When the weather gets colder my food cravings automatically start to wander southward in an effort to stave off the inevitable fact that winter is a coming. One of my all time go to favorite frigid weather culinary escapes was ducking into a Cuban Chinese diner called Mi Chinita on 8th ave and 18th street when I was living in NY in the late 70’s. The windows were all steamed up and the place was always packed. Believe me, this was transportive fare!
I don’t know a lot about Cuban food’s evolution, but migrant Chinese workers that arrived in Cuba after slavery was abolished added their indelible culinary fingerprint to the local diet.
Likewise, Cuba has had had an influx of Mexicans laborers from the Yucatan since the 19th century who have added their voice to an evolving Cuban cuisine.
Fast forward to Cuban’s emigrating to the US during Castro’s revolution and opening up Cuban Chinese American restaurants in the 70’s and 80’s.
Long story short, Cuban cuisine is a fascinating melding of cultures that is undeniably a part of the ever evolving inclusive tastes of the American palate.
I am a great fan of tacos in any form, including those filled with a Chinese stir fry paired with the essentials of a typical Cuban plate that includes well seasoned black beans, rice, and fried plantains/ tostones. This is hearty food with all the bright flavors of the tropics that are a welcome respite from the chills of fall and winter.
Cuban Chinese Tacos
Needed: 1 package each of street size flour and corn tortillas(4 ½ “ / 11cm in diameter) warmed before serving
- 1 pound chicken, pork, or beef thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoon corn starch divided
- ¼ cup cold water
- oil for stir frying
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled, quartered, and sliced
- 1 each red and yellow bell peppers, quartered, seeded, cut into thin strips, and halved
- 2 or 3 serrano green chiles, quartered, seeded, cut into thin strips, and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 inch knob fresh ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, peeled, thinly sliced, and diced
- 2 cups shredded bok choy or green cabbage
- 1 chayote, peeled, quartered, center core removed, and diced
- 1 cup chicken stock divided
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 or 3 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine or sherry
- red chile flakes to taste
- soy sauce to taste
Place the sliced chicken pork, or beef in a bowl. In a cup combine 1 tablespoon of corn starch with ¼ cup cold water and stir until combined. Pour the mixture over the meat and swirl to combine. Add a little more water if needed to just cover the meat and set aside for 30 minutes. This step will tenderize the meat.
Select a wok or a wide skillet and heat over medium high heat. When the pan is hot add several tablespoons of oil and swirl the pan to coat the pan with oil. Add the meat in a single layer and cook the meat until it is seared and begins to release from the pan. Turn the meat over and seer until browned and then transfer the seared meat to a plate and set aside.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed and add the onions and stir fry briskly. As the onions sear they will pick up the remaining bits stuck to the pan adding flavor to the onions. Continue stirring until the onions begin to wilt.
Add the sliced bell peppers, diced serrano chilies, and sliced garlic and stir fry until the onions are translucent. Add the ginger, carrots and stir fry until combined.
Add the bok choy, or cabbage, and the chayote and toss to combine. Add a little chicken stock to lubricate the pan and continue stir frying until the vegetables are just wilted.
Add the sesame oil and toss. Then add the oyster sauce, Chinese cooking wine, or sherry, and toss until combined. Add the chile flakes to taste.
In a small bowl combine 1/3 cup stock combined with the remaining 2 tablespoons of corn starch and stir until combined and smooth.
Add the seared meat to the stir fry and then slowly stir in the corn starch mixture and continue stir frying for another two minutes or until the liquid has thickened and nicely coats the stir fry.
Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Then set the stir fry aside and ready for filling the soft warmed tortillas.
As pictured, have ready a pot of hot and spicy black beans, a bowl of hot steamed rice of your choice, and fried plantains/ tostones. Fill the tortillas and add to the plate and you are ready to go!
