International Meals – Ecuador

This week, we visit the equatorial country of – wait for it – Ecuador. Ecuador gained its independence from Spain in the general wave of independence movements in Latin America in the early 1800s.  If you’re interested in learning about the period in detail, Mike Duncan’s “Revolutions” podcast did an entire series on it.  Highly recommended.

Ecuador has a number of distinct regions, from the Andes mountains to the coast, and out to the Galapagos islands.  We will NOT be preparing Guinea pig from the former, or endangered tortoise from the latter.  So how about a nice fish stew?

Specifically, we decided to make Encebollado – a fish stew topped with pickled onions.  In fact, the name literally means “in onions.” In addition to onions, the stew is frequently made with our old friend, cassava, or yuca root.  Ah, cassava – source of the flour for so MANY bland starch pastes we haven’t succeeded in imparting much flavor to.  Perhaps it will be better whole?

Well, that means we have to FIND one.  And, failing to learn my lesson from our hunt for chayote, I again drove all over Vancouver looking for it, only to discover that the ONLY store that had it was the Sav On Foods two blocks from our house.   Well, whatever, at least I found one.  I forgot to take a picture of it whole, but here it is mid-peel:

Yuca root

It’s actually not a tough dish to make, once you have the stuffs.  First, you make another sofrito by sweating onions and tomatoes in olive oil.  No garlic in this one.

Ecuadoran sofrito
Once the onions are nice and soft, you toss in some water, cilantro, and spices, and simmer it for a bit to make a broth.  And into that broth goes a lovely hunk of tuna to poach.
Poaching tuna

You can tell this is an action shot, because it’s got a hand.

Once the tuna is cooked, you pull it back out of the liquid and cook your veggies, which in our case were the aforementioned cassava and some corn on the cob.

Veggies stewing

Meanwhile, we need those “pickled” onions for the topping.  Whether or not you actually consider these pickled depends on your definition of the term – they’re soaked in lemon juice, olive oil, and salt for a bit to soak up the flavor.

Lemons and onions 

As a side dish, we decided to double down on the cassava, and make small cheese breads with cassava flour.  Because every OTHER thing we’ve made with cassava flour has been so great, right?

Then again, this recipe suspiciously resembles the pao de queijo from our Brazil episode, and those were absolutely delicious. So lets see what happens.

Flour, butter, eggs, baking soda, mozzarella cheese, blend.

Cheese bread dough

The dough turned out VERY dry when we followed the proportions in the recipe.  Like, “not so much dough as sand” dry.  So we kept adding water until it finally came together. Once together, the dough was rolled into small balls for cooking.

Uncooked cheese bread

The indicated cooking method was actually not one I’d used before.  You preheat the oven to “Volcano Heat” (500 F), but once it’s there, you stick the buns in and turn on the BROILER.  So they’re in a rippingly hot oven, but only being cooked directly from one side.

The results certainly looked tasty, with a nice brown on top.

Cooked cheese bread.

And with that, it was time to put the tuna in the stew, top it with the pickled onions, and dig in!

Ecuadoran meal

And it turns out the stew was another winner!  The tuna was cooked perfectly, the broth was delicious, with just the right amount of spice, and the acidity from the topping complemented everything beautifully.  And the cassava root rose all the way up to the level of “tolerable.”  It soaked up all the other flavors, and was a perfectly adequate means of conveying pickled onions to your mouth.  The cheese breads weren’t quite as amazing as their Brazilian cousins, but they were still quite tasty.  I mean – cheese bread.  What’s not to like?

Ecuador – we salute you.  Your soup is tasty, and you have managed to make cassava have a flavor.  Next time – Egypt!

Recipes:
Encebollado (Ecuadoran Fish Stew)
Pan de yuca

International Meals – East Timor

Welcome to the “E”s!  Since we filed “Ivory Coast” under “Côte d’Ivoire,” we will now be cooking Timor-Leste as our first “E” country.  Because why not?

East Timor is one of the newer sovereign countries in the world, having only been independent since 2002.  They were a Portuguese colony until 1975, and when the Portuguese bowed out, Indonesia took over for a bit.  So the cuisine is kind of a mix. It has a lot of similarities to Indonesian food, but also feijoada like we made for Brazil is a thing.

Doing the research to pick a recipe for this week, we discovered a number of sources claiming that the national dish is Ikan Pepes, or fish grilled in banana leaves.  However, while there were a number of recipes floating around for this, none of them gave much in the way of sources.  Another possibility would have been Batar Daan, which is a vegetable dish of corn, mung beans, and pumpkin.

However, we ran across a recipe in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, that described the author walking around Dili (the Timorese capital) picking up ingredients to make Tukir Na’an Karau, a beef stew that sounded delicious and inarguably authentic.

First step, as always, was to procure ingredients.  We figured an Indonesian grocer would be the best place to start, so we were off to find “Auntie Grace’s”. And “find” is right – it turned out to be a second floor walkup in the middle of an industrial park!  But it was a cheerly little one room store with a very friendly couple and shelves packed with esoteric ingredients and Indonesian snacks.  However, while they DID know what I was talking about, they didn’t have the ingredient we had come for: Long Pepper.

Long Pepper

That took two more stops, but we did finally find it. (At a touristy spice shop back on Granville Island, oddly enough.) Definitely a unique component – long pepper is a bit like black pepper, but with notes of menthol, Sichuan peppercorn, coriander, and … tobacco? But in the good way, if that’s possible.

At any rate, it turns out that driving all over Vancouver was the hard part of this recipe, and cooking it was the FUN part!  Why?

HULK SMASH!

First, let’s start with what the French refer to as Le Petit Smash (Note: not actually true) and grind up some spices in our brand new mortar and pestle, which we bought at the SECOND stop while driving all over Vancouver looking for long pepper.

Mortar and Pestle

We’d been meaning to get a bigger one forever, and it makes a huge difference over the little dinky one we had been using.  But that’s just the WARMUP smash.

This recipe calls for lemongrass.  But not chopped lemongrass, oh no.  This recipe calls for the lemongrass to be beaten into submission with a blunt object (we used a Pyrex measuring cup) and tied into knots.

Lemongrass

That accomplished, the lemongrass is tossed in with cubed chuck steak, kaffir lime leaves, the toasted crushed spices, and some salt.

Marinating beef

Oddly, this marinade contains no liquid, so you just mix everything up, and let the flavors sort of… waft? … into the beef.  Once it’s had a chance to absorb the flavor, it’s almost time to star cooking, but first:

MOAR SMASH!

