Yuca Frita Croquetas

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Yuca frita is the crisper, starchier, and creamier brother of the papita frita, and is undoubtedly a Cuban staple either fried crisp or soft and sautéed with garlic and onion. Yuca is one of my favorite Cuban side dishes whether prepared as yuca hervida or yuca frita and now as yuca frita croquetas.

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I first had yuca frita croquetas while I was interning for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival Rockin’ Beach Party made by Versailles– you can order them at their restaurant on Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana, and they are amazing. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly a traditional Cuban dish, but it is freaking delicious and is made up of 100% Cuban elements. I couldn’t decide what to call these delicious wonders of the world…yuca frita rellena? Picadillo stuffed yuca frita croquetas? As you can tell I dig yuca, it is easy to make, tastes delicious, and its naturally gluten free.

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Picadillo stuffed yuca croquetas are wonderous for two reasons: they are ideal for leftover picadillo and they are the perfect receptacle for cilantro garlic sauce (<3 Pollo Tropical you’ll always be my #1). The salted crisp yuca with the creamy citrusy cilantro garlic sauce is a match made in heaven that will have you reaching for more. I am pretty passionate about croquetas and these are a great party alternative to add to your repertoire (especially since they are pretty easy to make and use leftovers to boot)!

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Yuca Frita Croquetas

Yuca frita croquetas are ideal with leftover picadillo, but you can make a fresh batch just for this and enjoy your picadillo before or after. I highly recommend using leftover since it is chilled and is easier to use as a stuffing.  Completely cover the yuca in salted water and bring the water to a boil (I did defrost mine over night, but the bag doesn’t say this is required). Cook the yuca on medium heat for 25-30 minutes until fork tender.

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Once the yuca has coolded down enough to handle, remove the fibrous center of the yuca root. Next mash the yuca with a potato masher or potato ricer. It is best to do this while it is still warm. Don’t let it cool completely. Form the mashed yuca into similar shaped balls. Now work the soft yuca into a patty the shape of your palm. Wet your hands with water constantly to avoid the starchy yuca from sticking too much to your hands while forming the yuca frita croquetas. Add a tablespoon or so of Cuban picadillo to the center of the mashed yuca patty. Close the yuca onto itself and do the best you can to eliminate a seal using water.

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Heat vegetable oil on the stove top. Fry the yuca frita croquetas till golden brown.* Drain on paper towels and garnish with sea salt right away. Before enjoying add a squeeze of lime. Yuca frita croquetas go best with pollo tropical inspirecilantro garlic sauce and a cold beer.

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*Make sure to rotate the croquetas slowly instead of flipping roll them till they are brown all around. Sometimes the filling of croquetas can ooze out of the sides if the top and bottom are crispier than the sides.

 

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Pastelitos de Carne

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Cuban Picadillo

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Picadillo is a classic dish each Cuban holds dear to their heart. Everyone proudly proclaims that their mami’s, tia’s, or abuela’s picadillo is the very best, and they’re all right of course. Cuban picadillo has a multitude of delicious variations, and the one that follows is my mom’s. We grew up eating picadillo a whole lot. It was a weekly staple and a dish my mom could whip up in no time. Picadillo makes me nostalgic for the scents of my childhood- simmering ground beef with sofrito, cumin, and oregano that would fill the entire house and make my mouth water.

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My mom’s picadillo calls for plenty of sliced green olives and plump raisins- the combination of sweet and salty with savory sofrito is sinful. I always aim to make a “perfect bite” with each element present in every spoonful. Picadillo with rice (and platanos maduros!!) is comfort food at its finest- simple and traditional. Whether you’re Cuban or not, you will find yourself craving this Cuban classic time and time again.

Cuban Picadillo with Rice (Picadillo con Arroz Blanco)

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 lb lean ground beef (or ground turkey or a combination of beef and pork)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 minced garlic cloves
  • Generous splash Mojo Criollo or water
  • 2 Bay leaves (laurel)
  • ½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp sazón completa
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • ⅓ cup sliced green olives (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup raisins (or to taste)
  • White or Brown rice for 4 cooked as instructed (do not use jasmine rice)

Prep white or brown rice for four- it will be ready by the time you are done with the picadillo. Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Cook the onions first until soft and translucent. At this point add the minced garlic. Garlic cooks much faster than onions so add it when the onions are nearly finished.

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Next add the ground beef to the pan- I turn up the heat to 6-7 during this part to really brown the beef. I stir occasionally and ‘chop’ up the ground beef with my slotted spoon. Sprinkle the browned beef with the salt, pepper, cumin, and sazón completa and incorporate. Add the tomato sauce, bay leaves, and the oregano to taste. Turn the heat down to 2-3 and let the stew simmer for about 5 minutes. Now stir in the olives and raisins; add the generous splash of mojo criollo or water. I have also added more tomato sauce depending on my mood. Simmer for another 5 minutes or until the liquid has cooked off and a rich thick stew remains.

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Serve over white rice with fried sweet plantains (platanos maduros), fresh banana, or crumbled up mariquitas. Enjoy with iron beer, materva, or jupiña.

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