This month we bring you a vibrant, hearty summer stew packed with flavour, courtesy of Cuba: The Cookbook, Phaidon’s latest compilation of authentic country-specific cuisine
According to renowned Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, Cuba is a stew. Well not quite, Ortiz describes the Caribbean’s largest island as an “Ajiaco – a complex stew, made from various types of vegetables, which we call vianda (tubers), and different types of meat, all brought to a boil until producing a very thick and succulent broth that is seasoned with the very Cubanají (pepper), for which it is named.” Long story short though, Cuba is a stew.
Benefitting from generations of migration, Cuba’s cuisine is a vibrant and colourful mixture of influences from all over the world. Long-standing foundations were laid by Spanish colonizers, African slaves brought to the island and the indigenous population, but other cultures played a part too. Chinese migrants brought ingredients such as pak choy, rice and spinach, whilst French migrants escaping the Haitian revolution founded coffee plantations, inspiring the national drink.
Further influences added to the national fusion. Jamaicans brought coconut milk, Americans brought modern cooking equipment and Cubans of all stripes remember the proliferation of Soviet products. The influence of the former USSR was further cemented with many Cubans studying in the motherland during the cold war.
Cuba: The Cookbook revels in this cultural melting pot of history. Charting the nation’s authentic cuisine from Cuban pantry explainers to drinks, appetizers to substantial festive stews, Phaidon’s latest exploration in nation-specific cuisine is a rich and illuminating cooking manual. Every page is dripping with colour and flavour, but also insight, a testament to the level of research put into the book.
Our pick from the book carries a festive significance. Commonly prepared at the end of June for the Saint Juan and Saint Pedro festivities, the Port of Prince stew is a hearty Ajiaco popular in the rural parts of Cuba. Prepare for a large group during the World Cup and wash down with a few Cuba Libres. The recipe for the latter is in there too if you get stuck.
Cuba: The Cookbook (Phaidon) is out now
Port of Prince Stew
(Ajiaco de Puerto Príncipe)
Preparation time 40 minutes, plus 12 hours dried beef soaking time
Cooking time 3–4 hours
1/2lb (230g) tasajo (salted dried beef)
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 small green bell peppers, finely chopped
1 large white onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1lb (460g) pork, loin or tenderloin, coarsely diced
1/2 small chicken (1lb 5oz/600g), coarsely diced
4 tablespoons lime juice
3 large tomatoes, diced
3 ears field corn, cut crosswise into 1 inch (2.5cm) disks
1 yuca (cassava) root (7oz/200g), peeled and chopped
2 large taro roots (11/4lb/560g total), peeled and chopped
2 medium white or yellow sweet potatoes (1lb/445g total), peeled and chopped
1/2 small yam (31/2oz/100g), peeled and chopped
1 green plantain, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste (tomato puree)
1 ripe plantain, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2lb (230g) pumpkin, diced
In a container, combine the tasajo and enough water to cover. Let soak for at least 12 hours, changing the water every 4 hours, to remove the salt.
Drain the beef and cut in half. Transfer to a large pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, drain the water, add fresh water, and bring to a boil again to remove the salt.
Drain and return the beef to the pot. Add water to cover 3 or 4 finger-widths above it. Add the bay leaf, cover, and cook over medium heat until softened, 11/2–2 hours.
Reserving the cooking water if desired (see Note), drain the beef and cut into medium pieces.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the bell peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté until the onion turns translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked beef, pork, chicken, and 2 tablespoons of the lime juice and sauté until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid reduces slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the corn and 81/2 cups (68 fl oz/2 liters) water and cook until the meat is soft, about 30 minutes.
Add the yuca (cassava), taro, sweet potatoes, and yam. Dip the green plantain in the remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice to prevent it from darkening the broth, and add it to the pot.
Cook until the root vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.
Add the tomato paste (puree), 1/2 tablespoon salt, the ripe plantain, and pumpkin and cook until thickened, about 30 minutes. Adjust the salt to taste and serve.
Note: One option for preventing the green plantain from discoloring the stew is to cook it separately in its peel in the beef cooking water.
Words by Davey Brett
Image Credits by Sidney Bensimon (Recipe)