Turmeric and Ginger

It really is a very therapeutic recipe. It is also worth mentioning that those orange strips are NOT carrots – they’re turmeric.  As such, after I finished peeling them and smashing them into submission, my hands looked like I’d murdered a canary with my bare hands.  That cutting board is never going to be NOT yellow again.

But from this point forward, the work is basically done.  You sweat your aromatics a bit…

Aromatics sweating

…then toss in the beef and let it cook forever. Half an hour in, you put in some tamarind. An hour or so later, once it’s falling apart, you take the lid off to cook off most of the liquid, then add some coconut cream to get a rich, indulgent stew that has an INSANELY tempting aroma.

Finished stew

Fish out the giant pieces of ginger and lemongrass, and it’s time to eat!

Timorese Beef Stew

Oh. My. Goodness.

Discovering recipes like this is WHY we do this. It is impossible to describe just how much flavor was packed into this curry.  And the beef was basically DISSOLVING, it was cooked so well.   It is absolutely a shame that the recipe is stuck behind the WSJ paywall, but it’s worth finding someone with access to get yourself a copy, particularly if you can source the ingredients.

We did also make a dessert which, while not UNIQUE to East Timor, is certainly eaten there – sticky rice in caramelized sugar and coconut sauce.  We used the dry caramelization method, which is literally just dumping a pile sugar in a wok, and cooking it until it turns to caramel sauce.

Sugar in a wok.

For the longest time, the sugar just sat there, and then we poked it and realized it had turned from a big pile of sugar to a thin layer of sugar sitting on a layer of delicious caramel.  We tossed in tome coconut milk, which caused it to solidify instantly.

Caramel in coconut milk.

But that’s OK – we didn’t actually want either a liquid caramel OR a solid one – we just wanted caramelized sugar dissolved in coconut milk.  And that’s what we got.  Once everything had dissolved, we dumped in what didn’t SEEM like quite enough cooked sticky rice.  But it turns out sticky rice will eagerly drink as much sugar milk as you give it, and the resulting dessert was heavenly.

Sticky rice dessert

The resulting breakfast was ALSO heavenly.

So – East Timor.  For being a young country,  you have a fantastic curry.  There is absolutely zero chance we will not be bringing this one back out at some point.  Next up, a country that inarguably starts with “E”, (instead of arguably, like this one) Ecuador!

Recipes:
Tukir Na-an Karau (Timorese Spice-Braised Beef) (Wall Street Journal Paywall)
Coconut Glutinous Rice Dessert

International Meals – Dominican Republic

Last week we made our best guess at a meal favored by DomiNEEcans, so this week, let’s see what we can manage for the DoMInicans, shall we?  The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the only island in the Caribbean to be split between two countries.  (We are NOT getting into Guantanamo Bay right now.) It’s been an independent country since the 1860s, although that hasn’t stopped the US from doing lots of awful things to it since then.

There’s lots of resources for Dominican food online, and we chose to make the country’s national lunch dish “La Bandera.”  Literally translated as “The Flag,” this dish features rice, beans, and some sort of meat stew representing the three colors of the Dominican flag.  The rice represents white.  The beans represent red. The third color in the Dominican flag is blue.

Um.

There’s lots of handwaving on this point on the web:

“…and – with a splash of poetic and culinary license here – the meat – usually chicken or beef – represents the third color.

How does La Bandera represent the red, white, and blue? The meat represents the blue in the flag, which stands for liberty. As you may have guessed, the rice means white, which signifies salvation. The red beans represent the red or the blood of heroes.

Red beans, white rice and a side of blue meat, usually chicken or beef. It’s a simple dish beloved by many.

We’re going to do our best here to ensure that blue remains a FIGURATIVE attribute of the meat portion of this dish.

So let’s get started.  We’ve chosen to go with chicken for our stew, but beef would also be appropriate. The chicken is first marinated with a blend of onions, garlic, lime juice, and seasonings  Whole chicken parts on the bone would probably be more authentic, (as well as including the more challenging bits) but we decided to lazy out this time and just get boneless breasts.

Chicken Marinating

After a soak in the fridge, you brown a little sugar in oil in the pot.  This didn’t seem to do much at first, since it wasn’t that much sugar.  We picked the chicken parts out of the marinade, leaving the vegetables behind, seared the meat a bit, and then left it to braise for 15 minutes.

Seared Chicken

You’re supposed to keep putting in just enough water so it doesn’t burn. Like, a tablespoon at a time.  We mostly kept an eye on it, but with the lid closed, it was easy to miss that it had boiled off until it started to smell a little burny at 15 minutes.  I quickly poured in some more water….

…and that’s when the goddamned alchemy happened.  After fifteen minutes of braising, the chicken was the same color as the picture above.  Pour in half a cup of water at that point, and everything hissed, and suddenly:

Browned Chicken

It literally turned that color in under five seconds.  I think we had caught it just in time, so that the sugar was cooking on the bottom of the pot, but hadn’t quite burned. Just witchcraft, I tell you.

Well, with that, it was time to toss in our marinade vegetables, along with some friends, and let the whole thing cook down a bit more with some tomato sauce.

Vegetables in the pot with the chicken

So now lets jump back a bit in time and talk about the beans, which we were cooking at the same time.  (Which may have been how the chicken got away from us.)  We decided to use pinto beans, although pigeon peas are apparently also quite common. The Instant Pot once again proved miraculous for its bean-cooking abilities.  We would definitely consume fewer legumes without some sort of pressure cooker.

The recipe for this one is a pretty standard stewed beans procedure: sweat some aromatics, then dump in the beans with their water, and let them boil until soft.

Beans stewing

Seasonings were onion, garlic, thyme, cilantro, and a new one on us: celery leaves rather than stalks.  It didn’t seem to really add much one way or the other.

Finally, we were assured that this meal was always accompanied by a salad, so we made a quick one with cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.  Here’s the whole package, with some fresh Vancouver snow to really accentuate the tropical meal.

Dominican Republic Meal

And it was pretty tasty!  The chicken, in particular, had a LOVELY flavor from the caramelized sugar.  The beans were fine, if not terribly exciting.  However, this raises a point – when we make these meals, we try not to put in a lot of extra condiments on the first bash through, so we can appreciate the food directly.  BUT – is that authentic?  Would Dominicans be donking hot sauce into these beans?  I honestly don’t know.

I can GUARANTEE that a heaping teaspoon of Spicy Chili Crisp is NOT authentic, but when we used it in the leftovers the next day, it sure did work.  By the way, if you haven’t already, get you some Spicy Chili Crisp.  Good stuff.

