food & drink

Here’s The Story About Ropa Vieja, The Most Delicious And Heavenly Food To Ever Come Out Of Latin America

There is nothing that is more quintessential to Cuban culture than ropa vieja. The dish is the national dish of Cuba and every Cuban family has their own recipe for this famous and popular meal. It can be served with rice and beans or rice and tostones or, really, anything because it is divine.

As part of the La Cocina series at we are mitú, Dariany Santana, the host of What’s Good In Your Hood, called her mom to learn how to make ropa vieja. It’s a sweet segment since Mother’s Day is right around the corner and, like all of us who moved away from home, Santana wants a little bit of home on Mother’s Day.

One of the most commonly told stories about ropa vieja is one of religion and miracle. The story goes that once upon a time in Spain, a poor man was struggling to feed his family. At the end of his rope, the man took his old clothes and put them in a pot with water and boiled the clothes. As the clothing cooked, the man prayed over the pot for food to sustain his family. What happened next is a miracle. The poor man opened the pot and where his clothes and water once were was a delicious and hearty meat stew. Ropa vieja translates to old clothes so the legend persists today about the most famous dish to call Cuba home.

The dish was created in Spain and historically the dish came to Cuba by way of Spanish conquistadors. More specifically, ropa vieja comes from the Canary Islands. When Spanish conquistadors started to settle in Latin America, they brought their favorite foods and items with them to feel at home far away from home.

Ever since ropa vieja became the national dish of Cuban, other variations have shown up throughout the Caribbean islands. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic both have their own version of ropa vieja. The differences in the variations are slight but they include ingredients that are most common for those islands.

The dish lends itself nicely to a vegan variation. Since it is shredded beef, you can replace the meat with jack fruit. The pods around the seeds perfectly imitate the shredded fibers of flank steak. When you are cooking the jack fruit, you can use different cooking tools and lesser cooking time to achieve the same texture and consistency. Instead of adding the jack fruit to the sofrito that is cooking, you can keep them separate and let the jack fruit start to fall apart then top the jack fruit with the sofrito when you are plating it.

For any Cuban, the taste, smell, and sound of this dish is something that immediate transports them to their childhood. It is a way for Cubans to share the most intimate and important piece of their culture with those they love and care for. It is also a way for Cubans to feel connected to their family even if they are living thousands of miles away. For those who fled the island, it is a way to stay connected with a home they were forced to flee.

Ingredients:

Beef:

  • 2 pounds of flank steak
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • salt to taste

Sofrito:

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 6 sweet peppers of different colors, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 2 bay leafs
  • 1 package of achiote powder
  • 2 cups of olives, cut in half, and some of the juice
  • 1/2 cup cooking wine
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil

Directions:

Ropa Vieja:

  • Cut flank steak into cubes that are an inch and a half.
  • Add steak, onion, garlic cloves, cilantro, green bell pepper, cumin, and salt in a  pressure cooker.
  • Add enough water to just cover the steak and cook for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, add garlic, onions, peppers, green pepper, onion, cumin, cilantro, bay leaf, and tomato sauce.
  • Simmer the sauce over the gentle heat until it starts to reduce by about a quarter and has a thick, soupy consistency.
  • Making sure the pressure cooker no longer has any pressure, remove the beef from the pressure cooker and add it to the sofrito.
  • Add the olives and cooking wine and cook for a few more minutes until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
  • Using two forks, shred the beef int eh sofrito and mix well so everything is combined.
  • Serve hot with a side of white rice and black beans.

READ: Here’s How Cuba’s Tumultuous History Forced A Cuban Diaspora That Changed The World

Turns Out Pupusas And Hundreds Of Other Latin American Dishes Are Strongly Rooted In Colonization

Food & Drink

Turns Out Pupusas And Hundreds Of Other Latin American Dishes Are Strongly Rooted In Colonization

Amigos, this is not the article to read if you’re feeling hungry. Or, maybe it is – if you’re up for a challenge! Just don’t blame your rumbling stomach on us. We’ve put together a quick primer on how our favorite foods from Latin America came about.

1. Tacos

Instagram / @birrieria_gomez

When you’re eating a taco, you’re partaking in not just any old history – you’re experiencing a piece of ancient history. Why? Because the humble taco predates the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico! Apparently, anthropologists have found evidence that the indigenous people living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate tacos with a filling made of small fish. In fact, Hernán Cortés enjoyed tacos so much that he arranged them for his captains to try in Coyoacán.

2. Burritos

Instagram / @eatandstructure

Okay, so we may not know the story behind how the modern burrito came about. But, there’s plenty that points to the Mesoamerican people being the inventors of the original burrito. They were in the habit of wrapping corn tortillas around fillings made of chili peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, and avocados way back in 10,000 B.C. And yet, somehow the burrito, in all its delicious goodness, made its way through time to first appear on an American restaurant menu during the 1930s.

