Batido de Trigo

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Batido de trigo is the first in my classic Cuban milkshake series. Batido de trigo is a true Cuban breakfast enigma made of puffed wheat cereal, whole milk, and sugar- lots of sugar. Traditional Cuban milkshakes are sweet afternoon treats meant to be paired with Cuban sandwiches or enjoyed with croquetas and pastelitos as a sinful snack or late lunch. Cubans love the sweet and savory combination (hello- we eat fried sweet bananas with every meal!) and a batido with a steak sandwich is the epitome of perfection.

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Cuban batidos are made with tropical flavors like mamey, platano, trigo, mango, guanabana, vanilla, and papaya. They are easy to make, sweetly delicious, and a summer savior. Even though I know batidos are just milkshakes with different flavors, the tropical fruit (or puffed wheat) and addition of leche condensada seems to make all the difference.

batido de trigo

Batido de Trigo

  • 1 cup puffed wheat
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup ice
  • 2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • a few drops vanilla extract (optional)
  • Dash salt

Blend all ingredients together. Add more sugar if desired. Drink immediately. Makes two batido de trigo.

You can also add a scoop of ice cream to make your batido de trigo extra creamy, rich, and delicious.

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Ropa Vieja

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“Old clothes” make me salivate. Ropa vieja is a rustic shredded beef stew that all Cuban kids grew up eating. Ropa vieja is true Cuban comfort food and something my abuela would make weekly. Although named old clothes for its sloppy appearance, ropa vieja is a healthy (-ier) Cuban dish with peppers and onions simmered in tomato sauce, dry white cooking wine, and made with aromatic cumin, oregano, and garlic. My abuela’s ropa vieja was soft and tender flank steak cooked in a whistling pressure cooker with salt and onion. To kill two birds with one stone she would toss in a bag of garbanzo beans to have ready to make garbanzo frito for the next day.

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In her avocado green kitchen with its brassy worn fixtures and original 1970s trash compactor, my abuela fearlessly wielded the pressure cooker. I have always been intimidated by its high-pitched taunting whistle and haven’t dared to use a pressure cooker without her. As it is in my tiny nearly non-existent NYC kitchen I can’t afford to store one more cooking device. So I opted for the longer approach sans demonic pressure cookers.

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My apartment smelled like a Cuban household the instant I started boiling the flank steak. I was reminded how powerfully scent recalls memory as I felt the comfort and love that lingered in the air while the ropa vieja was simmering away.

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Ropa Vieja

  • 5-2 lbs flank steak (falda)
  • 2 qts water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion cut lengthwise
  • ½ green bell pepper
  • 4-6 garlic cloves (or more if they’re tiny)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp salt divided
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1-2 bay leaves (hoja de laurel)
  • ¼ cup dry white cooking wine (vino seco)
  • ½ cup beef stock (from cooking the steak)
  • Olives for garnish (optional)
  • Pimientos for garnish (optional)

Reserve a quarter of the onion to add to the cooking water for the flank steak. I seasoned the water with the quarter onion, chunks of green bell pepper, 3 whole garlic cloves, cumin, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a bay leaf. If using the pressure cooker allow to whistle 40 minutes. OR place in a pot on the stove top and bring water to a boil. Once boiling bring to a low simmer and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours. Add water as needed to avoid the pot from burning. DO NOT cover the pot while the flank steak is cooking and be sure to stir every once in a while so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.

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Remove from the remaining beef broth and shred with two forks. I discarded the onion and garlic, but mashed up the green bell with the shredded beef for flavor. I am not crazy about green bell peppers but for some weird reason I do enjoy the flavor it imparts- just not eating pieces of one- if you want extra in yours saute some with the onions when you make the sofrito.