Finally, it was time for dessert.  We decided to go with an Arepa, or cornmeal cake.  The Dominican version we chose used cornmeal, coconut and regular milk, brown sugar, and raisins.  No raising agents at all, so a very dense bake.  It is apparently often baked in a pot with a rounded bottom, to give a dome shape when turned out.  We used a ceramic baking dish we had handy.

Baked Arepa

And turned out, it looked pretty good.  It was VERY tasty, especially with coffee or hot chocolate to cut the richness.  Since the lunch was very filling, we waited a few hours to cut a few slices.

Arepa out of the pot.

This was delicious, and served well as both breakfast and snack for the next several days, given that there are only the two of us.

So, Dominican Republic – nice job!  We appreciate your food, and the incredible color changing stew.

And that completes the “D”s!  Next week, we will PROBABLY do the southeast Asian country of East Timor, unless we decide to file that one under “T”.  Never a dull moment!

Recipes:
La Bandera Dominica
Dominican Arepa

International Meals – Dominica

Lets get this out of the way right off the bat – Dominica is NOT the Dominican Republic.  People from the former are DomiNIcans, and from the latter are DoMINicans. We’ll do the Dominican Republic next week, but this week we are at the much smaller country of Dominica. Dominica was colonized by first the French, and then the British, and has been independent since the late 1970s.

Until recently, the national dish of Dominica was “mountain chicken.”  And by “chicken” they mean “frog.”  Apparently these frogs were so a) easy to catch and b) tasty, that they are now critically endangered.

So we’re not making that.

The NEW national dish of Dominica is Callaloo soup.  Callaloo is a term used all over the Caribbean.  It always refers to a leafy vegetable, but past that, what it ACTUALLY refers to can vary. In Jamaica, you’re probably getting amaranth leaves.  Puerto Rico, likely Xanthosoma.  And in Dominca, if you order callaloo, the most likely possibility is dasheen, or Taro leaves.  Which are quite toxic if not fully cooked.  So even though we could probably get them, we decided to go with spinach.

Callaloo from Dominica (the term can refer to either the leaves or the soup) often contains some sort of salted meat or seafood.  We found a recipe that substitutes Dungeness crabs for the local Caribbean ones, and since those can be had easily in Vancouver, a trip to Lobsterman was in order.

Say hello to my little friends:

Bucket 'o crabs

These are actually the little friends of the person ahead of me in line – I only bought two, because these suckers are pricey. We had the store murder them for us, since it was simpler, and we planned on cooking them within an hour of getting them home.  A quick toss in the steamer, and we had this:

Steamed crabs

I grew up in Baltimore – steamed crabs are a genetic predisposition.  It’s quite weird to me to be making crab in my kitchen as part of another dish, rather than picking it apart at a picnic table covered in newspaper.  That said…

…I grew in Baltimore.  I know how to pick crab.

Picking crab

I’m not as fast as the pros, but I get the job done.

To make the stew itself, you start by sautéing aromatics, including celery.  The recipe calls for a tablespoon of celery.  Good thing you can’t buy it in quantities smaller than a whole bunch.

Celery

Once the aromatics are soft, you toss in the spinach, some coconut milk and water, and let everything wilt down.

Spinach going into the pot

Once it’s wilted a bit, you give everything a zap with the immersion blender to get it smooth, and a lovely green color.  You also toss in a bunch of thyme, salt, pepper, a Scotch bonnet pepper, the crab, and the dumplings.

Stew with thyme and pepper

Dumplings, you ask?  When did you make dumplings?

Oh right – in addition to crab and vegetables, this stew also typically contains simple flour-and-water dumplings, cooked right in the broth. Ours were messy, and a bit too large.

Dumplings before cooking

But they are dumplings, and when we cooked them, they dumpled.

To go with the stew, we made Mastiff bread, which is a simple yeast raised bread that uses shortening for fat.  It’s not dissimilar from the Cuban bread we made a few weeks ago with lard.  The picture in the recipe we used showed lots of little round buns with elaborate shapes carved on them.  So we made round buns with SIMPLE slashes in the top.  (shown here before baking)

Buns before cooking

Turns out that the more common shape for a Mastiff, or “dollar bread” in Dominica would be cigar shaped, but these came out fine and were tasty.

An interminable 45 minutes later, the bread was cooked, the stew was ready, and the quick mango smoothies we whipped up were on the table.  And since this was LUNCH, the light is substantially better than our usually pictures.  Isn’t this gorgeous?

Dominican meal

It was absolutely DELICIOUS, too.  If you come to our house, this is one of the international meals you should ask us to recreate, because this soup is fantastic.  It’s rich with crab and coconut milk, spicy from the black and hot pepper, and the spinach gives it a great vegetable freshness.  It was perfect for mopping up with the soft bread.

This was an excellent meal. Hands down in the top tier of our efforts so far. And believe it or not, we only have one more “D” country to go.  Next week, we hop over from the island of the Dominicans to the island of the Dominicans, and then it’s on to the “E”s!

Recipes:
Dominican Callaloo Soup
Mastiff Bread

International Meals – Djibouti

Sometimes, this blog has long stories about the hunt for ingredients, or the problems of authenticity and colonialism, or moving to a foreign country during the apocalypse.

And sometimes we just make a straightforward recipe or two with readily available ingredients.

Our biggest concern coming into this week is that we have four countries coming up soon that are all in fairly close geographic proximity: Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, and that it might prove challenging to differentiate them.  But – it turns out that each one has an acknowledged national dish, and, miracles and wonders, they are not even tiny variants of the SAME dish.  They also don’t seem to involve endangered species.  That’s NEXT week…

Djibouti is a small country in East Africa at the exit of the Red Sea.  Its present borders were established when France decided it needed a way to keep an eye on the Suez canal, and did the imperialism thing.  The country has been independent since 1977.

Less important than the political borders, however, is the fact that Djibouti is a seaport with easy access to Africa, India, and the Middle East, and the cuisine combines all of those influences.  The acknowledged national dish is a lamb and rice dish named Skoudehkaris, which bears a strong resemblance to an Indian biryani.

The cooking is pretty simple – first brown the lamb in a heavy pot.

Lamb going into the pot

Once it’s seared, add some onions, garlic, tomatoes and spices.

Lamb with onions and spices

This spices in this case are a pretty standard mix of “c” spices – cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, cardamom, and cumin.  There are different versions of this recipe online, and we kinda took an average between them.  One of the question marks was whether to cook it on the stovetop or put the pot in the oven.  We opted for the oven so we could use the stovetop to make bread. Everything got covered with water, and in it went.

