in the history of my kitchen, I turned the tables, and made a Spanish dish inspired by the flavors of Cuba.
My savory Manchego and Quince Turnovers seem like second cousins to the guava and cheese pastries I made before. The nutty flavor of Manchego cheese melts together with the slightly sweet quince filling, and the chopped Marcona almonds on top create a pleasant crunchy texture in each bite. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, try the Cuban originals, but if you favor savory flavors, these turnovers will not disappoint.
1 box frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 oz Manchego cheese
8+ Tbsp quince paste
1 Tbsp water
1/8 cup Marcona almonds, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Roll out puff pastry on floured surface, and cut into 8 even squares.
Fill each square with ½ oz of Manchego cheese and a heaping Tbs. of quince paste.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg and water to create an egg wash.
Brush the egg wash over the perimeter of the puff pastry squares, and fold one corner over, creating a triangle. Press edges to seal (*note: you can also crimp with the prongs of a fork).
Score tops of triangles to create a small opening for steam to escape during baking.
Brush tops generously with egg wash, and sprinkle with chopped almonds, coarse salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.
Remove from oven, and after 10 minutes, place pastries on a cooling rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
My Cuban family loves my American husband for many reasons, but high on that list is his appreciation for all things Cuban food. Of course, we do make it easy for my beloved Midwesterner, with dishes like Carne con Papas, which literally translates to meat and potatoes. This dish is an old family favorite, and is quickly becoming one of the most requested dishes in my household
The recipe I use is inspired by a dish made by my Tia Pipa (Aunt Felipa). She is used to cooking for an army, and she’s been known to prepare a mean Carne con Papas in a giant commercial caldero, or cauldron. Although I admire her back-to-basics approach of slaving away over the hot stove for hours on end to perfect this favored dish, I prefer a more modern approach with the use of my slow-cooker.
Imagine if you took all the best features of your favorite family brisket recipe – aromatic and tender chunks of slow-roasted meat, saucy overflow goodness – and paired them with creamy, bite-sized potatoes. What could be bad about that? Like the best brisket recipes, Carne con Papas has trouble staying intact at the mere hint of a fork. The slow-cooked nature of this dish also means that every delicate bite is infused with the typical Island flavors of garlic, onion, and bell pepper.
Traditionally served alongside steamed white rice, I see no reason why this can’t be served with a good old-fashioned kugel to mop every last bit of flavor that the saucy overflow provides. Carne con Papas is definitely one of those dishes where you won’t want to waste a single bit.
2 lbs beef top round or stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 sour oranges (or 2 oranges and 2 lemons), juiced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp smoked mustard (*If you can’t find smoked mustard, coarse Dijon works, too)
5 Tbsp olive oil, separated
fresh ground black pepper
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 large onion, sliced
1 green bell pepper coarsely diced
1 red bell pepper, coarsely diced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 8oz can tomato sauce
2 cups beef broth
2 lbs small white-skinned potatoes, halved
2 dried bay leaves
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp of a spice mix involving salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, coriander, cumin, oregano and annatto seeds. (Sound complicated? Sazón Goya is ready-mixed.)
In a plastic zip-top bag, combine beef, citrus juice, oregano, garlic, mustard, 3 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Close the bag, making sure to remove all the air, and massage the ingredients together until well-combined. Place the bag in the refrigerator, and let marinade for 1-4 hours.
In a large skillet, heat remaining olive oil. Separate the marinated beef into two sections, reserving the marinade liquid. Brown the first batch of beef for 3 minutes, and set aside. Lightly coat the second batch of beef in flour, and brown for 3 minutes. Set aside.
In the same skillet, add onion and bell peppers and cook for 3 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, beef broth, and reserved marinade liquid, and deglaze the skillet using a wooden spoon. Stir in cumin and sazon goya.
Transfer the beef, vegetables, and sauce to a slow-cooker, and add in the dried bay leaves and potatoes. Stir to combine, cover, and cook on low for 7 hours, or until beef is fork-tender. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, as needed. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
Serve with steamed white rice.