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Once the beef is shredded season with the extra salt and oregano and set aside. Start the sofrito. Slice the rest of the onion and mince the other 2-3 garlic cloves. Sautee the onions in the olive oil until translucent and tender. Add the garlic and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Mix in the shredded flank steak and stir with the dry white cooking wine and tomato sauce. Add the beef stock and stir again. My abuela’s ropa vieja is not as saucy as other varieties, but it is my favorite recipe there is. Simmer the ropa vieja for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. You can add olives in while it is cooking or as a garnish as I did, some people like to use red pimientos for a garnish as well. Serve with white or brown rice and platanos maduros, tostones, or even a fresh banana.

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Cuban Stuffing

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I’m a holiday traditionalist. Each year I look forward to the tried-and-true dishes, seasonal favorites, and family specialties. While I love thumbing the pages of cookbooks and pinning new holiday sides, I always go back to the classics. One of these classics is my abuela’s Cuban stuffing (relleno) that everyone craves around this time of year. Scribbled on the back page of my mom’s beloved Cocina Criolla cookbook is my abuela’s recipe that she makes each year for the holidays, especially thanksgiving.

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I have to admit I’m a sucker for the bready and soft American version with plenty of butter, celery, and onion, but my abuela’s Cuban stuffing is a thanksgiving and holiday favorite. The mixture of beef, pork, and ham with warm cumin, plump raisins, crunchy almonds, and Spanish olives makes Cuban stuffing a blend of deliciousness with familiar flavors and comforting aromas. My mom makes the stuffing each year for Thanksgiving, but I think it would be great stuffed in small cornish hens for fancy dinners, baked in pastry, or just by the bowlful atop white rice.

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I made this Cuban stuffing for the first time ever with my mom this year. The stuffing was easier to make than I imagined, and oh so flavorful. As the years go by, my appreciation for my family’s traditions and favorite dishes has only increased, and I’m happy I get to document them and share with younger cousins, baby brothers and sisters, and future generations.

Cuban Stuffing (Relleno Cubano)

  • 2 lbs ground beef (not low fat)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb ground ham (do not use smoked or flavored hams)
  • 1 large onion diced (about 1 ½ to 2 cups)
  • 5 garlic cloves minced
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • ¾ cup Spanish olives with pimientos sliced in thirds
  • ¾ cup sliced almonds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp Cumin
  • ½ tbsp ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 1 ½ packages cornbread stuffing
  • 1-2 cups turkey/chicken/ or vegetable stock

Dice the garlic and onions; grind the diced ham. I have made the mistake of purchasing smoked, honey, or mesquite diced ham. This totally kills the flavor of the relleno and does not work. I grind the diced ham in the food processor. Add the pork, beef, onion, and garlic to the pan all at the same time. Stir well and cook until just browned. Make sure to buy ground chuck or sirloin and avoid leaner cuts of beef. You do not want to overcook the beef because it will continue cooking in the bird if you choose to stuff it, or it will heat in a crockpot for serving, and do not drain the fat.

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Once browned add all of the herbs and spices and mix well. Do not add salt. Both the ground ham and the olives add plenty of natural sodium. Trust me on this!! Next add the package of cornbread stuffing and combine thoroughly.  At this point you can finally add the ham stirring to combine, and then go ahead and toss in the almonds, olives, and raisins. You can always add more to taste (of everything) and this part is really up to you- that’s the fun part of cooking and tasting =P. The raisin, almond, and olive trio really does add lots of flavor and is reminiscent of delicious picadillo.

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If you are making the Cuban stuffing a day in advance allow the dish to cool before placing it in the refrigerator. If you stuff the bird with the Cuban stuffing it does not require any stock to keep moist, but when you are reheating for a thanksgiving or holiday meal, you will want to slowly add hot stock of your choice and blend well. If the Cuban stuffing becomes too wet simply add more of the cornbread stuffing. I always buy two bags just in case. This year we placed the Cuban stuffing in a crockpot on low to warm a few hours before everyone came over and it was perfect and delicious. I’d say this version makes around 16-18 cups. Cuban stuffing is surely to become a holiday staple and thanksgiving must.

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