The Cuban diet is full of fresh, hearty and healthy food staples. Some food items, like meats and imported ingredients, are often rationed or in limited supply. Ingredients like tubers, plantains, rice and beans are more readily available and because of this have become a part of nearly every Cuban meal. Through the use of these readily available ingredients other traditional recipes like stews and sandwiches have risen to popularity.
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Rice and Beans
Whether cooked together or apart, rice and beans are a food staple making a daily appearance on nearly every plate in Cuba. In the traditional version of this combination, called Moros y Cristianos, black beans and white rice are simmered with garlic, oregano, cumin and onion. Cheap and readily available, this perfect pairing of protein and starch gives Cubans sustained energy. There are many household variations when rice is served without beans mixed in, also called Arroz Cubano. Most recipes for this dish include sauteed tomato paste, herbs and garlic.
Even during difficult times in Cuban rationing history, tubers have been abundant. Due to constant availability, tubers appear in many traditional Cuban dishes. Potatoes and yucca root are cubed and added to rice dishes and stews. Potatoes can also be the main ingredient of salads or mashed and fried into croquettes. Malanga root is ground and dried into a flour that is used like cornstarch to thicken stews and gravies.
Cuban stews are slow-cooked, varied mixes of available vegetables and meats. These stews are full of thick rustic cuts and are not watered down or runny. They are simmered until thick or thickened with potatoes or malanga root starch. Common ingredients for this staple of the Cuban diet include peas, carrots, beans, potatoes, okra, olives, onions, garlic, and beef, pork or goat. Stews are served as a standalone meal or spooned over steamed rice.
Plantains are hard and starchy so they are often cooked twice before being eaten. A twice-fried plantain is first peeled and sliced into 1/4 to 1/2 inch coin-shaped pieces. These pieces cooked in 350-degree peanut or vegetable oil for five to seven minutes. Then the plantains are removed from the oil and smashed flat in a press or with a rolling pin. The oil is then turned up to 375 degrees and the smashed plantains are put back in until they turn golden brown. They are then removed and lightly salted while they are still hot and served immediately.
The Cuban sandwich is a common lunchtime staple all over the country. These sandwiches are thought to have come to popularity during a commercial growth period in the Cuban mill and cigar industry during the 1930s. Cafeterias marketed the sandwich to a new generation of working men who needed something portable. A traditional Cuban sandwich is served on bread made with lard instead of oil. The bread is sliced in half and stacked with thick-cut roasted pork, thin sliced ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and mustard. The whole sandwich is grilled on a press, called a plancha, and served when the cheese melts.