Ropa Vieja


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Cilantro Garlic Sauce


Pollo Tropical got me addicted to cilantro garlic sauce. This place is a Hispanic fast food mecca in South Florida- easy take-out like the home cooking your abuela made. Chicken, pork, maduros, tostones, white rice, sopa de pollo, yuca frita (and have we mentioned the cilantro garlic sauce!?!) are all authentic and Cuban. My mom is a power business woman so when I was growing up she would often get us Pollo Tropical on the way home from guitar lessons, swim practice, or soccer games. I grew up eating this stuff and crave it; my love for Pollo Tropical is close to my passion for Publix Subs.


I made cilantro garlic sauce and yuca frita for a post I did over a year ago. This single post has been by far my post popular post and drives the most traffic to this site. The fanaticism behind Pollo Tropical’s cilantro garlic sauce is no joke people. So I decided to test out the very best variations to make sure my recipe was just right. Based on my research, I have to modify my previous recipe. I tested the sauce with mayonnaise, yogurt, and sour cream, and I also did variations with two, three, and four garlic cloves to test the impact on flavor. As I tried out different recipes I also realized the freshness of the garlic impacted the flavor. Older garlic can tend to have a sharper and spicier flavor than fresh cloves- I prefer the fresh and lighter taste.


After trying to make the cilantro garlic sauce with mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and sour cream I decided I like sour cream the best, but hey you do you and make it according to your palate. Greek yogurt is the thickest of the three and the mayonnaise has that distinct underlying egg flavor. Cilantro garlic sauce is a great condiment for tostones, chips, tacos, yuca frita, burritos, and even crudites.


 Cilantro Garlic Sauce

  • 12 oz sour cream (or Greek yogurt or mayonnaise in any combination)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 1 tbsp)
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Remove the stems from the cilantro and wash it well in cold water. Cilantro can have gritty sand on the leaves so make sure to rinse well. Dry the cilantro using a salad spinner or I usually roll it up in several paper towel sheets and place it in the refrigerator while I prep everything else. Muddle the garlic and olive oil together with a mortar and pestle. Although you will be using a food processor, I think this step really infuses the garlic and oil together helping to smooth the taste of the garlic in the sauce.


Mix the lime, salt, and cayenne into the garlic oil and then pour into the food processor with the chopped cilantro and sour cream. Pulse the cilantro garlic sauce until it is smooth and creamy. Taste the sauce to determine if it needs more citrus or salt. I have found that it can become very salty very quickly so err on the side of caution. Serve the cilantro garlic sauce with yuca frita, French fries, tostones, fajitas, chips, mariquitas, or with tacos, on bowls… at this point the possibilities are endless.

Pastelitos de Carne


In a city where bagels and rugelach are ubiquitous, I find myself craving real Cuban goodness- pastelitos de carne. Pastelitos are great at any time of day, kind of like ice cream, but they’re usually enjoyed for breakfast, an afternoon snack, or at any family party. I dream of days when I could walk into a bakery and stand before an array of golden pastelitos- de carne, de queso, de guayaba, guayaba con queso. The warm scent of homemade pastelitos de carne baking transports me to ‘la ventana’ or cafeteria windows, but I’m sipping my cortaditos at home in NYC instead of at Versailles nowadays.


Pastelitos de carne are crazy easy to make- that is if you don’t have to stop every two seconds to take a picture! I made my mom’s classic Cuban picadillo for the pastelitos de carne, and I had enough picadillo left over for dinner that night. Making pastelitos de carne (or just pastelitos in general) is especially easier if you purchase pre-made puff pastry. While the idea of making puff pastry from scratch is warm and fuzzy and makes me feel legit, it’s just not realistic in my tiny NYC kitchen. These kitchens are small-I think the technical term is itty bitty. Kitchen size aside, these pastelitos de carne were worth every bit of effort, and I can’t wait to make pastelitos de queso soon.


Pastelitos de Carne

  • Cuban Picadillo (I used around a cup and a half or so)
  • Puff Pastry
  • Flour for dusting
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water

Prepare the picadillo according to the recipe link here. I let my picadillo get to room temperature before making the pastelitos because the hot meat can melt the cold puff pastry too quickly before it gets into the oven. While the picadillo is cooling you can begin to make your puff pastry from scratch if you are choosing to do so.  I have used this recipe and this recipe too and I liked them both. I chose to buy pre-made puff pastry this time from Trader Joe’s so I wait until the picadillo is slightly warm before starting. Puff pastry is in the freezer section and you will need to let it defrost overnight in your refrigerator.


Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a sheet tray with wax paper or on other non-stick material to have ready for later. Lightly beat the egg with one tsp water and set aside. Dust a clean surface with flour before rolling out the puff pastry a bit. It is already quite thin, but I rolled it out a bit more. Using a round cookie cutter cut out as many pastry circles as you can. Re-roll and cut more until you are out of dough. I kept on adding pinches of flour to prevent the pastry dough from sticking. Dust off excess flour and begin to prep for the pastetlitos. My recipe made around 15 pastelitos de carne so 7-8 rounds per sheet of puff pastry, but maybe this is because I am not an expert dough roller? Who knows?- my argument is quality not quantity.


Place the pastry dough rounds down and brush with the egg wash. Add a spoonful of picadillo and press the pastry dough round on top making sure to firmly press the edges and create a seal. Repeat for all of the dough rounds until you run out. Place the pastelitos de carne on the lined baking sheet and brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I baked mine for only 20 minutes and they were a perfect golden brown. While the pastelitos are baking put the sugar and water in a cup and microwave for 30 seconds. Remove it and stir the simple syrup and microwave for 30 more seconds. Allow it to cool and you will have a small batch of simple syrup for brushing the pastries. This step is optional, but it adds a wonderful sweetness to the picadillo stuffed pastelitos de carne. Brush the pastelitos with the simple syrup the second they come out of the oven. I suggest waiting a little bit before digging in as these pastelitos de carne will be piping hot! Buen provecho!