Rebel recipes: Cuban food is fun

Posted on Apr 15 2016 - 7:01am by Mayra Fabian and McKenna Wierman

On March 20, President Obama visited Cuba; it was the first time a sitting U.S. president made the trek since former President Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Earlier in the week, the Obama administration announced two Cuban embargo restrictions would be relaxed to allow easier travel and more commerce between the U.S. and Cuba. While that may all sound like a bunch of political mumbo-jumbo, it really means something very exciting for Cuba and the U.S.: the Cuban embargo is on its way out. In celebration of the embargo’s end, this week’s recipes feature some traditional Cuban foods. Many of these delicious meals pair well with a nice cold beer, but for all the non-21-club members, I think your best bet is to pair the food with a nice cold cola.


Classic Cubano Sandwich

  • 1 loaf Cuban bread, sliced lengthwise (French is fine if you can’t find Cuban)
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard, or to taste
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds boiled ham, sliced
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds roasted pork , sliced
  • 1 pound Swiss cheese, sliced
  • 1 cup dill pickle chips, or to taste

Not a whole lot of directions to give – it is a sandwich. Butter one half and apply a thin layer of mustard to the other. Go ahead and do a layer of the cheese, load up some protein, and place the pickles on top. After topping the sandwich, you want to place it in a panini or grilled cheese maker. If neither is available, a skillet works perfectly fine.  Four minutes on each side, cut on the diagonal, and listo.

Cubans have a lot of protein and cheese, so it’s best to pair it with a lighter beer.


Ground Beef Empanadas

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 
  • 8 ounces ground beef chuck
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup canned tomato puree or sauce
  • Nonstick cooking spray, for greasing
  • One 1-pound package frozen puff pastry
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 2 large eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 cup drained and pitted green olives (optional)

Personally, I always omit the raisins– they have no place in my savory empanada. I also cannot stand olives, but whatever floats your boat. I like to follow a recipe by Marcela Valladolid:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add the ground beef and cook until browned. Next, season with the salt and pepper. Add the carrots, onions (and olives and raisins if you wish), and sauté for just a couple minutes until softened. Add the tomato puree and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and cool to room temperature. 

To fill the empanadas, grease a large baking sheet with some nonstick cooking spray. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out to a 1/4-to-1/8-inch thickness. With a knife, cut out 4 equal squares measuring 4 1/2-by-5 1/2 inches. Add 2 tablespoons of the cooled beef mixture to the center of the square. Brush the edge of each square with some egg wash and fold to shape into triangles. Crimp the edges with a fork. Transfer the empanadas to the prepared baking sheet and brush them with the remaining egg wash. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Because these are smaller, the beer pairing can have some more depth – if you’re adventurous. 


Fried Plantains

  • 2-3 brown plantains
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter

These are super easy. Heat a frying pan to medium heat, then add butter once it has come to temperature. Plantains need to be bought, like, a week in advance so they have time to ripen. If they look like very ripe bananas you do not want to eat, they’re ready. My mom says it’s law to cut them on the diagonal, so I make sure I do every time I cook some. Throw them in the skillet (not literally, the butter will splatter) and give them 2 minutes on each side or until crispy golden brown. Lay on some kitchen towels to absorb the excess oil and season them as soon as they get off the heat.

These sweet little nuggets deserve a coffee- or chocolate-flavored beer.