Ropa Vieja

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As we’ve mentioned a million times, we use this blog as a vehicle to get us to branch out and try different dishes we wouldn’t have otherwise thought to make. I was browsing our recent creations recently and was struck by the thought that we’ve had a little bit of a geographic bias. Our branching out has ventured into the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa quite a bit… not surprising, given that we both really love the food and flavors of that region. But maybe we’re inadvertently limiting the scope of our branching…? I don’t know why, but after coming to this realization, I immediately settled on Cuban food for our next adventure.

After drooling over pictures of Cuban sandwiches for a little while, I landed on a recipe for Ropa Vieja, which many claim as the national dish of Cuba. If you speak Spanish, you may note that “ropa vieja” translates to “old clothes,” which is not the most appetizing name I can think of personally, but is evocative of the legend behind the dish. The story goes that an impoverished old man had family coming over for dinner. He had nothing to serve them, so he shredded and stewed some old clothes. After praying over his creation and cooking with so much love for his family, he found that he had a delicious stew to serve, though the shreds of meat still resembled his old clothes. As best my internet sleuthing can determine, the recipe came to Cuba and the greater Caribbean via Spanish settlers, with its roots hundreds of years ago in Spanish Sephardic Jewish cuisine and their home in the Canary Islands. Tweaks occurred in the ensuing years, and this dish is considered to be quintessentially Caribbean and Cuban.

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Ropa vieja is traditional served in Cuba with rice and black beans, so of course we had to make some Cuban black beans as well! This quick version uses canned beans, so they’re super easy to throw together. And its easy to see why the Cuban serve them in combination… delicious! After serving the ropa vieja on top of the rice, with the beans on the side, we realized that it was even better all stirred together! So go ahead and make a big messy plate – this dish isn’t on your table for its looks, that’s for sure!

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Ropa Vieja

(Adapted from Bon Appetit)
Ingredients: 
  • ~ 1 1/2 lb flank steak, brisket, or chuck roast (the chuck roast will cook the fastest)
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • Salt & fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 medium tomatoes, pureed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup sliced green Spanish olives
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Cilantro, for garnish
Instructions: 
  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Season the beef on both sides with salt & pepper. Once warmed, sear the beef on all sides briefly (~3-4 minutes). Remove to the side.
  2. Add the onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Stir to coat with remaining oil and again season with salt & some fresh ground black pepper. Cook until soft and fragrant, approximately 10 minutes.
  3. Deglaze the dish with the wine. Stir in the spices and brown sugar.
  4. Return the beef to the dish, along with the pureed tomatoes. Nestle the bay leaves into the liquid. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Braise the beef for 2 1/2 – 3 hours. You want to see a slight simmer if you peek under the lid.
  5. Uncover, skim off any fat on the top, and raise the heat so the liquid is simmering fairly vigorously. Shred the beef between two forks.
  6. Stir in the olives and vinegar. Cook at the simmer for just an additional 15 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed – we added a fair bit.
  7. Serve with rice and black beans, with a little cilantro on top.
Serves 4-6
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Tangy Moroccan Meatballs

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As a newbie blogger, I like to think I’m following all of the blogging etiquette rules out there. (Although honestly, I have no idea… I could be committing some blogger faux pas with every post for all I know… someone give us a heads up!) But one thing I do know – because it’s common sense for one – is that you don’t just copy and paste someone else’s content and share it verbatim as your own. Now, if you’ve read our blog prior to today, you’ll notice that we share a healthy mix of personal creations and recipes that originated with others. When we’re using someone else’s recipe, before sharing it on here, we take care to tweak it a bit to our personal and non-copyright-infringing tastes AND to share the recipe in our own words. What does this have to do with anything? Well, the original inspiration for tonight’s dish was a pin I found on Pinterest. It had a gorgeous picture of meatballs in a tagine and the recipe sounded delicious! As I was getting ready to work on the dish for tonight, I found this recipe from the BBC’s Good Food site – it is WORD FOR WORD the exact same as the blog post I originally saved. Ugh! 😡 Maybe it shouldn’t bother me so much, but I like following the rules. And then when I went back and looked at my pin, it appears that the picture in the pin is stolen as well! Double ugh! 😡😡 So I deleted my pin, and we’ll credit the real inspiration instead 😘 Thanks Good Food!

