Guide to Cuban Cuisine: A Colorful and Vibrant Food Scene

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Cuba, a vibrant Caribbean nation, is also home to incredible cuisine. Just a hundred miles from Florida, Cuban cuisine is relatively under-represented in the American culinary landscape. One factor could be America’s strained relationship with Cuba, a symptom of decades of Cold War-era geopolitics.

In recent years, Cuba has undergone enormous changes both cultural and economic, much of which has a direct impact on food culture. A cookbook that showcases this evolving culinary scene is A taste of Cuba. Written by Cynthia Carris Alonso, this cookbook seeks not only to highlight the depth of Cuban cuisine, but also to “share the spirit of the Cuban people through my book”.

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The essentials of Cuban cuisine

Cuban cuisine is a dynamic mix of Spanish, French, African and Taino (indigenous peoples of the Caribbean) influences. As a Caribbean nation, Cuba shares similar ingredients with its island neighbors, namely pork, rice, beans, and tropical products like bananas and avocados. Pork is by far the most popular meat in Cuba, flavoring everything from stews to roasts. With sugar being a major Cuban culture, desserts tend to lean more towards sweetness, often with European influences. For example, some popular desserts include Spanish custard custard and French chocolate mousse.

However, Cuban cuisine also has its own distinctive style. Like most Caribbean countries, beans and rice are staple foods. Only in Cuba, black beans are preferred over kidney beans. Many Cuban dishes will feature the trio of onion, garlic and cumin seasonings, giving the food a distinctive flavor. Cuban coffee, an espresso-type drink made in a ‘cafeteria‘(a small coffee maker on the stove), is iconic and considered by many to be the best in the region. Cuban cuisine can also vary depending on the region. In the northern part of the island, the Spanish influence is predominant, as evidenced by dishes like paella. In comparison, the southern part of the island presents a combination of French and tropical influences.

Paladares, Cuba’s private restaurants

Mini cheeseburgers from El Cocinero in Cuba.
Mini cheeseburgers from El Cocinero in Cuba.

All the foods presented in A taste of Cuba are paladares. Named after the word paladar (which means “palace” in Spanish), these unique Cuban private restaurants are a recent invention, having only been legal since 1993, when the Cuban government allowed a limited number of freelance jobs. There were strict rules at these locations – 12 seats maximum with a minimum of two employees who must be family members of the owner. In 2011, the restrictions were relaxed, leading to a paladare boom.

“At the end of the 1990s there were only a few ‘paladares’, while a few years ago the number had grown to thousands of paladares across the country, each with its own unique setting. , the menu, the history, the style and technique, ”said Alonso.

The Cuban-American connection

For decades, a laconic relationship has existed between Cuba and America. Since the Cuban Communist Revolution in 1959, America’s relationship with Cuba has been dictated by its Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. Under the Obama administration, relations between the two nations improved for the first time in decades.

Because of the Cuban Revolution, many Cubans also came to America, especially Florida. This has led to an interesting culinary dynamic within the Cuban diaspora community. While many recipes from the Cuban-American community are similar to the original versions, there are some differences. Food in Cuba is less processed and tastes more natural due to the lack of chemicals and preservatives. To reproduce these authentic Cuban recipes in America, adaptations were necessary.

“This is why it was so crucial that my co-author and test chef, Valerie Feigen, not only translated the recipes that Cuban chefs gave us from Spanish into English, but she also had to translate the recipes. quantities of ingredients, and at the same time find substitutes with similar tastes. Alonso said.

Tres Leche Chocolat (Dark chocolate cake with three milks)

Cake with three milk chocolates from La Guaridain Cuba.

(By La Guarida Paladar From A Taste Of Cuba.)

For the chocolate sponge cake:

Ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs
  • .5 cup sugar
  • .5 cup flour, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

For the three-milk sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of powdered milk, or one 14 oz can of evaporated milk
  • 1 cup of sweetened condensed milk
  • .5 cup heavy cream
  • .25 cup cocoa powder

For the chocolate mousse

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • .5 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon of triple sec, Cointreau or other liqueur
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 half and half cup

Method:

  1. To make the sponge cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 6-cup cupcake pan or an 8-inch square pan.
  2. Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff.
  3. In another bowl, combine the sugar and egg yolks and beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Very delicately fold in the flour and cocoa powder. Do not beat or stir vigorously. Gently fold the egg yolks and chocolate mixture into the firm egg whites until just combined.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 12 minutes in the cupcake pan or about 15 minutes in the square pan, until the cakes are cooked through and a knife or toothpick stuck in the pan. center comes out clean.
  5. Turn out the cakes by running a knife down the sides. Leave to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the cakes and let cool completely on a wire rack. These cakes can be stored for up to two days at room temperature in an airtight container.
  6. To make the three-milk sauce, combine all the ingredients in a blender and mix well. Filter and reserve. The mixture can be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to two days.
  7. To make the chocolate mousse, microwave the chocolate, sugar and butter in a glass bowl for 3 minutes, stopping to stir the mixture every minute.
  8. Remove from microwave and beat with a hand mixer for 2 minutes, until the sugar is completely dissolved, then add the liqueur.
  9. Slowly add the yolks, one teaspoon at a time, to the hot chocolate mixture, making sure to beat the mixture on medium speed while adding to prevent the eggs from curdling. Continue to beat while slowly adding half and half. Refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.
  10. To assemble the cakes, place each cupcake-sized sponge cake in an individually sized serving bowl or dessert plate. If the cake was baked in an 8-inch square pan, cut the cake into 6 pieces and place it on a dessert plate. Pour the chocolate sauce over the cakes to soak them. Pour the chocolate mousse into a pastry bag and form a large rosette of mousse on top of each cake using a flower tip. Use immediately.

Read more: Best Dessert Recipes

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