Any Cuban cook will tell you that the first, second and third rule of Cuban cooking is – “donde como uno comen dos y donde comen dos comen todos,” which means “where one eats, two eat, and where two eat, all eat.” Chef Alex Garcia wrote this,what I call a proverb, in his new cookbook “In a Cuban Kitchen.”
My kitchen is small. When I have guests over, it can get pretty tight. If I have more than 10 people over for some special occasion it’s kind of like a well orchestrated dance, moving in and about my home. In Cuba, it’s “open house” everyday in someone’s home, somewhere. It is here that the story begins. The following is a teeny, tiny bit of Cuban food history and it reads like a tale:
“Once upon a time in Cuba, say around 1492, Christopher Columbus saw an area of land from his ship and said “this is the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.” He decided to port his vessel. Once on the island, Chris and his friends tasted foods and fruits that were very good. Such delicacies as corn, cassava (yuca), peanuts, white sweet potatoes, pumpkins, peppers, custard apples, pineapples, star apples, plums, and guavas. Not only did Chris find good things to eat, his friends brought things to share, like horses, pigs, and chickens. But this tale really begins before the Spaniards arrived.
Indians lived in Cuba many, many years ago. They ate all kinds of seafood and loved to fish from the many rivers and lakes everyday; they would also hunt for meat for their daily sustenance. When Christopher Columbus came to the island, he wanted to live and work on the island. Over time, Chris’s people, the Spaniards, controlled the land and they needed workers (this is a sorrowful part of the tale). Spaniards decided to bring more people to Cuba because there were fewer and fewer colonists. So they brought African slaves to Cuba. Keep reading, this is not the end of the tale.
With all these new people coming to Cuba, other cooking styles influenced Cuba like Haitians slaves who brought the red kidney bean which became the mainstay of any Cuban diet. French slave owners, also seeking refuge, intensified the rich source of ingredients and skills already used in Cuba. Perhaps the biggest influence on Cuba, both culturally and in influence on cooking finesse, was the new presence of the African slaves to Cuba. They worked a lot in the fields – the sugar cane plantations. Because of the many hours spent in the fields, they often prepared stews and foods that could be cooked for long periods of time, giving an added depth and texture to the stew. It was out of such necessity and hardship that the resilient slaves made enduring contributions to Cuban food and culture – in this case, the origins of the hearty and robust Cuban stew.
Cuba was a place of safety for many people. Cuban life and culture is rich, varied, diverse, and multicultural – a fusion of Indian, Spanish, French, Haitian and African; added to this mix were the original colonists with their own cache of cooking styles and techniques. Come along with me, as the tale unfolds about a most hospitable country and people, even if the story sometimes takes tragic turns and twists that can be quite sad. The scents of Cuba will weave its exciting and hopeful story into the US and Russian story were one will find intrigue, mayhem, mystery and even a love story or two. It is tale that takes some time to tell…”
Cubans want to share with the world their yearning and desire for a better place for all. In the midst of winter, as I prepare for this week’s menu, I am cooking the most delectable tropical meals! Last night, I made Paella. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish with rice as the main ingredient and you can add anything to it. There are many versions of Paella – I made mine with pork, yuca, sweet potato, plantain and black beans. What a hot dish for a cold night! ( I will post a recipe soon). Try it and see if you can get a bit of summer in your home. ¡Vamos!
Here is a sampling of the next menu:
Frituras de Maiz (corn fritters)
Media Noche (Ham, roasted pork, and swiss cheese sandwich)
Sopa de Frijoles colorados (Red Bean Soup)
Sopa de pollo de la abuela (Grandmother’s Chicken soup)
Frita Cubana (Cuban Hamburger)