Anyways, back to the recipe! We love meatballs around here! One of these days I’ll share the meatballs I grew up on – very different from these and just about any others I’ve ever had. [Check out our other Bon Appetit Baby meatballs – from our Sultan Selim Kofte & Syrian Mini Meatballs (Dawood Basha) to our Thai Turkey Meatballs!] Tonight’s recipe caught my eye because of the unique (to me at least) ingredients – the lemon and the olives! I’m glad it did, because this recipe is one of my new favorites! It’s slightly spicy, but just beautifully bright and tangy from those olives and lemon. Fancy chefs on TV always talk about balance in dishes, and while I don’t always know how to achieve balance, this recipe definitely has it! You’ve got spice and tang and earthiness and just the slightest hint of sweetness. I think this is why I gravitate towards Middle Eastern/North African dishes – they never just hit one note – they’re always multi-faceted. Whatever you call it, these meatballs are a treat! I ate them over pearl couscous (highly recommend), while Selim just ate them plain and was pretty darn happy! I can also see them being delicious with some fresh baked flatbread. Maybe next time? Because there definitely will be a next time for these!

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Tangy Moroccan Meatballs

(Adapted from BBC Good Food)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped – divided
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1 large lemon (zested & juiced)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • Generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef stock (or lamb if you have access to it)
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, halved
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, roughly torn
Instructions: 
  1. In a large bowl, combine ~ half of the chopped onion, lamb, lemon zest, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and parsley. Using your hands, form small meatballs – roughly the size of a ping-pong ball. Set them aside.
  2. Now, heat the oil in a tagine if you’re cooler than us and have one, or a small dutch oven if you’re not.
  3. Add the remaining onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook for just 2-3 minutes until starting to soften and become fragrant. Top with the saffron and cook just another additional minute.
  4. Add the juice from the lemon, cayenne, tomato paste, stock, and olives and bring to a simmer.
  5. Once the liquid has reached that simmer, lower the heat and gently add the meatballs. Cover and cook on low for 25 minutes. Halfway through, flip the meatballs over.
  6. Remove the lid and raise the heat back to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Toss in the cilantro right before serving.
  7. Serve with couscous or rice.
Serves 4.

Fish Cakes with Feta & Olives

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Not going to lie to y’all. I have no idea what kind of fish I used to make this dish. I was trying to eat through some of our freezer foods and pulled this out. It’s tilapia, maybe? So we’ll just suggest you use any white fish of your choosing. This was another of those recipes that I threw together out of the refrigerator (and freezer) ingredients and ended up pretty happy with. The cakes are just a bit crisp on the outside and nice and moist on the inside. The flavors work well together I think. I ended up topping mine with a little bit of hummus; Selim added a dash of hot sauce. If I’d had some, I would spread some tzatziki on top of mine – that would’ve been perfect!

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Fish Cakes with Feta & Olives

Ingredients:
  • 10oz white fish
  • 4oz feta, crumbled
  • 10 kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1 cup cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6-8 turns fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Slide the fish into the pot, lower heat, and cover. Allow fish to poach for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove fish and pat dry.
  4. Break up the fish in a large bowl.
  5. Stir in all of the rest of the ingredients.
  6. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.
  7. With your hands, scoop up a full handful of the fish mixture. Form into a ball between your hands. Place on the cookie sheet, and press down lightly with the heel of your hand to create the patty.
  8. Repeat step 7 for each patty.
  9. Bake for a total of 30 minutes. Flip halfway through, so each side cooks for 15 minutes.
Makes 6 patties.

Simple Olive Couscous

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This side dish has a great flavor that belies its simplicity and ease of cooking. I could eat this as a meal (I really love couscous), but it’s perfect as a side dish with pretty much any dish with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or North African flavors. I made it tonight with these braised chicken thighs!

Simple Olive Couscous

Ingredients: 
  • 2/3 cup pearl couscous
  • 1 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 8 kalamata olives, chopped
  • 2 tbsp juice from olive jar, divided
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Place the couscous, chicken stock, and 1 tbsp of olive juice to a small pot. Bring to a boil.
  2. Lower heat to a light simmer. Cover and cook for ~12 minutes. (Cooking times and liquid amounts may vary by brand – check your cooking instructions.)
  3. At the very end, add the olives and other tablespoon of olive juice to the pot. Stir well and re-cover.
  4. Once all the liquid is absorbed, top with a bit of fresh ground black pepper before serving. See, simple!
Serves 2-3.

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