Like so many of my peers, Jewish summer camp played an integral role in my Jewish identity. It’s where I developed my appreciation for Israeli dancing, a deep respect for my surroundings in nature, and not to be outdone, my love of Shabbat breakfast. Every Saturday morning, before all the campers joined for services, we’d convene in the dining hall for a plentiful feast of crumbly and perfectly spiced coffee cake. It wasn’t elaborate, but it sure was special, and it was certainly on the list of things I looked forward to year after year as I awaited summer’s arrival. If I ever longed for a little taste of home while I was at camp, I just had to wait until the end of the week, since the combination of cinnamon and sugar in the crumb topping would remind anyone of home. Because of this experience and because it only gets better the day after it is baked, to me, coffee cake is synonymous with Shabbat morning, summer vacation or not.
Of course, as an adult, summer camp is no longer really in the cards for me anymore. These days, when we get through hiking the trails of all the nearby national forests, my husband and I long for a more tropical getaway. Since our next vacation seems light years away, I came up with a recipe inspired by my Cuban heritage that will be sure to satisfy until we can get ourselves to the nearest island.
With its taste of the tropics, my Pineapple Coconut Coffee Cake hits the spot for a Shabbat morning treat. It has the cinnamon and sugar that I always remember from my camp days, but its layer of crushed pineapple adds a mild zing and just the touch needed to keep this cake moist for days. The coconut added to the crumb layer, suggested by my friend Dolly, acts as a tropical kiss and adds a nice crunch.
Next time you’re in the mood for a reminder of Shabbat mornings at camp, or you’re longing for a quick getaway, try a bite of this coffee cake, and you won’t be disappointed.
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For the cake batter:
2 cups all-purpose OR cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp table salt (not kosher salt)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 20 oz can of crushed pineapple, well-drained, and juice reserved
For the crumb topping
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup grated coconut
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
For the glaze:
3 oz cream cheese, softened
⅔ cup confectioners' sugar
3-4 Tbsp. of the reserved pineapple juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch tube pan, and line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs, one by one, and mix well. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla extract.
Combine the dry mixture into the wet mixture in three batches, and mix only until incorporated, and set aside.
Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients of the crumb topping, and cut in the butter using a fork or a pastry cutter. Set aside.
In your greased tube pan, spoon in half of the batter, and use the back of the spoon to even the layer. Sprinkle on half of the crumb topping in an even layer. Spoon the drained pineapple over the crumb layer. Top with second half of cake batter, and spread to even the layer. Add the remaining crumb topping, and bake for 45-50 minutes.
Once the cake is golden brown, remove from oven, and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. After the initial 10-minute cooling time, remove the cake from the pan, and cool the rest of the way.
Once cooled, glaze the cake by whisking together all the glaze ingredients, and using the prongs of a fork to drizzle over the cake. Let the glaze set before slicing.
I think it’s safe to say that every Jewish grandmother who has proclaimed, “You should eat more!” has a mean recipe for chicken soup in her arsenal. For generations, colds and flus have gone to battle with bowls and bowls of Jewish penicillin made by these bubbes, and my abuela was no exception.
I come from a family of strong women, so it is fitting that our recipe for chicken soup isn’t the clear-broth version with a lonely floating carrot slice. Ours is a stick-to-your-bones and prepare-for-war kind of soup, chock-full of nutrient-rich vegetables and flavors that awaken the senses. My favorite part of this soup is how the kabocha squash disintegrates into the broth, giving it a wholesome creamy texture without the heaviness of added butter or milk. Plus, the crunch of the bok choy and zucchini packs a solid punch of vitamin c, and makes it easy for me to eat my greens. Couple all of this with my mother-in-law’s recipe for the fluffiest, most light-as-air matzoh balls, and you’ve got yourself the better part of a seder.
This recipe may be a mish mosh of the traditions of my husband’s family and mine, but it is certainly one I would be proud to share at any Passover table or year-round.
