Cuba

Ropa Vieja

January 1, 2016

There is no better way to feel the Cuban magic than to taste their famous beef and vegetable stew. This authentic Ropa Vieja recipe will take your taste buds on a wild ride!

Amazingly tasty authentic Cuban Ropa Vieja recipe. Carribean aroma in your kitchen! #cuba #beef | cookingtheglobe.com

Cuba. The land of cigars, eye-catching vintage cars and rum. I can easily picture myself chilling in a beach chair somewhere on the Atlantic coast, enjoying a snifter of Caribbean rum and inhaling aromatic cigar smoke deep into my lungs… Not at all. Few moments later I would be kneeling in the sand coughing like a cat trying to get rid of a hairball. That’s how non-smokers roll. I wouldn’t say no to rum though.

Cuban-Classic-Cars

1957 Ford used as a taxi in Cuba. Photo by Alexander Schimmeck, via Flickr.

That was my stereotypical view of Cuba not such a long time ago. The breathtaking Caribbean island with luxury resorts, good food, cold drinks, happy people. No, I wasn’t a complete bonehead. Of course I knew all those they-teach-you-at-school things. Communism, Castro brothers, dictatorship, dysfunctional relations with United States. What I didn’t know is that for over 50 years there exists the special food-rationing system which establishes the amount and kind of products each person can get.

Rice, cooking oil, bread, beans, sugar, potatoes, bananas, a few eggs and small quantities of meat (usually chicken). That’s the stuff you can find in the so called “Supplies booklet(La Libreta in Spanish). Not too fancy. I am not talking real amounts because they tend to change frequently. But believe me, it’s not enough for a normal living. Just to give you an idea – 5 eggs a month. Would it be enough to you? I don’t think so. That’s the amount of eggs I am using when making a breakfast omelet for me and my wife.

The situation with such a staple as milk is even worse. Only children under 7 and pregnant women get it. You are a 10 year old boy/girl and you want some milk? Well, that’s unfortunate because the government thinks that you are too old for that. Now I understand why Cubans say that their three biggest problems are breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Chalkboard in the shop announcing the quantity of the products per person per month. Photo by Carlos Reusser Monsalvez

Chalkboard in the shop announcing the quantity of the products per person per month. Photo by Carlos Reusser Monsalvez, via Flickr.

It has to be mentioned, that Cubans actually CAN buy other products that are not included in the ration book but there is yet another problem. While all staples listed there cost only few dollars (country subsidizes about 90 percent of the cost), prices of products at the open markets are REGULAR. So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, an average salary for a Cuban is 20$ a month. Pension – 11$. So theoretically you can even arrange a steak dinner for your family, but it will cost you half your salary.

Despite sad but true facts stated above Cuban cuisine offers a wide variety of traditional dishes that have withstood the test of time. For the very first post of this blog I’ve chosen to make Ropa Vieja – a classic stew made of shredded beef in a tomato puree base flavored with bell peppers, onion, garlic, white wine and spices. Ropa Vieja is Spanish for “old clothes” by the way. Don’t worry, it tastes a little bit better than that.

Amazingly tasty authentic Cuban Ropa Vieja recipe. Carribean aroma in your kitchen! #cuba #beef | cookingtheglobe.com
Why such a derogatory name? The legend says that once upon a time lived a man who was very poor and had nothing to feed his family with. The situation was hopeless so he decided to cook old clothes and that’s when the miracle happened. His deep love for the family turned them into the delicious beef stew. Aw, such a sweet story, isn’t it?

Amazingly tasty authentic Cuban Ropa Vieja recipe. Carribean aroma in your kitchen! #cuba #beef | cookingtheglobe.com

One of the main reasons why I’ve chosen Cuba for the first blog post is the wonderful book comfortably sitting on my shelf – The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History by Ana Sofia Pelaez and Ellen Silverman. I got it as a birthday present and I absolutely loved it. What I like the most is that this book is not just a pile of recipes (even though they are all interesting and authentic). The authors give you a sense of Cuban culture as well as provide brief history of dishes.