So… bread.  The traditional Ethiopian bread is injera, which is a delicious sour, spongy flatbread.  We have also failed miserably every time we’ve tried to make it.  Fortunately, Djiboutian breads tend to be closer to the Sudanese laxoox style than the Ethiopian style, meaning they are slightly thicker, and use millet or sorghum flour instead of teff.

Millet and whole wheat flour

The recipe we used called for a mix of millet flour, whole wheat flour, and regular flour.  Since we already have WAY too many types of specialty flour cluttering up the cabinet, I was happy to discover that our local grocer had whole millet in the bulk section, so we just made our OWN damn flour, in a nice small quantity.

The flour gets mixed with yeast and left to rise overnight, until it’s nice and bubbly.

Bubbly batter.

This is definitely much closer to a batter than a dough.  It’s a little thicker than pancake batter, but not much.  The hard part was getting it to achieve the nice dry texture on one side without burning on the other side.  We had… mixed success at this.  Leigh definitely did better than I did.

Laxoox in progress

This is a pretty good “in progress” shot – the texture is bubbly, which is right, but you can see some of the dough is still raw.

As we were finishing up the flatbreads, the stew came out of the oven.  Unlike most Indian biryani recipes, this recipe does NOT call for precooking the rice at all – the raw rice just gets hurled into the pot and left to cook and soak up the liquid until it’s ready to eat.  On balance, we should have probably used a bit MORE liquid, as the final product didn’t have as much sauce as the illustrations in the recipes.

Djiboutian meal

And there it is – a one pot lamb and rice stew that took next to no effort to make, and some nice chewy flatbreads to eat it with. No drama this week at all.

And it turns out – no drama can be pretty darn tasty!  The rice soaked up all the spices and was very flavorful.  The lamb turned out perfectly cooked, and the flatbreads that weren’t either raw or burned (i.e., the ones Leigh made) were perfect for scooping everything up together.  I would heartily recommend this stew as a midweek meal, as long as you can wait the hour or so it takes to cook.

A note on the recipes – both of the version of this stew that we consulted come from slicker, more professional “Recipe around the world” blogs than ours.  There’s always a BIT of a concern going to “international food for westerners” sources that they’ve been dumbed down, but as far as we can tell, this really is the basic outline of the recipe.

Djibouti –  your food is tasty! And, we appreciate not having to drive halfway across Canada for obscure cooking supplies for a change.  Next week, the tiny island of Dominica, which is definitely NOT the Dominican Republic.

Recipes:
Skoudehkaris #1
Skoudehkaris #2
Laxoox (Djiboutian Bread)

International Meals – Denmark

Denmark did not quite go as planned.

I mean, I’m sure the country is doing fine, but our Danish meal ran into a few snags.

One of the quintessential Danish foods is Rugbrød, a particular style of sourdough dark rye bread which is used to make open faced sandwiches.  Having it on the table would be at least somewhat of a guarantee that we were in the neighborhood of authenticity. But we don’t have a sour going right now, and we don’t need a new pet.

Still, Vancouver is an enormous, diverse city – how hard can it be to find Danish rye?  Quite challenging, as it turns out.  There was a Danish baker just a few blocks from my office, which closed in 2018 after sixty years in business.  So that’s a shame.

And then I found La Charcuterie.  Their website lists a HUGE array of Scandinavian products.  Rugbrød! Spiced Herring! Medisterpølse! (A coiled Danish sausage.) And they have a deli attached.  Awesome, right?  It’s an hour drive away, but we can get some great Danish sandwiches, buy the products we want, maybe have a browse around for other things that would work well, and be all set for our Danish meal.

Our first clue should maybe have been that “La Charcuterie” ain’t exactly a Danish spelling.

When we got to the store, which is in a run down industrial park between a motorcycle shop and an auto parts store, there was a line of people out the door.  OK, this is a good sign, right?

Well, no.  Apparently the owner of this shop is a local legend, to the point that there has been an entire documentary made about him.  What he is legendary for is a constant, CONSTANT stream of vulgar stories, and enormous, cheap sandwiches. Turns out we had arrived in the domain of “The Sandwich Nazi.”  Seriously – that’s what it said on the door and on his Facebook page.

The store itself contained almost nothing of the bounty of Danish products advertised on the website – lots of tinned fish, but pretty much nothing else.  No Danish bread. (The sandwiches are on standard sub rolls.) No medisterpølse. No spiced herring.  Heck, not even a choice in what you are being served past “How many sandwiches you want?” (There was a menu on the wall, but it’s apparently just there for decoration.)  You have to pay cash, and you have to make your own change from the huge pile of loose bills sitting on a table behind the counter, because apparently he got busted for not washing his hands between handling money and food.

Oh, and the Sandwich Nazi is apparently Lebanese.

The sandwiches are enormous and overstuffed, but otherwise completely average.  Just a big pile of cold cuts on bread.  Dirt cheap, though – easily four servings from one 10CAD sandwich.

However, we were left with no Danish products whatsoever.

So we went home and bought some Russian Dark rye at Sav On Foods, which is not right, but as close as we could get, and some local pickled herring.

Oh well.  Let’s move on to the actual COOKING portion of the program, shall we?  Denmark had a survey for the official national dish in 2014, and the winner was stegt flæsk med persillesovs, or grilled pork belly with parsley sauce.  Accompanied by waxy potatoes, this is actually a pretty simple dish to make, and represents the third technique we’ve used to cook pork belly in the last two months.  (We also fried it for Colombia, and braised it for Dong Po Pork, which was not part of this blog series.)

To cook the pork belly, it is simply sliced into relatively thick slices and then roasted in a hot oven for 40 minutes until crisp.

Before:

Uncooked pork belly

After:

Roasted Pork Belly

Meanwhile, you make a parsley sauce.  It starts with a butter and flour roux, into which you add milk.  This is cooked until it is thick, and then you season it and add a whole pile o’ parsley.

Parsley sauce

I am relatively certain we did not get this quite thick enough.  It was tasty, but runnier than in the video we watched.

This was accompanied by nicely boiled new potatoes.  Here’s the whole spread:

Danish meal

Denmark also has the advantage of being one of the few countries that we can simply walk down the street and easily buy beer from.  We know where to get Estonian beer in Vancouver, but the next time it’s going to be EASY isn’t going to be until Germany. (France?  Maybe?  I don’t know any French beers, but I don’t drink a lot of pilsners.)

But let’s not distract from the meal at hand!  How was stegt flæsk med persillesovs? Quite tasty!  Roasting the pork belly made it deliciously crispy, and drowning it in the parsley sauce (I put a lot more on after taking this picture) was a fantastic flavor enhancement.  The potatoes turned out perfectly, and also soaked up the sauce quite well.  And while the herring and bread weren’t the right herring and bread, they were still delicious.

