Old Clothes & Hot Dough


(Above: Munching on a chivirico)

Food in Cuba was difficult to navigate, swinging between the mediocre and the delicious. However we were NEVER hungry. Ever. Every country has their version of ‘poor food’ – that is, dishes that are cheap to make masses amounts of and fill up on, quickly and a lot of the food we encountered fell into this category. Using this premise of cooking food that can be made on the cheap and longing it out for as long as possible over the week was my mission when cobbling together these 2 Cuban style recipes. I’m not saying that these are authentic recipes, mainly because I am absolutely not Cuban, but it’s a nod to Cuba’s hearty, affordable and easy eats. I hope you enjoy trying these out.

Recipe: Ropa vieja (Cuban stew)

Literally translated as ‘old clothes,’ most Latin American countries have a version of this pulled meat dish cooked in an earthy, spicy sauce. This is very much like a tagine, and it does indeed have some Arab roots. The brilliant thing about this dish is that you can get a couple of different meals out of it – using the broth that cooks the meat as a soup or gravy base and also eating the stew over the course of a few days (in fact, it’s better a day or two after cooking) with rice, pulses, in a sandwich or just with a simple salad.

For the soup broth:

450 g of pork shoulder (I’ve used pork but you can use lamb or beef… beef seems a lot more authentic, but pork shoulder was cheaper.)
3 cloves of garlic
1 red onion
1 white onion
50 g of butter
1 vegetable stock cube
A handful of mushrooms (this is my addition – it’s not very Cuban but mushrooms really bring out meaty flavours in stock.)

1. Heat the butter gently and add in the chopped garlic and the onions until slightly browned.
2. Brown the pork shoulder for a couple of minutes.
3. Pop the stock cube on top of the meat before pouring over some boiling water.
4. Bring the water to the boil.
5. Simmer on a low heat for at least 4 hours (leave it longer if you can!). This will ensure that the pork is easy to pull apart.
6. Once the soup is ready, remove the meat and shred.
7. Drain the soup into a pot or Tupperware and discard the vegetables. Keep it in the fridge for up to a week.

For the sauce:

The key to this dish is layering flavours slowly over time. You want to essentially make a pasta sauce base AND THEN add in the herbs AND THEN add in the meat so that the flavours develop over time. It’s a simple recipe but it requires a little bit of patience.

The shredded meat from the broth (including the fat)
2 tins of tomatoes
2 sliced red bell peppers
1 medium spiced chilli
1 large red onion
2 cloves of garlic
A good helping of oregano
1 heaped tsp powdered cumin
2 tsp of cumin seeds
Salt and pepper to season
Olive oil for cooking

1. Add a glug of olive oil or butter to your pan and fry chopped garlic and onions until browned.
2. Add the tomatoes, bell peppers and chilli and turn the heat up. Cook until the vegetables have started to go very soft, probably for about 15 minutes or so (careful that they don’t burn – you want to keep stirring them).
3. Add in the oregano and a generous amount of cumin, cook on a low heat for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
4. Next, add the meat and season to taste, cooking for another 15 minutes.

Chiviricos (Fried Dough)

So, I appreciate that the idea of crispy, fried bread is not the most exciting of dishes - it kind of sounds like a really bad version of a doughnut. But, many, many cultures have a version of this and if you think of chiviricos as the sweet version of a tortilla chip, eaten with ice cream or dipped in mashed bananas, then that changes things dramatically eh? This recipe is a REALLY good way of using up any flour that you have in your cupboards (which you shouldn’t leave lying around fyi, because it can actually go stale).


For the dough:
200g flour
70 g of water
A pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 tablespoons of oil

For the topping:
200 g of sugar
4 tablespoons of finely ground cinnamon
Grated peel of 1 lemon
Grated peel of 1 orange.

1. Measure the water and add the flour, salt and sugar. Knead for a few seconds until combined.
2. Make a well in the middle of the mixture.
3. Beat the egg and oil together, then pour into the middle of the well.
4. Knead gently for a minute or so.
5. Leave to rise for at least an hour (2 hours if you have time).
6. Roll out into thin strip (about 3 mm deep) onto a floured surface.
7. Heat some oil to 180 degrees.
8. Drop the strips of dough into the oil and fry for 3 minutes.
9. While still hot, roll the chiviricos into the cinnamon & peel sugar.

Serve with ice cream, or with mashed bananas.

Recipe and photo by Julia Georgallis