Note: Tostones are fried plantains Cuban style, which are actually twice fried until crispy. By all means make them if you know how. There are several tostone making videos available if you are feeling ambitious. Or instead simply pan fry plantains or unripe bananas, sliced in half lengthwise, which are a a fine substitute. The slight sweetness of the fried bananas are a nice foil for the spicy heat of the tacos and the black beans
For basics on how to cook beans (click here)
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a uniquely Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of the dead on the 1st and 2nd of November every year. The origins are attributed to Aztec animist beliefs combined with Catholicism, the dates coinciding with the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Contrary to what you may think, Dia de Los Muertos is a joyous familial occasion that is celebrated with food, drink, music, and entertainment in homes and in grave yards throughout Mexico, Latin America, and in parts of North America where there are Latin American communities.
The imagery of vividly decorated skulls (calaveras) and dancing skeletons (calacas) associated with Dia de los Muertos was popularized by Mexico’s most famous graphic artist Jose Guadalupe Posada in the mid 1800’s. His work influenced a whole new generation of famous Mexican muralists and painters that followed him including Diago Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Frida Kahlo.
Popular Dia de Los Muertos foods include typical Mexican favorites that are prepared ahead of the celebrations and served throughout the day and night, and often into the wee hours of the morning. Frijoles de olla and moles de Olla, are popular clay pot meals that include various meats, vegetables, chiles, and of course beans. Typically cooked over a fire or slowly braised in the oven as I have done for the recipe that follows. The mole is then tucked into warm tortillas, topped with picante salsas, and served with a chunky guacamole. Essentially you have a hearty meal in hand and the mole de olla will hold up until the last of the revelers eventually wend their way home as the sun rises!
For some more Dia de Los Muertos recipes, click on the following links.
Sopa de Maize y chile Verde con Pollo (click here)
Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup; sopa de Calabezza (click here)
Dia de Los Muertos Mole de Olla con Pollo y Chorizo Serves 6 to 8
- 2 pounds skinless chicken breasts, sliced into plump strips
- 2 pounds Mexican chorizo, divided
- 3 tablespoons olive oil + more as needed
- 3 large onions, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
- 2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
- 4 to 6 green or ripe red jalapeno chiles, seeded and cut into strips
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 ribs celery, diced
- 1½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
- 1 cup tequila
- 6 cups cooked black beans (or canned)
- 1 quart hot chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons pure ground red chile powder
- pinch of ground clove
- salt to taste
- chopped cilantro leaves
- flour tortillas, warmed
- fresh crumbled cotija cheese (or mild feta)
- fresh cilantro leaves
- chunky guacamole
Choose a large wide pan with a lid that will fit on the oven wrack set in the middle positioned of the oven.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/ 160 c
Place the pan on the stove top over medium high flame. When the pan is hot add some oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the chicken pieces and seer until the chicken is nicely browned and releases from the pan easily. Turn the chicken and seer until nicely browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a large platter.
Add the chorizo to the pan and seer until the skin is deeply browned and releases easily from the pan. Turn the chorizo and seer until deeply browned. Remove the chorizo from the pan and place it in the platter with the chicken.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed. When nearly smoking add the onions and saute while deglazing the pan as the onions begin to soften. Promptly add the green and red bell pepper and saute until the onions and peppers have wilted. Add the garlic and celery and cook another two or three minutes. Then add the jalapenos and saute while tossing until the contents are evenly combined.
Pour in the tequila and stir continuously until the tequila is nearly absorbed into the vegetable mixture. Add the cumin seeds, oregano, and marjoram and toss until evenly distributed into the mixture.
At this point return the browned chicken and chorizo to the pan and add the beans. Stir to combine and then add the stock to just cover and stir. Cover the pan with the lid and place it in the center of the oven. Braise for 1 hour undisturbed.
Open the oven and transfer the pan to the stove top. Remove the lid and stir in the red chile powder, ground clove, and chopped cilanto . Stir to combine and then season with salt to taste. If the mole is looking dry add more stock as needed.
Cover the [pan and return it to the oven to keep warm while warm the flour tortillas, assemble assorted salsas, and make the chunky guacamole.
Stack the warmed tortillas in a basket lined with a kitchen towel to keep them warm.
Place your salsas of choice on the table along with the guacamole.
Remove the pan from the oven.