I will mention dessert, which, while not Danish, was funny.  Nigella Lawson’s recipe of the day for inauguration day was, for some reason, “Bitter Orange Tart.” Can’t imagine why. But since I found some Seville oranges at the Granville Island Market, here it is.

Bitter Orange Tart

Next up, we head to eastern Africa for the first time since Burundi with the small nation of Djibouti.

Recipes:
Stegt flæsk med persillesovs (pork belly with parsley sauce)
Bitter Orange Tart

 

International Meals – Democratic Republic of the Congo

It’s been a year, but it’s time to start a new letter!  There’s only five “D” countries, so this will probably take a little less time.  This week, we start with the other “Congo” country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Which was renamed “Zaire” from 1965 until 1997.)

As we pointed out a few weeks ago when we did the Republic of the Congo, the DRC was principally oppressed by Belgium, rather than France who did the oppressing across the river. However, there are a lot more similarities than differences, to the point that they two countries share the same national dish, which we have chosen to prepare for this meal, rather than last time.

That national dish is Poulet à la Moambé, a chicken stew made with palm nut cream.  We’ve encountered palm nut oil repeatedly in African recipes, but this stuff is a bit different.  For one, it comes in a can, rather than a bottle:

Can of palm nut cream

For a second, the actual product looks very different, but we’ll get to that in a second.

First, let me talk about the exact recipe we chose to use.  There’s a number of versions of this recipe online aimed at western cooks.  It’s not surprising, because (spoiler) this stew is REALLY GOOD.  So we started by reading those.

Unsurprisingly, nearly all of them call for peanut butter rather than palm nut cream, because it’s a much more readily available ingredient in North America.  We would likely have picked one of those until I ran across this simple comment in response to one of the more promising:

“That’s a lovely recipe but not moambe.”

To their credit, the blog authors (I’ll link the whole post below) respectfully entered a conversation with the commenter, who ended up sharing their full recipe for authentic moambé chicken made with palm nut cream.  And THAT’S the one we’re making today – one we literally transcribed from a comment thread.

We start the recipe by sweating some onions and garlic in red palm oil. (We haven’t gotten to the cream yet.)

Onions being sweated

Once those are translucent, we add some cumin, water, thyme, a scotch bonnet pepper, and the cream which, as it turns out, has the consistency of natural peanut butter.

Moambé going into the pot.

(Not the best picture, sorry.)  After the moambé has melted, the sauce is left to simmer for a LONG time. All of the timings in this recipe are somewhat vague, but 90 minutes seemed a good approximation.  At the end of that period, a thick layer of oil has separated, and is floating on the top of the sauce.

Oil separating from moambé sauce

The next bit was rather annoying – we had to skim off the oil without bringing too much of the very thick underlying sauce with it.  This oil was used to sear our chicken pieces on both sides.

Chicken pieces searing

Once they have a good color, they get thrown back into the pot of sauce, and left to simmer for as long as you can possibly stand it, while your apartment fills with the impossibly delicious smell of this stew.

Cooked stew

Note the happy little Scotch bonnet pepper floating around in there.

While we’re pretty comfortable with the authenticity of this dish, the next one is a bit more of a question mark.  Lots of African recipes call for chopped leaf vegetables. There’s always a question, however, as to which ones are the best choices.  In the past, we’ve used spinach. However, for this one, we wanted to try amaranth, which is also a staple vegetable in Africa.

However, we ended up with a version we bought at a Chinese supermarket, marked “Xian Cai”.  Is this the same amaranth that is grown in Africa?  Is it authentic to the DRC? I must confess, we really don’t know. The recipes calls for “wild spinach”, which the African grocer MIGHT have had in the freezer, but we decided we’d rather sacrifice certainty for taste.

But let’s get on with it.  We’re making a variant of a dish called “Fumbwa”, which would normally involve dried fish.  We varied it by leaving out the fish, but otherwise left it basically the same.

It’s a pretty simple preparation. First, you chop the leaves.  The Chinese amaranth we bought has pink streaked through the leaves, and is quite attractive:

Chinese amaranth

You can see why we decided to go with these rather than frozen spinach leaves!

The leaves are simmered in water with a bit more palm oil, scallions, garlic, tomatoes, and a stock cube.

Stew simmering.

It is then finished with either peanut butter or ground peanuts.  If peanut butter, you have to wait for it to melt, but ground peanuts just need to cook long enough to heat through.  Here’s the final product.

Finished amaranth stew

And finally, we made fufu. Again.

Fufu.  Again.

Fufu is an incredibly important subsistence food throughout Africa.  It’s hard to understate how critical it is for meeting basic caloric requirements for millions of people. Very few Congolese could afford to make the chicken stew we are making here on a regular basis – fufu is truly a critical part of the food ecosystem on the continent.

But man – am I terrible at making it appetizing.  We tried adding butter and salt to the cassava flour and water paste this time.  It didn’t seem to help.  As always, it functioned as a reasonably adequate way to move sauce from plate to face, but since we ARE privileged enough to have chicken available, we mostly stuck with that and the amaranth stew.

Here’s the final assembly:

DRC Full Meal

Doesn’t that look pretty? It’s not JUST about appearances, of course, but it doesn’t hurt that the colors on this plate are gorgeous.

And you know what?  It doesn’t just look good – it’s delicious! The chicken was fall-apart tender, and had absorbed the deliciously not-quite-peanut flavor of the moambé and the other seasonings.  And as tasty as the chicken was, the amaranth almost stole the show – the peanuts, tomatoes, and greens together made for a tart, salty, and crunchy combination that was just dynamite.  The one change I would make for next time would be to slice the Scotch bonnet, rather than leaving it whole, to try and kick the heat up another notch or two.  (It was great as it was, but it would ALSO be great spicier.)

This is definitely one of our favorite African national dishes so far, and we certainly hope DRC can find the stability and development it needs for more of the population there to be able to enjoy it on a regular basis.

Next up, we return to Europe to visit Denmark!