For the matzo balls:
1 cup matzo meal
½ cup club soda
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
pinch black pepper
For the soup:
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
15 whole allspice berry
3 bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 medium malangas*, peeled and coarsely diced
2 quarts of low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp of bijol powder (optional)*
6 culantro leaves*
½ Kabocha squash, peeled and coarsely diced
Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper
4 baby bok choy, cut into quarters, lengthwise
2 zucchini, sliced into ½ inch slices
1 Lime, sliced
To make the matzo balls:
Combine all ingredients until just mixed, careful not to over mix.
Cover the mixture, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Boil water with salt (or chicken broth). Oil hands, then make small balls (1 inch in diameter), and add them to boiling water.
Cover, lower the heat to medium low and simmer for about 25 minutes.
Transfer the matzo balls to the soup.
To make the soup:
In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium/high heat.
Using a piece of cheesecloth and kitchen twine, tightly secure the 15 allspice berries and the bay leaves together in a small pouch.
Place onions, carrots, chicken pieces and the spice pouch in the stock pot, and sauté for about 8 minutes, or until onions are translucent and chicken has slightly browned, mixing frequently.
Add the garlic, the malangas, and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the bijol powder, the culantro, kabocha squash, salt and pepper, and cook for another 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken pieces, set aside until cool to the touch, shred them, and then return to the soup.
Add the bok choy and zucchini, and cook 10 more minutes, or until bok choy softens, and zucchini are cooked through.
Remove the culantro leaves and the spice pouch.
Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate or freeze for later use. Garnish with slices of lime.
*Some of the ingredients may be hard to find. Here is a list of acceptable substitutions:
Malangas – yuca or potatoes
Bijol powder – saffron powder, achiote powder, or omit from recipe, as it is optional.
Cilantro leaves – 1 bundle of cilantro, secured in cheesecloth, so that it won’t dissolve into the soup and can easily be removed.
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Ropa Vieja, which literally translates to “old clothes,” or as my paternal grandmother would call them, “schmatas,” is the Cuban answer to a traditional Jewish brisket. Both use inexpensive cuts of meat that are slow-roasted until tender and falling apart, but Ropa Vieja takes it a step further, and actually calls for the chunks of meat to be shredded to resemble rags. This may seem like it would diminish the allure of the dish, but as Jewish brisket is usually reserved for the holiday table, a good Ropa Vieja is truly cause for celebration. Additionally, as it is important in the Jewish culture to pass our traditions from generation to generation, most Cuban families have had a recipe for Ropa Vieja for ages. Get the full recipe on Jewish&>>
The day I moved into my very first apartment was an important day for me. I was starting my senior year in college, and for what seemed like the first time, I was taking a leap towards independence. Sure, I moved halfway across the country to go to school where I knew only a couple people, but living on campus, there’s a certain safety net in place to catch (and comfort) the students if they fall.
I remember taking great care to choose an apartment within my budget, and carefully selecting my roommates. We plotted and planned how we’d decorate, and made memories building our ready-to-assemble furniture from our favorite Swedish retailer. Not surprising, the part of apartment living I was most excited about was that I would finally have a kitchen of my own. While my roommates concentrated on finding art to decorate our walls and the perfect rug to tie the room together, I focused on stocking our kitchen with our favorite foods and the tools with which to cook them. I found mismatched sets of pots and pans at my local discount store, and piece by piece, built our little kitchen into a functional one our friends begged to come and borrow. It was nothing fancy, but it worked for us. Granted, we could never invite more than four people for dinner, because that was how many plates we had, but we made it work.
My mom noticed my efforts, and took it upon herself to stock our little kitchen with its crowning jewel: a tostonera. A tostonera is a device specifically designed to smash chunks of fried green plantains into crisp, golden coins, called tostones. And the fact that my mom was gifting me a tostonera was a really big deal, because this served as an informal invitation to join the culinary ranks of the matriarchs in the family.
Just about every Cuban person who cooks has a tostonera, and now, I did too. I was so excited to put my tostonera to use, and at the first Hanukkah party of the season, I surprised my friends with a new treat. I figured that in many ways, Cubans use plantain bananas the way Americans use potatoes, so swapping traditional potato latkes with savory tostones seemed like a natural choice.