Place a warm tortilla on a plate and spoon a generous portion of the mole de olla just off center. Scatter some crumbled cotija cheese, or feta, over the meats and vegetables and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve open faced so salsa can be added before folding the tortilla for eating.
The beauty of the chunky guacamole is it is easily forked and eaten along with bites of the filled tortilla.
- 4 Haas (bumpy skinned) ripe avocados
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 to 4 serrano chiles, stem and seeds removed, and minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
- fresh lime juice to taste
- olive oil for drizzling
Slice the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Crosshatch each half of the avocado and then slice the hatches in half lengthwise. Gently remove the chunks of avocado and place them in a chilled bowl.
Place the diced onions, minced serrano chiles, and sea salt in a mortar. Crush and grind the ingredients with the pestle into a moist paste.
Scrape the paste over the avocado chunks and add the chopped cilantro leaves. Spritz fresh lime juice over all and then drizzle with just a little olive oil. Toss gently until the paste is evenly spread over the avocado chunks. Taste and add more salt and lime juice to taste.
Chill the chunky guacamole until just before serving.
Moo shu Pork originates from the north eastern province of Shandong in China. A n old traditional stir fried dish consisting of sliced pork, black mushrooms, ginger, cucumber, scallions, and day lilly buds. Seasoned with a dash of Chinese rice wine and soy sauce,then tossed with scrambled eggs (Moo Shu), and served with rice. No Mandarin pancakes nor Hoisin sauce. That was to come later. Moo Shu Pork as most of the modern world knows it today is the American version that came along in the late 60’s.
But the story of Chinese food in America really began with the arrival of Chinese immigrants in California seeking their fortune during the California gold rush of 1848. The novelty of Chinese food quickly gained popularity with the locals in the Bay area and eventually caught on throughout the rest of the country. But it wasn’t until several enterprising Chinese women restaurateurs gave Chinese Cuisine a certain cache. Ruby Foo opened Ruby Foo’s Den in Boston in 1929. Cecilia Chiang opened The Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco in 1960. Pearl Wong opened Pearl’s Chinese restaurant in midtown Manhattan in 1973, and Joyce Chen popularized northern Chinese cuisine in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The rest is history. Chinese cuisine had arrived and went on to become America’s favorite ethnic cuisine.
The American version of Moo Shu Pork evolved in the late 60’s. Green cabbage replaced the unfamiliar day lilly buds. Shiitake mushrooms replaced the dried black fungus mushrooms, but most importantly Mandarin pancakes were introduced that were seasoned with Hoisin sauce, and used as wrappers stuffed with the stir fried Moo Shu Pork. A brilliant innovation that made Moo Shu Pork a favorite Chinese dish worldwide.
The recipe that follows diverges from the American stir fried version. I’ve opted for a slow cooked method that renders a soft tender“pulled” pork that has absorbed the flavors of the seasoned cabbage mixture. Rather than making Mandarin pancakes, which can be a tedious affair, I’ve opted for using store bought flour tortillas and the Hoisin sauce, both of which can be found in most grocery stores these days.
Overall this is an easy dish to prepare and perfect for a family meal or larger gatherings as it can be prepared ahead and rewarmed for serving.
Moo Shu Pork serves 6
- 1 ½ lbs / 700 g pork tenderloin (or loin)
- 1 large head green cabbage, trimmed and thinly sliced
- bunch of kale leaves, center rib removed, and chopped (optional)
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 2 inch knob fresh ginger root, peeled, and sliced into thin batons
- 1 tablespoon 5 spice powder (see note below)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 quart stock + more as needed
- 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
- 6 oz/ 225 g fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- ½ cup white part of scallions, sliced
- 1 cup thinly slice green scallion leaves, divided
- 3 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing cooking wine (or medium dry sherry)
- light soy sauce to taste
- 12 flour tortillas, warmed
- Hoisin sauce
Needed, a large Dutch oven or deep roasting pan with lid.
Preheat oven to 350 f /180 c
Combine the sliced cabbage, kale (if using), onions, ginger, 5 spice powder, salt, and pepper in the Dutch oven or roasting pan and toss to combine.
