This was exactly what I needed on this rainy Sunday. My home team won, and my other home team lost, so it was a so-so day in football. When I was searching for recipes, I came across Cuban sandwiches, which I thought I had before, but the sandwich I was eating wasn’t a true Cuban. And of course, I made my own Cuban bread to go with it, because, well, duh. I can.
|Crusty cubano bread, because crusty isn't always gross.|
I actually had to start with the bread, because part or the starter had to be done the night before and sit in the refrigerator overnight. Once I made the dough, using yeast, sugar, water, salt, the batch starter and vegetable shortening (which I really hate using because you can barely wash it off), it sat for 45 minutes. Then I punched it down (my favorite part!), and formed the loaves and let them sit for another hour. I was supposed to put a piece of damp twine down the middle of the loaves to create a “ridge” when they baked, but I forgot. However, this crusty bread was perfect for the sandwiches.
|El Cubano, which is Spanish for "best sandwich ever."|
This morning, I put my pork roast (that I found on sale for $4.22 for a 2-lb roast!) in my crock pot and covered it with a 2L bottle of ginger ale. This came at the recommendation of a friend who insists that it was the best way to do it, and I tend to agree (except that I forgot to put salt and pepper on it, so it probably would’ve been even better than what we actually ate). While there are many varieties of Cuban sandwiches, a true Cuban (from what I’ve gathered) is the Cuban bread (or another crusty bread), ham, pork roast (or pulled pork), Swiss cheese, and yellow mustard. Then it’s put in a sandwich press, which I don’t have, so I put the sandwich on an oiled griddle and smashed it down with another pot. It seemed to do the trick more or less. One thing I read was that this sandwich wasn’t really created in Cuba itself, but rather by Cubans who immigrated to Florida, namely the Miami and Tampa areas. So, I suppose this sandwich represents the vast Cuban diaspora that took place after the Revolution.
|I love how food from Latin America and the Caribbean is so colorful.|
To go with this sandwich, I found a recipe for Cuban black beans and rice. Black beans and rice is pretty much a staple wherever you go anywhere south of Texas, especially in the Latin American countries. And as many families there are, there are varieties of this recipe. This recipe for Cuban black beans called for minced garlic, bell pepper (my four-year-old picked a half orange/half green bell pepper), onion, and a can of black beans all cooked down in a skillet together. It also called for 6 oz of light beer, but I totally forgot to put that in (that’s probably the mojitos working). But on the plus side, I have a Corona and a couple lime quarters left. And tomorrow’s Monday, so I’ll need it. The rice was fairly easy as well. I put a cup of rice and two cups of water in a pan, adding salt, onion, a little ground turmeric in lieu of annatto, chili powder in lieu of paprika, and black pepper. Once it started boiling, and I turned the heat down, I let it cook for about 10 minutes. Then I added a cup of frozen peas that I let thaw and let it cook for another 5-6 minutes. I garnished the black beans with chopped fresh cilantro, and I topped the rice with chopped pimentos.
|Hold on, I'll be right back. I need to get another one of these.|
And of course, there’s no denying that Cuba has some of the world’s greatest drinks. Mojitos, daiquiris, and Cuba Livres (otherwise known as rum and Coke) – it’s like a three-course meal in and of itself. I went with a mojito, since I’ve had the other two more times than I can count, and as far as I remember, I’ve never had a mojito. This recipe said it was the preferred method of Ernest Hemingway. I put four mint leaves in the bottom of the glass and topped it with the juice of a half a lime. Then I put a teaspoon of powdered sugar in and muddled it together. I then added in the crushed ice, two tablespoons of Bacardi rum, and topped with two tablespoons of club soda. The recipe actually called for Havana Club rum, but I went with Bacardi since it’s easier to find. (Besides, Bacardi used to be a Cuban business until the Revolution and they left. I think their corporate headquarters are officially in Bermuda, but they also have large offices in Miami as well. Havana Club came on the scene as the official government-approved rum, or something like that. I read that Bacardi isn’t even sold in Cuba anymore because they’re still mad they left.) After garnishing with a sprig of mint, I realized that I really enjoyed this drink. And in fact, I made a mocktail version for the kids – instead of Bacardi, I used cream soda. They loved it as well. I’m not sure if I should be concerned with that or not. Probably not.
|A meal that makes you say, "I couldn't eat another bite if Castro himself mandated it."|
After reading about Cuba for the past couple of weeks, I feel like I finally understand a lot of history that was never taught to us in school. Castro’s Revolution, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis are all a little clearer to me now. I think I missed a lot of 20th century history when I was in high school. We pretty much stopped at WWI and barely touched on WWII. It’s such a waste that I missed so much. And the thing is, is that this is still going on, Cuba’s still making news these days in big ways. Some good, some bad, but that’s the way things are. I really enjoyed researching this country: the food, the music, the art. I just wish that we were able to go there freely. Perhaps my kids will be able to, though.
Up next: Cyprus