As my friends oohed and aahed while they crunched their way through the small plate of tostones, I smiled with delight, because I knew I was on my way to earning my culinary stripes.
This Hanukkah, if you’re looking for something outside the traditional latke box, take a cue from the Cuban cookbook, and serve tostones alongside your festive meal. And if your mother hasn’t gifted you with a tostonera, fear not. You can achieve similar results with the bottom of a frying pan.
Vegetable oil for frying
2 green (under ripe) plantain bananas
Kosher salt to taste
In a large frying pan, pour in enough vegetable oil to fill the pan about halfway, and place over medium to high heat.
Remove the peel from the plantains, and discard. Chop the pulp into rounds of about 1-1½ inch thickness.
To test the oil temperature, carefully place a small piece of plantain into the oil. If the oil bubbles around the plantain, it is ready. If it doesn't, continue heating the oil until it does.
Once the oil is ready, carefully drop the plantain rounds into the oil, and fry for two minutes before flipping and frying for two minutes on the other side.
Remove the plantains from the oil, and using either a tostonera or a frying pan and a flat surface, smash the rounds until they flatten.
Return the now-flattened plantain rounds to the oil, and fry until golden and crisp, about two more minutes.
Remove the plantains from the oil, and immediately place on a platter lined with paper towel to catch any unnecessary oil.
Sprinkle with kosher salt while the plantains are still hot, and serve.
I am a sucker for fall spices – I just love the warmth they bring to any dish. But pumpkin pie, in particular, with its creamy pumpkin custard speckled with warm cinnamon and nutmeg, encased in a flaky crust and dolloped with fresh whipped cream? Well, that is a can’t-miss dish for me, and I can’t imagine ending a festive fall meal without it. It’s no wonder that for generations, pumpkin pie has been the go-to dessert for American families.
That’s all about to change.
Several years ago, during one of our many get-togethers, my mom pulled a fast one on the family, and replaced our much beloved pumpkin pie with the less traditional pumpkin flan. And while there were many skeptics in the bunch (myself included), once they had a single taste of the creamy, rich flavor and burst of spice from a little orange-tinged bite of the pumpkin flan, there was simply no going back. The verdict was in. We had a new fall dessert! Since then, serious jeers abound if we get together in the fall and there is no pumpkin flan in sight.
I understand that flan, in general, is a polarizing dish. Trust me, I’ve tasted my fair share of egg-y, rock solid, just plain bad flan. But if you’ve never tried Cuban-style flan, you’re doing yourself a disservice, as its thick, creamy custard with sweet caramel sauce oozing down the sides, is more akin to a crust-less cheesecake than anything else.
And when you combine that with the distinct flavors of fall that can only be found in a pumpkin pie, what results is an undeniably can’t-miss dish. It’s truly a perfect ending to any fall festive meal, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Shabbat, or in this year’s case, even Hanukkah. Promise.
1 can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
½ can coconut milk
½ can pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
¾ cup sugar
2 Tbsp water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and add empty pan in the oven to warm. Note: it's best to use a 9 inch cake pan.
Mix first seven ingredients in a blender or food processor. Set aside.
In a saucepan, cook the sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar becomes a deep amber color (about 15 minutes).
Working quickly, remove the empty pan from the oven, and pour in the melted sugar. Swirl the pan around, so the sugar covers the entire bottom of the pan. Pour in the milk and egg mixture over the caramelized sugar.
Insert the now full pan into a larger pan, and fill the larger pan about half-way up with water (a water bath).
Return the flan pan and water bath to the oven, and bake for about 70-80 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Remove the flan pan from the water bath, and set on a wire rack to cool. Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When you are ready to serve the flan, run a knife along the edge of the pan, place a rimmed serving platter over the pan, and invert it. The flan should fall easily, and the caramel sauce will coat the top and run along the sides.
For centuries, Jews throughout the Mediterranean have made good use of artichokes. Most notably, in Rome, crisp and lightly fried varieties adorn many a holiday table. I’ve always loved the simplicity and approachable nature of Italian cuisine, so much so that my husband and I partook in a local Tuscan cooking class on our whirlwind honeymoon adventure through Italy. When I returned home, I was thrilled to observe that since the climate and terrain in California are so similar to that in Italy, I am spoiled by the riches in produce we get here that resemble true Italian fare.
