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Sunday, Mar 26, 2017
Dining

Cookbook shows off modern Cuban cuisine

For years, customers would come into Raquel Rabade Roque's Downtown Book Center in Miami and ask if she stocked cookbooks written by Nitza Villapol. Before she emigrated to the United States in 1965 at age 11, Roque watched Villapol on TV every night while growing up in post-revolution Cuba. Considered the island nation's equivalent to Julia Child, Villapol taught people how to cook according to communist food restrictions. Her "Cocina al Minuto" is considered the bible of Cuban cooking. While running her family's Miami book store, Roque worried that second- and third-generation Cuban-Americans, many of whom aren't Spanish speakers, would lose their link to the traditional flavors and techniques she learned from watching her mother and aunts in the kitchen, "The recipes were not recorded," she said. "We were about to lose them if someone didn't sit down and record them."
So she went to family and friends, pestered their moms and grandmothers, and then collected their recipes in her own book, "The Cuban Kitchen: 500 Simple, Stylish and Flavorful Recipes Celebrating the Caribbean's Best Cuisine" (Knopf, $20). The book is an expanded version of "Cocina Cubana: 350 Recetas Criollas," the Spanish-language cookbook Roque published in 2007. Along the way, she discovered during research how much Cuban cuisine had changed and assimilated, and how much remained untouched. True to their glamorous city, she found Miami chefs were taking Caribbean ingredients in new directions with exciting flavor combinations and plating. Food trucks as far away as Los Angeles were taking the cuisine on the road. She even found a restaurant in Denver, Colo., called Cuba Cuba offering vaca frita, picadillo and mahi mahi glazed with citrus and sugarcane. New Cuban cuisine also looks for lighter ways of cooking and more vegetables, she said. Cooking with lard and vegetable oils is no longer in style. But everywhere she researched, the staples of the Cuban menu held true: the rice, the beans, the palomilla steak, the ropa vieja. "The typical, traditional dishes have stayed the same and are in almost every restaurant whether it is in Miami, Tampa or New Jersey," she said. Although the Cuban food in Tampa and Miami are similar, Roque found differences in the communities. Tampa's Cuban community has assimilated into its surrounding cultures, while Miami's has stayed relatively closed. That shows up in Tampa's Cuban restaurants, which are more open to ingredients and styles from other countries. To encourage more inclusion and combat the diabetes exploding in the Hispanic community, Roque took traditional dishes and converted them for lighter cooking. "I actually know vegan Cuban people, which is really funny," she said. "I didn't want someone in Rhode Island to say, 'I'm vegetarian and there are no recipes for me in this book." Along with mixing old and new, she dedicates chapters to topics such as desserts, plantains and Cuban baby food, which was inspired by a babysitter who made tropical purees for Roque's three children. As much as the cuisine has evolved in the United States, Roque said she's curious about how relaxed travel restrictions between Cuba and the mainland by the Obama Administration will affect the food culture. She suspects Cubans will be amazed by variations from America and that visiting Cubans-Americans will absorb techniques and new recipes they can take back to the U.S. "I am caught between those two generations," she said. "But it's heartening to see that the spirit of Cuba is alive both on the island and here." Shrimp Camaguey Serves 4 For the sofrito ("Famous Sofrito Fontanar"):
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 bay leaf
For the shrimp:
5 teaspoons olive oil
2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined (thawed, if frozen)
1 cup sofrito (above)
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
1 (4-ounce) jar whole sweet pimientos, drained, cut into thin (julienne) strips
1 sprig Italian parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish, if desired
1 cup fish stock (see note)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked rice or pasta, for serving Make the sofrito: Using a mortar and pestle, or a wooden spoon against a small bowl, mash and press the garlic with the salt and pepper to make a paste. In a skillet, heat the olive oil. Sauté the onion, bell pepper and garlic paste for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato puree, vinegar and bay leaf. Simmer, covered, over very low heat for 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and remove bay leaf. This yields about 1 1/2 cups. Set aside 1 cup for the shrimp dish, cool the rest and store, covered and refrigerated, for as long as several days. Use in rice and beans, soups, stews or other dishes. Make the shrimp dish: Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the shrimp for about 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved sofrito and add the green peas, pimientos and parsley. Add the fish stock, bring to a simmer, and then reduce heat to low. Cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour toward the end, to thicken the sauce. Make sure you cook for a few minutes, stirring gently, to cook away the "raw flour" taste. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately over rice or pasta. Garnish with more parsley if desired. Source: "The Cuban Kitchen," by Raquel Rabade Roque (Knopf, 2011)   Cuban Sandwich 1⁄3 loaf Cuban bread Yellow mustard to taste 3 slices sweet Virginia ham 3 slices roast pork, preferably home-cooked with mojo sauce 3 slices Swiss cheese 4 slices sweet pickles Slice the bread lengthwise and spread mustard on both halves. Place the slices of ham, pork, and cheese on bread and follow with the pickle. Place the sandwich on the press grill and cook until it is hot and melted. Slice diagonally across the middle and serve. Source: "The Cuban Kitchen," by Raquel Rabade Roque (Knopf, 2011) Maxima's Plantain Soup Serves 4 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 small onion, peeled and chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced 5 cups chicken consommé 2 green plantains, peeled and diced 1 bay leaf Salt and pepper to taste 2 cups fried green plantain chips for garnish 1 lemon, cut in wedges In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat, and sauté the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent and tender. Add the consommé and bring to a boil. Add the green plantains and the bay leaf. Season with the salt and pepper. When the soup begins to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 35 minutes, until the plantains are tender and fully cooked. Remove from heat, pour into a food-processor bowl or blender, and process to make a smooth puree. If needed, add more consommé or other liquid. Return to heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Top with green plantain chips, and add a squirt of lemon juice to each bowl as you serve. Source: "The Cuban Kitchen," by Raquel Rabade Roque (Knopf, 2011) Tropical Popsicles Serves 6 1 cup pineapple juice ¾ cup fresh orange juice ¼ cup fresh lemon juice 2/3 cup sugar ½ cup finely chopped pineapple Beat the juices together in a blender or food processor. Add the sugar and beat to blend completely. Stir in the finely chopped pineapple, pour into molds or ice cube trays, and freeze until solid, about two hours. Source: "The Cuban Kitchen," by Raquel Rabade Roque (Knopf, 2011)

jhouck@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7324

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