Sabor! Cuban Cuisine with a Flair

Sabor! or flavor, in Spanish is a concept that encompasses so much more than food. You can cook with sabor, speak with sabor, and dance with sabor, and in Cuba, sabor is both a state of mind and a way of life. Spicy, hot, and delectable, ¡Sabor! provides an intimate look at the cuisine of Cuba, a culture that embraces food with the same enthusiasm it has for life.

Author Ana Quincoces Rodriguez tells the story of Cuban cuisine with feisty flair, weaving the lively and spirited traditions of her family with classic dishes from the island of Cuba. Recipes are approachable enough for novice cooks but bound to inspire seasoned professionals, illustrated with gorgeous full-color photos throughout. Ana Quincoces Rodriguez grew up in a Cuban household in sunny Miami, Florida, where she was routinely conscripted to help her mother in the kitchen, which led to her passion for the art of cooking. Listen to the interview here.
Recipes from ¡SABOR!
Empanadas de Chorizo Chorizo Turnovers
Many Cuban bakeries in Miami bake empanadas, which are small pastries that enclose with sweet or savory fillings. While the commercially made empanadas are delicious, they don’t compare to these homemade treats. First of all, these empanadas are — you guessed it — fried. Second, this filling is a combination of chorizo and sweet ham, providing a delicate flavor balance. I’ve also given you two options for making them with ground beef or with guava and cream cheese, for a sweet treat. I serve these chorizo empanadas with a creamy picante dipping sauce that complements them perfectly. I invented this recipe many years ago, in an effort to find a nice appetizer to serve with mojitos and beer. I have been famous for them ever since. In fact, I cannot seem to fry them fast enough, and inevitably people burn their tongues trying to eat the empanadas before they have had a chance to cool. You can prepare the stuffing for empanadas well in advance and freeze or refrigerate them until you’re ready to proceed with the recipe.
This recipe calls for frozen turnover pastry disks (discos para empanadas), which are available at most major grocery stores in the Hispanic frozen food section (Goya makes some).
Makes 20 medium or 40 appetizer-sized empanadas
Empanadas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup vino seco (dry white cooking wine)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 pound ground Spanish chorizo sausage
1/2 pound ground sweet ham
Salt
20 discos para empanadas (frozen turnover pastry disks), thawed and kept in the refrigerator
Canola oil, for shallow frying
Sauce
1 cup thick, refrigerated ranch dressing (I like Marie’s)
1 to 2 tablespoons hot sauce (like Tabasco)
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
To make the empanadas, heat the oil in a shallow pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onion, and bell pepper, and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until soft. Add the tomato sauce, vino seco, and pepper, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chorizo and ham and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Taste and add salt, if necessary. Remove one package of the pastry disks from the refrigerator. (Always leave the ones you aren’t working with in the refrigerator. They are easier to work with if they are firm.) Working on a lightly floured surface, separate the disks. If you are making appetizer-sized empanadas, cut each disk in half, creating two semicircles. If you are making the larger empanadas, leave the disks whole. Place 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each half disk or 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons in the center of each whole disk. Fold each half disk to make a small triangle or each whole disk to make a semicircle. Using the tines of a fork, press around the edges to seal. If you do not plan to fry the empanadas immediately, covered them with a damp towel or place them in an airtight container and refrigerate them for up to 5 days. Heat the oil in a deep pan to 350°F over medium heat. If you do not own an oil thermometer, dip the corner of one of the empanadas in the oil to check if it is hot enough. The oil should bubble around the dough. Add the empanadas, about 4 to 5 at a time, to the oil and fry them for 3 to 4 minutes, turning them once, until they are golden brown.
Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and continue frying the rest of the empanadas. To make the dipping sauce, combine the ranch dressing and hot sauce in a bowl and garnish with the cilantro. Serve in a small bowl alongside the hot empanadas. Empanadas de Carne (Ground Beef Empanadas): Fill your empanadas with picadillo (page 144), omitting the potatoes. You can also use leftover picadillo for this. Empanadas de Guayaba y Queso (Guava and Cream Cheese Empanadas): Fill the empanadas with 1-inch cubes of both guava paste and cream cheese. Make sure you use the full-fat cream cheese that comes in a bar.
Platanos Tentación Sweet Plantain Casserole
Any recipe with a name that includes the word tentación (temptation) in it, and is made with butter, rum, and brown sugar must be made immediately, no questions asked. So get yourself to the grocery store at once! This divinely rich plantain casserole has even replaced (sacrilege!) the sweet potato casserole at our Thanksgiving table for several years now. It is that good! Make sure you use extremely ripe plantains in this recipe—the skins should be black and the flesh should feel mushy when pressed.
Serves 4 to 6
3 very ripe (black) plantains
4 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Peel the plantains and cut them diagonally into 2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the plantain slices in a single layer along the bottom of the prepared pan. Set aside. Heat the butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Reduce the heat to low, then add the rum, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Stir well and pour evenly over the plantains. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, remove the foil, and flip the plantain slices over. Cover the dish with foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes to brown the top. Serve immediately.
Bistec de Palomilla Minute Steak
This is the quintessential Cuban beef dish. It is served—usually with white rice and Platanitos Maduros (Fried Sweet Plantains) (page 94) or French fries and garnished with raw onions and parsleyat every Cuban restaurant, cafeteria, and hole-in-the-wall eatery. Typically, the cuts of beef used are a quarter-inch-thin top round or sirloin steaks, although you could start with a thicker cut of beef and just pound it thin with a meat mallet before cooking.
Serves 4
1/4 cup sour orange juice, or a mixture of equal parts lime juice and orange juice
1 garlic clove, crushed4 (6- to 8-ounce) sirloin or top round steaks, cut or pounded to 1/4-inch-thick
Garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
Pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Arroz Blanco (White Rice) (page 82), for serving
Platanitos Maduros (Fried Sweet Plantains) (page 94), for serving
Combine the orange juice and garlic in a small bowl. Arrange the steaks in a shallow, nonreactive dish and pour the orange juice mixture over them. Marinate the steaks at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes — no longer or they will turn an unappealing grayish hue. Also, because the steaks are so thin, they won’t need any longer for the tanginess of the sour orange to penetrate them. Discard the marinade and season the steaks with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a cast iron pan until the oil is almost smoking. Carefully fry the steaks, one at a time, for about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer the cooked steak to a plate and continue with the remaining steaks, letting the pan return to a high temperature after each steak. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan before frying the third and fourth steak. Combine the onion, parsley, lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Garnish each steak with the onion parsley mixture, and serve with white rice and Tostones (Fried Green Plantains).
Recipes from ¡SABOR! A PASSION FOR CUBAN CUISINE by Ana Quincoces Rodriguez (Running Press, November 2008, Hardcover Original/$29.95)
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