Recipes:
Moambé Chicken (This is the blog from which we copied the recipe out of the comments.  I’ve transcribed the version we used in a more traditional format below.)
Fumbwa (Congolese Spinach Stew)

Moambé Chicken
(Per “e” in the comments of the blog above)
2 large onions
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 tbs ground cumin
1 can tomato paste
handful of fresh thyme, tied with twine
800g can of Palm Nut Cream
2 cubes stock
1 hot pepper (optional)
2 lbs chicken

1. Sweat onions in palm oil with a good amount of salt at medium high in a heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven.
2. Once the onions are translucent, add garlic and cumin.  Cook until fragrant.
3. Add tomato paste and allow to darken
4. Lower heat, add thyme, entire can of Palm Nut Cream, stock cubes, and about 3/4 L water until cream is completely covered.
5. Cook, stirring, until the cream has melted.
6. Add water until the mixture has the consistency of brown soup.
7. Add hot pepper if desired. (Dan: consider slicing for maximum effect.)
8. Allow to come to boil and cook for ~45 minutes until thickened a bit.
9. Lower the heat, partially cover, and cook for a further 45 minutes, adding water as needed to prevent it becoming too thick. This would be a good time to take your chicken out of the fridge so it comes up to room temperature.
10. Apply a little salt to the chicken and cut breasts into large pieces. Remove skin if present.
11. The moambe should change smell somewhat, oil should be visible on top.  Be careful, as the hot oil can spatter, burn, and stain.
12. Carefully skim the oil from the sauce.
13. Using the oil, brown the chicken on all sides.
14. Taste the sauce for salt and pepper, then add the chicken.
15. Cook until breasts have fallen apart and other cuts are done. (ideally, simmer as long as possible here.)

International Meals – The Czech Republic

And so, we come to the end of the “C”s!  Amazingly, it has taken almost precisely a year of calendar time – Cambodia was February 9, 2020.  Of course, February 9, 2020 was  A BILLION YEARS AGO.  Remember Australian wildfires? Or, you know, other people?

Le sigh.

But we’re going out with a tasty meal, anyway.  We’ve both actually BEEN to the Czech Republic, which makes it only the third country on the list for which that is true. (The other two being Belgium and Canada; Leigh but not Dan has been to Austria.) If you would like to read about our exciting adventures in the land of Smetana and Pavlov, you can start here.  Our trip included a food tour, and we’d definitely recommend it to visitors to Prague once the apocalypse concludes.

The national dish of the Czech Republic is pečené vepřové s knedlíky a se zelím, or Roast Pork with Dumplings and Cabbage. We are NOT going to be using the Czech spellings for things more than once, because diacriticals are HARD, y’all.

So there’s three things here – dumplings, cabbage (in the form of saurkraut), and pork.  Let’s start with the dumplings, since they were the most work.  Right off the bat, we run into the only new-to-us ingredient this week: Instant Flour!

Instant Flour

Sold under the brand name “Wondra” in the US, this is apparently flour which has been pre-cooked and has a coarser texture than regular flour.  The Czech person who made the video we were following was insistent that all-purpose flour would NOT give the right texture for the dumplings.  And who are we to argue with a Czech person on the internet?

The interesting thing is that apparently this stuff is regularly available in just about any supermarket, and we just never noticed it, because we never needed it.

So using the instant flour, you make an otherwise standard yeast dough, and then leave it alone to rise.

Dumpling Dough

Once it’s risen, you divide it into three parts and shape them into cylinders:

Dumplings before baking.

Not super pretty, but then I never actually claimed we knew what we were doing.  And at any rate it doesn’t matter.  Because the next step for these dumplings is to be steamed, and they only JUST barely fit in our steamer.  Which means that AFTER steaming, and the concomitant volume gain, they were going to be shaped EXACTLY LIKE the steamer:

Steamed dumplings

However, while the appearance won’t win any prizes, the texture turned out just about perfect – just the right mix of chewy and bouncy.  You’ll see them sliced up down below.

Next up, sauerkraut!  We made another trip to Granville Market, not because it was necessarily the CLOSEST place to get sauerkraut, but because we like going to Granville Market.  We also bought some Czech salami that didn’t actually make it into the meal.

The Czech take on cabbage is actually quite different from a lot of other places.  We STARTED with a tub of pickled cabbage that we could very easily have just donked out on a plate and eaten as is.  We then added salt, caraway seeds, and a surprising amount of sugar.  This got cooked for a good 30 minutes or so.

Sauerkraut Cooking

While the sugar was soaking into the cabbage, in another pan we browned some onions in oil.  And the recipe is not kidding about browning – you cook them for a good 15-20 minutes.

Browned onions

One the onions are cooked, they get thickened with (regular) flour to make a roux, and that gets dumped back in with the cabbage.  The whole mixture is then cooked for a bit longer so it becomes a thick, sweet, cabbagy sauce.  Very different from the sharp kraut that gets put on hot dogs at the ballpark.

Finally, let’s talk pork.  It is a running joke between Leigh, I, and… well pretty much anyone who, you know, likes food, that any time a recipe calls for a single clove of garlic that there must be some mistake.  Surely they must mean a head of garlic, right?

Well, this recipe DOES call for a head of garlic.

Garlic

We do love us some garlic.  Maybe not PEELING an entire head of garlic, but it’s a small price to pay, right?  In addition to the garlic, the only other seasonings going into the pan with the pork are an onion, some salt, and caraway seeds. Cover with water, and you’re done with prep.  The pork is by far the simplest dish on the menu tonight.

Pork before cooking.

The only fussiness is that you have to flip the pork chunks a few times during cooking.  Which, honestly, is not that fussy.

And that’s it! Pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings!  This is ALSO the first country we’ve done since Belgium (and Canada, of course) where we’ve been easily able to run down to the neighborhood liquor store and pick up beer from the country in question. Although we did learn on our food tour that the Pilsner Urquel that gets exported is NOT really the same as what you get if you order it in the coutnry.

Still – ain’t that purdy?  Honestly, this plate should have had more cabbage, and it shortly DID.  This is not a meal for people who want carefully delineated zones of food on their plate.  This is a meal for slopping everything together, and trying to get some dumpling, pork, and cabbage in each bite.

And the cabbage really was the star of the show – the sweet, thick, saucy cabbage mortared the pork and dumplings into a whole that was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  The meal would definitely be one I would prepare for guests who I LIKED, and wanted to FEED, not necessarily impress with artsy presentation.

And – there was desert!

Kolaches are a traditional Czech pastry that consists of a puffy dough with a variety of possible fillings.  This was actually the fussiest of all the things we made – some versions of this recipe (not the one we used, of course) can require up to five separate rises! The dough itself is quite rich and reminiscent of challah, using milk, butter, and eggs. It’s also very soft.

Kolache Dough

After the dough has risen, you shape it into little balls, put them in a pie tin, and then let them rise again.

Dough balls before risingDough balls after rising

The holes in the “post rise” picture are not some weird artifact of the rise – we pushed those in on purpose.  Why did we do that?  Fillings! Tasty, tasty fillings!  There were a number of possibilities, but we went with three very traditional ones – sweetened cream cheese, apricot, and plum.

