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.
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.