Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sorry GITMO, I'm going to Cuba!

Well, it's probably a good thing I don't get much of a chance to get out of the country because, after a title like that, my passport is probably on the watch-list. Anyway, here's kicking off the first of recipe reviews and I promise I'll try to make sure this is the only post without a picture. Technically, I made this recipe Sunday and it is now Wednesday... so it's gone, nothing to photograph, but I can still tell you it was really good.

Ropa Vieja

1 lb. flank steak
1 small-medium onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, julienned
1 can tomato sauce
4 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup peas (canned or frozen--thaw, if frozen)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place flank steak in a pot (medium or large should serve) and cover with water. Boil until steak is tender. Remove steak from pot and set aside to cool, saving approximately 2-3 cups of cooking liquid.

In the same pot, add tomato sauce, onion, bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, and bay leaf to the cooking liquid. Season lightly with salt and pepper (you'll revisit the salt and pepper later so no need to go overboard here). Simmer about 15 minutes.

While sauce is simmering, working with a fork or your fingers, shred beef down to spaghetti-like threads. Should have a similar appearance to pulled pork. Add beef to sauce and continue to simmer for approximately 30 minutes. About 10 minutes from complete, add peas, mix well. Test sauce and season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve on rice.

First off, this dish makes me laugh because it goes against the norm of appetizing names; "ropa vieja" is Spanish for "old clothes," which is alluding to the appearance of the shredded beef and not to the taste of the final product. This particular recipe is a slight variation of the recipe included in the cookbook Keys to Key West Cooking by Margaret Romero. In the original recipe, only one bay leaf is used and one clove of garlic, and no peas are added. For me, one clove of garlic isn't going to cut it mixed in with a pound of meat; I love garlic, and I can guarantee that any recipe I try will include more garlic than the original recipe calls for. As for the peas, I have had ropa vieja once before and it included peas and, personally, I like them; I think it gives a subtle pop to the texture (no, that wasn't meant to be a pun).

Since this was my first attempt cooking the dish, I was a little conservative on time. I had read other recipes and the estimated preparation and cooking time in those were ball-parking a couple hours. I believe my recipe probably only took an hour to an hour and a half--prep to plating. The beef didn't take very long to cook but that may have been the result of a thinner steak as opposed to a boxier cut of meat that would require more time to heat throughout. Still, I may sacrifice the shorter cooking time next time and select a thicker cut so my shredded strands are a little longer.

The rest of the cooking time flew by! Gauging when the meat is done, letting it cool, and shredding it comprises the majority of the work. The rest is basically throwing everything in a pot and letting it simmer. I love recipes like this! Hang out with a glass of wine and stir things around every now and then--can't ask for anything better.

The final product? I have to admit it's probably a good thing I didn't start my blog before cooking this one because it didn't have much of a chance to make it to the plate. I even skipped on the rice and ate it out of the pot! Hey, where's the harm in that--I'm cooking for one. I do imagine that, had I been patient enough to make the rice also, this dish would have been even better because the sauce is a light, slightly-sweet tomato sauce that would have absorb into the rice, almost creating a risotto of sorts. The beef melts down into the heaven that is slow-cooked anything... except it didn't even take as long as most slow-cooked dishes require. And the onion, garlic, and pepper round out the flavor and aroma. This is the epitome of comfort food: slightly sweet, enticingly savory; this is a dish that keeps you wandering back to the kitchen for another fork full.


  1. Will definitely be trying this dish! Looking forward to more, Linda

  2. Love your blog and your recipe ... hope to try it soon. Aunt Elaine

  3. Looks great, I guess if I made it into the Reston office once in a while, I could have scored a sample!!

  4. Hola Jessica.....wish I could travel with you! Looking forward to reading more about "your culinary travels"

  5. Wait until you try it over'll love it...keep in mind Schwans has brown steamed rice you can keep in the freezer and pop in micro for a couple of moments, for those times you don't have time to cook a pot of rice...:0)