Kolache fillings

Fine, Czech pedants – we are aware that PRUNE, not PLUM is the traditional filling.  Close enough, and this plum jam (also purchased on our market trip) is amazing. A quick egg wash and bake, and this was the final result:

Finished Kolaches

And seriously – what is not to like here? Soft, chewy, pastry, and sweet gooey stuff in the middle.

Czech Republic – your food is tasty, your statuary is very weird, and we salute you for both.

A note on the recipes for this week – the recipes for everything but the Kolaches are extracted from videos on the website “czechcookbook.com”.  Since videos are really annoying to cook from, I transcribed them, and will include both the transcribed text and the original videos.

Next time, we start the (much shorter) list of “D”s with the Democratic Republic of the Congo!

Recipes:
Roast Pork, Dumplings, and Sauerkraut. (Video)
Czech Pork and Cabbage Text
Czech Dumplings Text

Kolache

 

International Meals – Cyprus

I guarantee we will NOT be maintaining an average pace of an international meal every 4 days for the entire year.  But it’s tasty while it lasts…

Today we head to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has had a long and checkered history. It has at various times been conquered by Alexander the Great, Cato the Younger, Richard the Lionheart, the Republic of Venice, and the Ottoman Empire. It has also been sold outright to the Knights Templar and leased to the British. The twentieth century history of the island is ugly.  The northern third has been occupied by Turkish troops since 1974, and Turkey is the only UN country which recognizes it as a separate state.

But you can’t eat politics, so what makes Cypriot food different than Greek or Turkish food?  In a word: halloumi. What is halloumi, you ask?

Haloumi Cheese

That label ain’t kidding, either – halloumi is indeed unique and delicious. It will turn up in two of our three dishes today, and there’s absolutely no reason we couldn’t have put it in the third one. A traditional preparation, as can be seen on the package, would be to grill slices of this, and it’s also frequently used in saganaki, where it is set on fire.

Wait, why didn’t we set this on fire?  That sounds AWESOME!

Anyway.

We’re making three dishes – a cheese filled pastry, a ground pork and pasta bake, and a side salad.  Another unquestionably Cypriot choice would have been a type of sausage called sheftalia, made with caul fat. Not finding it for sale in our local Mediterranean grocer, and not wanting to go down the road of making sausage from scratch, we opted to skip that one.

Let’s start with the salad.  Apparently the one unique ingredient that would make this an undoubtedly Cypriot salad, rather than just your basic Greek salad, would be caper leaves.  Couldn’t find those, so this is a Greek salad, Feta cheese and all.  This is where we could have tossed in halloumi if we wanted to, but we decided to opt for variety.  While there’s nothing particularly Cypriot about this in its current incarnation, it’s certainly something you could easily eat while you were there.

Greek salad

Moving on, our next ingredient was a cheese filled pastry called flaounes. According to the apparently Irish person in THIS video, neither Google translate nor he has the slightest idea how to pronounce it. According to the actual Cypriot person in this video, it’s pronounced “FLAU-neighs”.  But do watch the Irish guy, he’s funny.  He also points out that this pastry was a technical challenge in a Season 6 episode of the Great British Baking Show. More on that later. They are eaten at Easter by Orthodox Cypriots, and as a Ramadan fast breaker by Muslim Turkish Cypriots.

So how do you make these things? First off, you need to make your dough and give it time to rise. This is a yeast raised pastry, interestingly enough.  It’s a pretty standard dough – flour, water, salt, yeast, and olive oil for fat:

Dry ingredients for dough.

The recipe was a bit vague on quantities.  “Add enough water to make it firm.”  mmkay… Well, we all know variable hydration is a thing in baking recipes anyway, so we took our best guess. It ended up a bit too wet, and we had to add more flour when we were rolling it out to keep it from being a blobby sticky mess.

While the dough was rising, we made our cheese filling.  Traditional flaounes have a traditional mix of traditional cheeses in addition to traditional halloumi that we were NOT able to locate in Vancouver. Other alternatives that are suggested online are havarti, pecorino Romano, and cheddar.  Our recipe called for cheddar, so that’s what we did – grated with the Halloumi, a bit of flour and mint, some baking powder for leavening, and some eggs. Raisins are also SUPER common in these things, but we decided to make the perfectly acceptable raisinless version. (Yes, spell checker, I am sticking with “raisinless” as a word.  Go away.)

Unmixed cheese filling

This photo is obviously pre-mixing and pre-eggs. Once the dough had risen and the filling had cooled off in the fridge, it was time to assemble our pastries.  Another point of controversy, in addition to raisins or raisinless (now I’m just screwing with the spell checker on purpose), is the shape in which to fold them.  Triangular and square both seem to be a thing.  We made a few of each.

Unbaked Flaounes

And here’s what they looked like after a quick egg wash and a fifteen minute bake:

Cooked Flaounes

Aren’t those pretty?  And they were VERY tasty.  The dough ended up with the approximate consistency of a pretzel, which makes no sense, because we did none of the things you would do to achieve that consistency in an ACTUAL pretzel. But who cares?  We LIKE pretzels, and we LIKE cheese, and man oh man do we love flaounes.

On to the main dish, Makaronia tou Fournou. Literally, “Oven Baked Pasta,” it’s the Cypriot version of a Greek casserole called Pastitsio. Ground meat, pasta, lots and lots of mint, and a Bechamel sauce on top.  The Cypriot element comes from once again putting in lots of halloumi cheese.

This one’s a bit of a timing challenge, because ideally you want to have your meat, your pasta, and your Bechamel all done at about the same time. This also resulted in somewhat fewer PICTURES of this process.  But here’s all three pots going at once in all their glory:

Let’s talk about these one at a time.  Upper left is penne pasta. Salt, water, pasta. Bam. No more talking.

At right is the meat.  Ground pork, in this case, which means this ISN’T the version the Turkish Cypriot Muslims are making. In addition, the recipe calls for onions, cinnamon, a LOT of mint, black pepper, cumin, and white wine.  As I am writing this up, I see it ALSO calls for parsley.  Which we did buy.  Probably should have used that.  Oh well. Maybe I’ll make tabouli this week.

Meat for Cypriot pasta bake

Seriously – this uses a LOT of dried mint. Finally, there’s the sauce.  Bechamel is one of the classic French sauces – it’s a cheesy white sauce thickened with flour.  It can be insipid if you’re not careful.  But we’re using really GOOD cheese here.  No in process pictures, sadly, but the process is “stir continuously for fifteen minutes,” so between that and trying to time the meat and the pasta, we didn’t remember the document this one.  That’s OK – just imagine a pot filled with featureless white sauce and you’re there.