Perhaps it is because I grew up in an image-conscious city, or because healthy eating and cooking is important to me, but I often like finding ways to lighten up a recipe while maintaining great flavor. Lucky for me, I prefer my artichokes grilled, rather than fried. I know that just about everything tastes better fried, but I love the smoky, crisp bite of a charred edge that only a grill can produce.
Often times, artichokes act as a vehicle for rich, creamy sauces, but with just the right amount of seasoning and the slight kiss of the grill, these babies need no doctoring, and are exceptional on their own. And don’t be too intimidated about preparing and cleaning fresh artichokes. Once you try your hand at the first one, you’ll get the hang of it. Served hot off the grill or at room temperature, grilled artichokes are the perfect accompaniment to any summer meal.
To read more about Jennifer Stempel’s culinary adventures, check out her blog at The Cuban Reuben.
2 large whole artichokes
2 lemons, cut in half
1 head of garlic, sliced in half
1 bay leaf
1 tbs Old Bay seasoning
Seasoning blend of your choice (I really like Regular and Salt-Free Greek Seasoning)
In a large stock pot with the steamer insert removed, add 2 halves of the lemon (1 whole lemon), garlic, bay leaf, and Old Bay seasoning. Fill the pot with water until it just meets the bottom of the steamer insert. Place over medium heat, and let sit.
Meanwhile, to prepare the artichokes for steaming, first cut about an inch off the top of the artichoke. Then, with your hand, peel off the tougher leaves (about 1 layer into the artichoke).
Using a pairing knife, cut off the base of the leaves you just peeled, and continue pairing down the stem until you have a single, uniform layer. Rub the exposed areas with lemon, squeezing the juice from the lemon a bit.
Cut the artichoke in half, and again, run the lemon over the cut sides to keep from browning too much.
Remove the fibrous choke at the center, as well as any colored (purple) leaves. Run the lemon over the exposed cuts. Slice the halves into quarters, and assemble on the steaming insert of the stock pot.
Cover and let the water simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the artichokes are fork tender.
(You can stop here, and eat them as is, but you'd miss out on the next step!)
Drizzle olive oil and seasoning blend over the steamed artichokes, then place them over high heat on a grill. Grill 1-2 minutes per side.
As the artichokes are already cooked, the goal here is just to get grill marks and the flavor of the char.
Holidays are meaningful for a variety of reasons, but more often than not, because they include a gathering of family. This will come as no surprise, but in my family, that gathering always features two elements: a mouthwatering feast and a dance party. Without exception, if there is music playing in the general vicinity, there will be dancing. Regardless of the amount of space we have, someone always finds room to bust a move. And depending on how much alcohol was served at dinner, the elders have been known to cut a rug, as well.
On the rare occasion when I need a little liquid courage to hit the makeshift dance floor, one of my favorite cocktails is the classic Cuban mojito. Made famous by Ernest Hemingway, this literary favorite blends the distinctly clean, fresh scent of lime and the aromatic essence of sugar-bruised mint leaves with world-class rum only found on the motherland and the nose-tickling fizz of seltzer. Topped off with a splash of bitters, it’s clear why the mojito is favored by Cubans and Americans, alike.
Since we’ll soon be gathering as a family for Passover, and rum will certainly be off-limits due to the dietary restrictions that accompany the holiday, I thought I’d transform this citrus-y cocktail into a tasty bite suitable for any seder table. By seasoning naturally bitter quinoa, a longtime Passover favorite across the board, with the most memorable elements of a mojito, hopefully, all it will take is one bite to get the more shy family members to hit the dance floor.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 Tbsp minced fresh mint leaves
2 limes, zested
In a medium pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, pepper, and quinoa, and toast for 1 minute.
Pour in the chicken broth, and bring the mixture to a boil.
Cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated.
Fluff the quinoa, and stir in the almonds, mint leaves, and lime zest.