The summer is entering its final stages and I find myself drawn to memories of food with origins beyond our borders. My introduction to Cuban cuisine was Garcia’s, a fabulous Tallahassee restaurant near the FSU campus. For a very naive 17 year-old freshman, Black Bean Soup with rice and hot Cuban bread became a weekly treat. I followed the example of other, more experienced diners and added olive oil, wine vinegar and chopped onions. Beer was less than a dollar. Life was good.
Years later, I enjoyed the same dish in the luxurious Columbia Restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City. Lagniappe: lovely, exciting Flamenco dancers entertained regularly.
Ceviche hails from Peru where it is a heritage dish. Today, it’s ubiquitous, always refreshing and a perfect beginning for a late summer feast.
Flan comes in many forms. Cubans have it down to perfection.
1 lb shrimp (raw or cooked) peeled, deveined and diced
1 cup lime juice from 6 limes
1 cucumber peeled and diced
1 large avocado (or 2 small avocados)
2 roma tomatoes diced
1/2 red onion diced
1/4 bunch cilantro chopped
1 jalapeño seeded and minced
1/4 tsp black pepper or to taste
1 cup mild salsa
Dice shrimp and place into a large glass (non-metamixing bowl. Squeeze 1 to 1 1/4 cups lime juice from 6 limes over shrimp. Stir to combine then cover and marinate in the refrigerator (marinate 1 1/2 to 2 hours for raw shrimp or until no longer translucent and marinate 15 minutes for cooked shrimp), stirring halfway through.
Chop the vegetables: cucumber, avocado, tomatoes, red onion, jalapeño and cilantro.
When shrimp are done marinating, add vegetables to the bowl.
Add 1/4 tsp black pepper or season to taste and gently stir to combine. Serve with tortilla chips or pita.
Black Bean Soup
Columbia Restaurant, Tampa
This classic fills you up fast. It is also a healthy vegetarian option. Arguably the national dish of Cuban Americans, black bean soup is both rustic and refined.
1 pound black beans, dried
2 ½ quarts water
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 green peppers, cut in strips
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon ground cumin
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
White rice, cooked
Chopped onions for garnish
Before washing the beans, spread on a flat surface and pick out broken beans and foreign particles. Wash beans thoroughly and soak overnight in 2 quarts of water. Next day, pour beans and water into a 4-quart soup kettle; bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium
heat. Meanwhile, in a skillet, sauté onions and green peppers in olive oil until light golden. Add crushed oregano, bay leaf, cumin and garlic. Add mixture to beans, stirring well. Add salt and pepper and cook slowly over low heat, covered, until beans are tender (at least 1 hour). Serve over white rice and top with chopped onions.
(Inspired by the Havana Sandwich Shop, Atlanta)
Delicious Cuban flan should be served soaked in dark caramel. Condensed milk not only stabilizes the custard but prevents curdling. It also makes for a denser, creamier flan Cuban flan is characteristically silken and so rich.
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 (14-ounce/420-mL) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce/360-mL) can evaporated milk
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
2. Melt the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it turns into a dark caramel, 9 to 10 minutes. (Watch closely during the last few minutes to make sure it does not burn.) Swirl the pan after you remove the caramel from the heat, as it will keep cooking. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the caramel in each of six ó-cup (120-ml) ramekins and set them in a baking dish with high sides.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Divide the custard mixture evenly into the prepared ramekins. Fill the baking dish with warm water halfway up the sides of the ramekins and gently place the pan in the oven.
4. Bake the flan for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the centers jiggle slightly when shaken. Let the ramekins cool in the water bath, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. When ready to serve, run a paring knife around the edge of the ramekin, place a plate over the top, and invert the ramekin, shaking it a bit to release the flan onto the plate. Liquid caramel will drip down the sides of the flan.
Wine Suggestion: Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rosé 2019.
Stay Safe. Eat Well. Love One Another.