3. Churros

Instagram / @andorralovers

If there’s anything we can say about churros, it’s that they’ve been around for hundreds of years. Where they got their start from, though, is shrouded in mystery. One theory suggests that they made their way to Europe thanks to the Portuguese messing with a Chinese recipe for youtiao – the Chinese version of a churro. Another theory says that Spanish shepherds used to make them while they were in the mountains since they are so easy to make and fry in an open fire.

4. Cuban Sandwiches

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Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, travel between Cuba and Florida was a lot easier than what it is now – especially from Key West and Tampa. It was pretty common for Cubans to sail back and forth for work, family visits, and even holidays. It is said that the Cuban sandwich was invented around this time since it was a pretty common lunch food for the workers in Cuban cigar factories and sugar mills.

5. Ropa vieja

Instagram / @cocina_tradicional_autentica

The recipe for ropa vieja is at least 500 years old, which has given us plenty of time to perfect it. It originated with the Jewish population living on the Iberian peninsula in Spain. As the Sabbath was a time for prayer and reflection, not cooking, the Jewish people would slow-cook a delectable stew the night before. Clearly, the dish was so good that the Spanish brought the recipe with them when they migrated to Latin America, where it has been a staple ever since.

6. Mangú

Instagram / @tuplatord

It is thought that mangú originated in the Congo region in Africa, where it was common to eat boiled mashed plantains. From there, it is likely that the recipe made its way across the seas to Latin America during the times of slave trading. Apparently, the name comes from something along the lines of “mangusi”, referring to pretty much any root vegetable that was boiled and mashed.

7. Tostones

Instagram / @seisvecinos

The recipe for tostones is so old that most have forgotten its origins. But, most believe that it’s from the Dominican Republic since it’s the only place that has kept the original dish’s name. Plus, there are some pretty similar recipes in the area: think along the lines of mofongo, arañitas, alcapurria and tostones de pana.

8. Pupusas

Instagram / @lieats

The earliest evidence of pupusas have been found in the ruins of Joya de Cerén in El Salvador – for those of you that need to brush up on your history, that’s basically El Salvador’s Pompeii. Believe it or not, cooking tools for papusas were preserved among the ashes of the centuries-old ruins! It’s estimated that papusas were eaten around 2000 years ago by the Pipil tribes of the region.

9. Brigadeiro

Instagram / @brigadeiroebolonopote

Brigadeiro was invented in 1945, just after the end of World War II. Brazil had entered the campaign season for its presidential elections, and one candidate, the gorgeous Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, was enormously popular among women. His most devoted followers decided to take his election campaign into their own hands and made candy to be sold in his name. Considering how scarce foodstuffs were after the war, they got creative, mixing condensed milk with butter and chocolate to create the recipe we know and love today. It turns out brigadeiro survived a lot longer than the Brigadier’s political career – in the end, he didn’t even get elected.

10. Empanadas

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It is thought that empanadas were originally created in Galicia, which is to the northwest of Spain. Apparently, the recipe was recorded in the Libre del Coch by Robert de Nola in 1520 – the first cookbook that was printed in the Catalan language. Chances are it was eaten by the King of Naples, Ferdinand I since Robert de Nola served as his cook. The original recipe mentions empanadas filled with seafood.

11. Churrasco

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Even though churrasco is known for being a Brazilian cuisine, apparently it got its popularity in the region after Portuguese settlers imported it in the 1700s. Brazilian cowboys, or gaúchos, were known for chowing down on churrasco after a hard day herding cattle on the ranches. The traditional method of preparing churrasco would see gaúchos start by digging large fire pits. They would then wait around the fire for the wood to turn to embers before skewering the meat.

12. Chipá

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Chipá has been around since human settlements developed in the Guarani region, over a thousand years ago, meaning that it’s been a staple in Paraguay, Northeastern Argentina, Southeastern Bolivia, and Southwestern Brazil for a long, long time. Back in the day, the original recipe for chipá saw it prepared with simply cassava starch and water. Colonization and the arrival Jesuit missionaries saw the introduction of cattle, chickens and other livestock to the area, which then resulted in more ingredients being added to the original recipe. Over time, this transformed chipá into the dish we eat today.

13. Mole

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Mole has a bit of a contentious history. Why? Because there are two states in Mexico that claim to be the proud inventory of mole: Puebla and Oaxaca. And, sure, the best-known mole comes from both of those areas, so it’s hard to say which state has the better claim to the title. While the true origins of mole may never be known, what we do know is that the first recipes for mole appeared after the Mexican War of Independence in 1810.

14. Ceviche

Instagram / @chef.timour

It’s been thought that ceviche originated in a few different places around the world – from Peru to the Philippines, to Ecuador, and even the Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, since so many civilizations seemed to enjoy some variation of the recipe. That being said, most historians agree that the beginnings of ceviche as we know it today was brought to Peru by the Spanish during colonial times.

So which Latin American dish is your favorite from our list? Tell us about it on Twitter – you can find it by clicking on the logo at the top of the page.

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