Divide the pork tenderloins in half (or quarter if using loin) and push the meat down into the tossed cabbage mixture until nearly covered. Add stock to the pot until just visible around the edges.
Place the pot, uncovered, in the oven and roast for 25 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 220 f / 104 c
Cover the pot and roast for about 2 1/2 hours. Check after 1 ½ hours and add a little more stock if needed to keep the cabbage moist and avoid scorching on the bottom of the pot and test the pork for tenderness. It should pull apart very easily. If not, return the pot to the oven and continue roasting until the pork is very tender. Three hours cooking time is usually sufficient.
Once the pork is tender remove from the oven, uncover, and set aside to cool until you can remove the pork and pull it apart into bite size pieces. Place the pulled pork in a bowl and set aside.
To finish the Moo Shu Pork place a very large skillet over medium heat on the stove top and add the oil. When hot add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to color. Then add the garlic and the white part of the scallions and saute until softened. Then add the Chinese cooking wine (or sherry) and saute until the wine has nearly evaporated.
Add the pulled pork to the skillet and toss to combine. Then, using a slotted spoon, transfer the cabbage mixture to the pan and add half of the sliced green scallions and toss to combine. Add just enough of the remaining broth in the roasting pot to keep the pork and cabbage mixture moist. Taste and stir in soy sauce sparingly to round out the flavor.
Warm the tortillas individually in a dry skillet just briefly to soften them and make them very pliable. If you find the tortillas to be quite dry a quick misting with water before heating them works wonders. Wrap the tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep them warm.
Once the tortillas are warmed, working with one tortilla at a time, spread a thin layer of Hoisin sauce over the inner surface the tortilla and then fill with the pork and cabbage mixture as you would filling a soft taco. Scatter some green scallions over the pork filling and wrap the tortilla around the filling, closing one end as you roll as you would a taco. Place the rolled Moo Shu Pork wraps aside on a baking tray covered with a kitchen towel. You can place the tray of wraps in a very low heat oven to keep them warm until you are ready to serve.
Alternately, you can let everyone at the table assemble their own the Moo Shu Pork wraps which is part of the real fun of this dish.
In either case serve with additional Hoisin sauce on the table.
Note: If 5 spice powder is not available you can make your own.
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
- 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted whole Sichuan peeper, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
Stir to combine and store in an airtight jar.
A traditional cassoulet is not a dish that springs to mind as summer arrives, but it is one of my favorite go to meals, especially when entertaining. With a few considered adjustments a classic winter cassoulet can be transformed into a scrumptious lighter cassoulet to add to your summer meals repertoire.
Cassoulet is a well known and much loved regional classic stew made with white beans and assorted meats from the Languedoc region of France. Traditional versions vary but typically include duck or goose confit, pork or lamb, and some well seasoned local sausage. All placed in a deep earthenware crock along with cooked white beans seasoned with aromatic herbs and slow baked to golden perfection. Very much a rich hearty meal for the winter months that is anchored and bound together by flavors derived from copious amounts of duck fat used to preserve the confit. Without a doubt, absolutely delicious!
However, by using lean meats and sausages, and chicken rather than duck or goose, dramatically reduces the fat content without sacrificing flavor. The resulting “summer cassoulet” is every bit as flavorful as a classic cassoulet by simply applying a lighter healthier approach to your summer cookery.
Another reason a cassoulet is a favorite is that all the elements required for the finished dish are made in advance which is ideal for entertaining or for easy assembly for consecutive meals.
There are essentially three elements to prepare for a cassoulet. Cooking the beans, creating a flavorsome cassoulet broth for braising, and a final browning of the meats and finally baking of the cassoulet.
A Summer Cassoulet: serves 4 to 6
For the beans: Prepare a day in advance
- 12 oz / 350 g dried white beans
- 2 ¾ oz 75 g pancetta, diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 quarts water + more as needed
- small bunch fresh thyme sprigs tied together
- salt freshly ground white pepper
Rinse the beans, place in a bowl, cover with plenty of water, and soak for 8 hours or overnight,
Place a stock pot on the stove over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta to the pot and saute, continuously stirring, until the fat is rendered and the meat is lightly browned.