The final assembly is just like a lasagna – layers of pasta, meat, and cheese (more haloumi, of course) topped with a thick layer of sauce and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Unbaked pasta bake

And after 25 minutes in the oven, hellloooo beautiful!

Baked pasta bake

The instructions said to let it cool for… an hour? That can’t be right, we’re hungry NOW.  Well, let’s start with some salad and flaounes.

Salad and flaounes

Upon further consultation, the recipe said we COULD go ahead and eat our pasta sooner, it would just be a bit messy. That’s cool, we’re hungry.

Serving of pasta bake.

This was very good.  NOT a meal for the lactose intolerant, but with a nice Mediterranean spice palate of mint, cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg. And tasty, tasty cheese.

Since there were lots of leftovers, here’s a shot from the following evening’s dinner that shows what a slice of this stuff is supposed to look like if you actually let it set up properly.  For starters, it’s supposed to come in units of “slices” not “piles.”

Slice of pasta bake.

Cypriot food is pretty dang tasty, and we could definitely see making either of these dishes for other people in the future, once other people become a thing again.

A word on flaounes and The Great British Baking Show. A sad void in our pop-culture education was that neither of us had ever watched a single episode.  So, wanting to see what TV bakers would do with these things, we watched the episode in question.

A few observations:
1. GBBS is awesome, and we would like to watch more of it.
2. It is utterly unfair to judge someone for their pastry not looking right when the directions are SUPER VAGUE as to what is “right” and have no pictures.  I loved the show overall, but that part was REALLY mean, and it made me sad.

Next time, our final “C” country, the Czech Republic!

Recipes:
Makaronia Tou Fournou (Cypriot Pasta Bake)
Easter Flaounes
Cypriot Village Salad

International Meals – Cuba

It’s been less than a week, but it’s the holidays!  Lots of free time, lots of rain outside, and a pandemic still going on, so why not cook?  Today we head to Cuba, land of cigars and pig bays.  We will NOT, however, be making tobacco-infused pork.

Instead, it’ll be the national dish of Cuba, ropa vieja.  This literally means “old clothes,” and originated in the Spanish Canary Islands. There’s a whole depressing legend around the name and a dude eating his clothes, but it’s actually a delicious stew of shredded beef and tomatoes. (The shredded beef is said to resemble torn clothing.)

But let’s start with some bread.  Last week’s Croatian meal marked the first appearance of lard in this blog, and oddly enough, it reappears this week.  (Good thing, too – we’ve still got quite a bit left.)
Lard and flour

This recipe starts by melting the lard, and slowly, slowly mixing it with a blend of regular and bread flower.  But not as slowly as last week’s 30 minute mixing time for the nut roll!  Just regular slowly.  Once the dough has come together, you let it rise for an hour, roll it out, and then roll it into a long, baguette shaped loaf.

 

Cuban bread being made

After another rise, it goes in the oven and comes out… gorgeous.

Cuban bread

This loaf was incredibly soft, and super rich.  Lard may have to become a regular addition to our bread arsenal.  It made fantastic sandwiches the next day, too.

On to the main event!  The traditional cut of meat for ropa vieja in Cuba would be flank steak, but only because it shreds nicely.  Source after source pointed out that it’s actually a poor choice of meat for a long, slow braise, because it’s got very little fat.  Chuck and brisket are suggested as much better choices, and since brisket was somewhat less bonkers expensive, we went with that.

There are a million recipes for this online, and a million people with strong opinions that any given recipe is either excellent or terrible.  I went with one from Bon Appétit that seemed a happy medium, but we did make a few changes, which I’ll point out as they come up.

First the meat is given a nice sear on both sides.  (Our Dutch oven couldn’t quite handle the whole brisket, so we chopped it in half.)

Brisket searing

Sorry the picture’s a bit blurry.  I promise the actual meat was in much better focus.  We hadn’t gotten to the rum yet.

Once the meat is colored, you pull it out of the pot, and soften up some onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes with spices to make a base.  Our first change at this point was to replace the sweet paprika in the recipe with achiote, for two reasons.  One, it’s probably more authentic, and two, we didn’t HAVE any sweet paprika.  (See last week’s error in that regard with the cabbage rolls.)

Sofrito for ropa vieja

Once the sauce is ready to go, you tuck the beef back in for a nice long soak in a low oven. Like, three and a half hours long.  There are lots of recipes for doing this in a pressure cooker, and we’ll likely use one of those next time.

After an impossibly long wait, the stew is super aromatic, and the beef is ready to be shredded.

Ropa vieja after cooking.Shredding beef

Finally, the shredded beef is tossed back into the pot, along with white vinegar for finishing and some sliced olives.  I imagine some sort of citrus, like orange juice, would also be fine instead of vinegar here.

Finished ropa vieja

We departed from the recipe here by NOT adding cilantro, as it seemed to be universally scorned as a garnish by every Cuban person who commented on the recipes we looked at.

We also made a side dish and a drink to accompany our meal.  For our side, the obvious choice was Cuban style rice and beans.  The beans are cooked for almost as long as the meat, and topped at the end with a mix of sautéed onions, peppers, and spices.

Beans at start of cooking

Beans at the START of cooking. The water was NOT this color at the end!

Seasoning mix for the beans

And finally, I believe I mentioned rum?

“American Chopper” a few weeks ago, Jack Sparrow now.  We’re going to be a meme blog before you know it.

No.  No we are not.  However, we ARE going to make Batidos! One of the things I miss  about Michigan is a little Cuban restaurant in Ann Arbor, “Frita Batidos.” They have AMAZING burgers.  Eat there if you have a chance.  But the SECOND part of their name refers to a traditional Cuban drink made with milk, ice, and fruit.  And possibly rum.

While almost any kind of fruit is possible, we decided to go with an inexplicably Pixar-branded pineapple.

What does Nemo have to do with pineapples?

Our blender decided to die halfway through making these, but that’s OK, because we had also forgotten to refill the ice cube trays, so there wasn’t much ice for the food processor to deal with.  Final product, after the obligatory splash of rum:

Batido!

And here’s our full tropical Cuban meal, in the middle of our rainy Vancouver December:

Cuban meal

Doesn’t that look amazing?  It totally was.  Leftovers for days, too.  The beef was sour and tangy and delicious, the beans were rich and flavorful, and the soft bread was perfect for soaking everything up.

Also, there was rum.

Next time, it’s another island – Cyprus!

Recipes:
Ropa Vieja
Pan Cubano (Cuban Bread)
Cuban Beans
Batidos