So, naturally, my Ropa Vieja recipe is adapted from this book. And THANK GOD it is. You see, almost every Ropa Vieja recipe online asks for a flank steak. So what, you will say, just buy a damn flank steak and the problem is solved. Not in my pork oriented country. To find a flank (or actually any other) steak here is even harder than to find something in my wife’s purse. And I have never thought that something can be more complicated than that.

The Cuban Table book, though, stretched me a helping hand – I was able to use a brisket instead of a flank steak. Hooray. Sorry, I can’t tell you what’s the difference between Ropa Vieja made from one cut of beef or another, but I perfectly loved my version with a brisket.

Amazingly tasty authentic Cuban Ropa Vieja recipe. Carribean aroma in your kitchen! #cuba #beef | cookingtheglobe.com

Let me paint you a picture: tender melt-in-your-mouth braised beef soaked in the Caribbean style tomato based sauce (allspice and cloves do the job) with a blend of bell peppers, garlic, and onion. It is so good, I almost cried.

Amazingly tasty authentic Cuban Ropa Vieja recipe. Carribean aroma in your kitchen! #cuba #beef | cookingtheglobe.com

Ropa Vieja is traditionally served with rice and black beans. They go really well together. I mean, really well. It was the first time I made this Cuban dish and I am definitely going to repeat it because my taste buds enjoyed the ride.

5 from 1 vote
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Authentic Ropa Vieja Recipe
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
2 hr 15 mins
 
This authentic Ropa Vieja recipe is guaranteed to become one of your favorites. Tender braised beef soaked in a flavorful tomato based sauce infused with allspice, cloves, and more!
Cuisine: Cuban
Servings: 6 people
Calories Per Serving: 545 kcal
Author: CookingTheGlobe
Ingredients
For the braised beef:
  • 2 lb (900g) brisket (or flank steak), cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 small red cabbage, quartered
  • 2 sprigs fresh spearmint
  • 1/2 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stems removed (a few leaves reserved for garnish)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 dried bay leaves
For the Ropa Vieja:
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large pinch ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 1/2 cups canned tomato puree
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup roasted red bell peppers, sliced
  • fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Instructions
  1. Place all the ingredients for the braised beef in a 4-5 quart (liter) pot with 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, 1 1/2 - 2 hours, until the beef is tender.
  2. Remove from the heat and allow the beef to cool in the broth. When cool, remove the beef and shred by hand. Set the shredded beef aside. Also set aside a ½ cup of the broth, reserving the remaining broth for future use.
  3. To prepare the ropa vieja, heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and green bell pepper and saute for 6-8 minutes, until the onion is soft.
  4. Use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic, black pepper, salt, cloves and allspice to a paste. Add the paste to the skillet and continue to cook until fragrant, for about 2 additional minutes.
  5. Add the tomato puree, reserved broth, bay leaf and wine and return to a simmer.
  6. Stir in the shredded beef, reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes.
  7. Lastly, stir in the sliced roasted red bell peppers. Adjust seasonings to taste. Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Ed November 20, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    I made this a few days ago. Pretty much followed the recipe as written. The smell that filled the house while the brisket was cooking was amazing! The final product was excellent. A little more tomato taste than I remember from restaurant versions I’ve had, but my wife and I both thought it was very good. I will be making this again. Thanks!

    • Reply Igor November 24, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      I am so happy you loved it, Ed! Thanks for stopping by and taking your time to leave a comment! 🙂

  • Reply Laura December 3, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Delicious! Already making it for the second time and this time trying it in the crock pot! Thank you 🙂

    • Reply Igor December 6, 2016 at 8:48 am

      I am really glad to hear that you loved it, Laura! 🙂

  • Reply Liz May 30, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    Just returned from a trip to La Habana and already miss the ropa vieja, the picadillo, the pork and sweet potato stew and a Heavenly creamed sweet potato puree. I am printing this recipe now and will try it in the next few days. Thank You!

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