Add the olive oil to the pan and when hot add the onions. Lower the heat slightly and stir until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute while stirring.
Add the bay leaves, the water, and the drained and rinsed pre-soaked beans. Bring the water to a boil and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Add the thyme leaves. Cook the beans until they are soft but still holding their shape. Be sure to stir the beans now and again so they do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add more water as needed until the beans are finished cooking.
When the beans are finished remove them using a slotted spoon and place them in a large storage container.
Continue to simmer the cooking liquid until it is reduced and thickened slightly. At this point season the cooking broth with salt and pepper to taste. Keep in mind that the broth will be used later and reduced, so do not overly salt the broth.
Remove the bay leaves and thyme and discard, Transfer the broth to the container holding the beans and set aside on a cooling rack. When completely cool, cover the container and refrigerate.
For the cassoulet broth:
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 ½ cups diced onions
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled whole
- ½ cup diced peeled carrots
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 quarts chicken stock, hot
- herb bouquet; sprigs parsley, sprigs thyme, sprig rosemary 2 bay leaves
Hat the olive oil in a stock pot and when hot add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and carrots and cook a couple of minutes. Move the sauted ingredients away from the center of the pan and place the tomato paste in the center. Press the tomato paste against the bottom of the pan for a minute or until caramelized and a deep red color.
Add the stock and stir well. Add the herb bouquet and adjust the heat so the broth is gently simmering. Cook until the liquid is reduced by 1/3, about 1 ½ hours.
Remove from the stove and strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Then transfer the broth to a storage container, or containers, and set aside to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate if not using immediately. Discard the solids.
- 3 chicken legs and thighs, detached, skin, on
- 1 pound / 450 g pork loin, cut into chunks
- 1 pound/ 450 g well seasoned lean sausage
- salt pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup white wine or water
Season the chicken and the pork generously with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat a large dutch oven or deep wide cast iron roasting pan over medium heat on the stove top. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and when smoking add the chicken pieces and evenly brown on all sides. Transfer them to a platter and set aside.
Add another tablespoon olive oil to the pot and add the pork and brown on all side. Transfer to the platter along with the chicken.
Add a final tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and dd the sausage to the pan and brown on all sides. Add a half cup of wine or water to the pan and stir until the liquid is reduced and the sausage is coated with the deglazed pan juices. Transfer the sausage to a separate plate and set aside to use later.
Assembling and roasting the cassoulet:
- reserved cooked white beans with their broth
- cassoulet broth
- browned chicken
- browned pork
- browned sausage
- flat leaf parsley
preheat the oven to 325 f/ 170 c
Add about 1/2 of the cooked beans along with some of their broth to the cleaned Dutch oven or cast iron roasting pan you used previously. Arrange the chicken pieces and pork on top of the beans and add just enough cassoulet broth to nearly cover the chicken and pork.
Transfer the pan to the oven and cook about 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and add the remaining beans tucked in around the edges of the pan and between the chicken and pork. Then tuck in the sausage in around the chicken and the pork. Add any remaining beans around the edges. Add cassoulet broth to nearly cover all and return the pan to the oven for another 45 minutes.
At this point if the liquid around the edges of the pan is not bubbling away increase the heat to 400 f/ 200 c. Add a little broth over the meats and return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.
When the cassoulet is done remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.
Combine and warm any remaining bean broth and cassoulet broth and set aside to use when serving.
The cassoulet may be served directly from the pan or transferred to individual shallow bowls.
I like to present the cassoulet right out of the oven for all to feast their eyes on before serving.
You can then spoon the cassoulet into individual shallow bowls. Be sure to add some of the reserved combined broth mixture which is absolutely delicious when sopped up with crusty bread! Garnish with flat leaf parsley and serve.
The overall appearance of the cassoulet should be neither dry nor soupy. I lean toward ample amounts of broth as it really is the element that binds the cassoulet together.
Garnish with flat leaf parsley sprigs.
Suggested: Serve with a copious summer salad and a loaf of crusty bread!