Last night I dreamt that I visited Cuba. It was hazy and warm. The streets were lined with cars from a bygone era jutted up to the crackled curb this way and that. The colorful autos were muted by the same thin layer of dust that coated my shoes. Old women with curious stares lined doorways and groups of men were gathered around small wooden tables drinking coffee. A smell of fat cigar permeated the air intermingled with aromas of savory, slow-cooked food. As in the best sensory dreams, the entire scene was framed with appropriate music that seemed to be wafting out of back alleys.

All I know about Cuba has come from movies so my dream scene may be inaccurate and is certainly overly romantic. In an attempt to keep the TV turned off a few evenings ago, my husband and I sat on the couch with a 10-pound atlas studying Central and South America, which is likely what ignited my dreamscape. He has always wanted to visit Cuba before the gates open wide and the inevitable change happens.

I frequent a Cuban restaurant near my office for lunch meetings. I have even been known to enjoy a lunchtime margarita alongside the Cuban fare (shhh!). Black beans, plantains, slow-cooked meat, shrimp quesadillas, pork chops with sweet potatoes… mmm. It has become one of my favorite ethnic cuisines.

This is an easy Ropa Vieja recipe that can be made without any overly special ingredients. It makes a satisfying weekend meal. Slow cook it in a Dutch oven. Let the aromas invade your weekend. Turn on some slow instrumental music, close your eyes and find your Cuban dream.

Ropa Vieja
from Cooking Light

Makes 8 Servings

2 (1-pound) flank steaks, trimmed
3 cups thinly vertically sliced red onion
2 cups red bell pepper strips (about 2 peppers)
2 cups green bell pepper strips (about 2 peppers)
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 tablespoons thinly sliced pitted green olives
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon no-salt-added tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add 1 steak to pan; cook 2 1/2 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove steak from pan. Repeat procedure with cooking spray and remaining steak.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, bell peppers, and garlic to pan; cook 7 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in olives and next 5 ingredients (through black pepper); cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Stir in vinegar, scraping pan to loosen browned bits; cook for 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in broth, tomato paste, and bay leaves. Add steaks; bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 1 1/2 hours or until steaks are very tender. Discard bay leaves.


Remove steaks from pan; shred with two forks. Stir shredded beef and cilantro into pan. Serve with rice, black beans and fried plantains.