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.


Cuban Picadillo


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.

another-view-of-the-beef add-tomato-sauce

stirring-the-stew spoonful-of-picadillo

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.

picadillo-ingredients browned-beef

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.


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

Cuban Red Beans


Cuban-style red beans or frijoles rojos is a traditional Cuban recipe that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and all-around comfort food. My good friend Maria is known for making fantastic Cuban red beans so I asked her to teach me how to make her tried and true recipe. It is important to me to learn and document the traditional Cuban recipes I grew up eating, so that these recipes can be passed on down to future generations. I never got to learn how to make my abuela’s red beans, but I know Maria’s mother taught her all the classics.

Cooking with friends is fun, but blogging with friends isn’t the easiest. Normally we would just cook and go with the flow, but blogging adds another dimension of patience and pictures- lots and lots of pictures. Maria was kind enough to be very patient through all my picture and note-taking, but I had to make sure I got her amazing Cuban red bean recipe just right!

diced-vertical  yummy-stuff

Like many classic Cuban dishes, the base of the red bean soup is a delicious sofrito made of green peppers, onion, and garlic with added tomato paste. Large chunks of pumpkin or Calabaza naturally sweeten the dish and add buttery creaminess while the sliced chorizo gives a little spice and fatty richness to the red beans.

We used a pressure cooker to make the red beans. I must admit I have always been intimidated of using this daunting kitchen device, scared off with stories of exploding pressure cookers and food blunders, but my friend Maria wielded the pressure cooker like a real pro. My abuela was fearless of the pressure cooker too, and she used hers daily. Like my abuela, Maria’s ear was attuned to the various hissing and whistles of the pressure cooker and needed no timer to get the Cuban red beans just right.

release-the-pressure lock-the-pressure-cooker

The red beans served over Jasmine rice were amazing! The calabaza was incredibly soft and fork tender- even the skin was supple enough to eat and added lovely bite and texture. The red beans were creamy, gently spiced with the rich chorizo, and the whole apartment smelled of comforting Cuban flavors that remind me of home.

plated-dish  frijoles-rojos

 Maria’s Cuban Red Beans

3 cups of large red beans
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
1 green bell pepper
Olive Oil to sauté the sofrito
½ cooking pumpkin (calabaza) cut into large chunks, seeds removed, skin on
3-4 chorizo links, skin removed, sliced
1 onion diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
¾- 1 cup of water (to add to sofrito)
1 packet Goya Seasoning con Culantro y Achiote
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Put the red beans in the pressure cooker with 10 cups of water and half of the green pepper. Lock the pressure cooker and put the burner on high. Once you start to hear the pressure cooker hiss, cook for 10-15 minutes. This initial step will soften and begin to cook the beans. During this step prep all of your veggies, the pumpkin, and chorizo for the red beans.

ingredients red-beans-in-pot

Remove the pressure cooker from the heat, and let out the steam or pressure slowly. The pressure cooker might have too much pressure so do this step cautiously. Maria placed the pressure cooker entirely in the sink during this step until it released enough pressure to be opened. The green pepper was totally softened and added to the savory aroma.

sofirto-stuff open-the-lid

Once the pressure has decreased- after 15 minutes or so- it is safe to unlock the lid of the pressure cooker.  Place the pressure cooker back on the burner with the heat on high uncovered. We tossed in the chunks of calabaza and chorizo to the cooking red beans.


While the red beans are cooking with the pumpkin and chorizo, heat the oil in the pan and add the garlic first. Yes I know, this seemed backwards to me, and I insisted that peppers and onions take longer to cook than garlic. Maria rolled her eyes at me and swore up and down that the garlic gets added first. I obliged her and the garlic turned golden and perfumed the air. We let it cook for only 30 seconds to a minute, lowered the heat, and added the peppers and onions. They softened right up and I have to admit- she was right. The sofrito was perfect.

add-the-garlic vertical-paste-shot

Next we added the tomato paste in large dollops and mixed with the softened peppers, garlic, and onions. This cooked for just a moment before adding around a cup of water to make a saucy sofrito base for the red beans. Stir in the packet of Goya seasoning. Once the sofiro was ready we poured it into the red bean soup, added the salt, red pepper flakes, and cracked black pepper, and then put the lid back on the pressure cooker and locked it shut.

tomato-paste-and-water add-the-goya

add-the-finished-sofrito take-off-the-pressure-cooker-lid

After the pressure cooker was howling for 15-20 minutes the red beans were nearly ready to pour over white Jasmine rice. Once again allow the pressure to decrease and let the steam out before unlocking and opening the lid. At this point, if you want a thicker dish you can put the pressure cooker back on the burner (lid off) to boil off some of the water, and add more salt if you like.

boil-off-the-liquid in-the-pot-done

Serve Cuban red beans as a side over white Jasmine rice with your choice of protein or as a soup with the rice. Buen provecho!