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How to Make Authentic Cuban Ropa Vieja: A Step-by-Step Guide A lo Cubano

¡Hola, amigos y amigas!


Today, we're exploring a very famous Cuban dish which is as colourful and vibrant as the streets of Havana itself - Ropa Vieja. This dish has a combination of flavours that will have you licking your fingers.


Ropa vieja

What is Ropa Vieja?

Literally translating to “old clothes,” Ropa Vieja is anything but! This traditional dish features shredded beef, simmered in a rich, tomato-based sauce, infused with bell peppers, onions, and a mix of spices that’ll transport you straight to a bustling Cuban cocina.

The Historical Journey of Ropa Vieja

Originating from the Canary Islands, this dish was a simple, ingenious creation of the Spaniards. When they settled in Cuba, they brought Ropa Vieja with them, where it gradually absorbed local influences. The addition of indigenous ingredients like bell peppers and tomatoes marked its transformation, reflecting the fusion of African, Caribbean, and Spanish culinary traditions present on the island.


Learning cuban spanish? read this

For Spanish learners, engaging with Cuban Spanish while cooking Ropa Vieja is a delightful way to enhance your language skills. Cuban Spanish is known for its vibrant expressions and unique colloquialisms. Here are some practical tips and examples to infuse your language learning with a Cuban twist:


Immerse in Cuban Vocabulary:

  • Sofrito: This is a base for many Cuban dishes. Use the word as you prepare the onions, peppers, and garlic.

  • Carne Desmechada: Literally "shredded meat," use this term as you shred the beef for your Ropa Vieja.

  • A fuego lento: Meaning "over low heat," a phrase perfect for when you let the dish simmer.

Practice Common Phrases:

  • ¿Cómo está el sofrito?: "How's the sofrito coming along?"

  • Esta carne está para chuparse los dedos: A Cuban saying, "This meat is finger-licking good."

  • Vamos a echarle sabor a la cocina: "Let's add some flavor to the kitchen," embracing the joy of cooking.


Understanding Cuban Idioms:

  • Echarle muchas ganas: Literally "to put a lot of desire into something." In cooking, it means to cook with passion.

  • Está como arroz blanco: "It's like white rice," meaning something is essential or fundamental, just like rice in Cuban cuisine.


Interact with Native Speakers:

  • If possible, cook with a Cuban friend or join a Spanish-speaking cooking class.

  • Share your dish with Spanish-speaking friends and discuss the cooking process in Spanish.


Cultural Engagement:

  • Listen to Cuban music while cooking. Try understanding the lyrics and repeating catchy phrases.

  • Watch Cuban cooking shows or videos in Spanish to get accustomed to the speed and rhythm of Cuban Spanish.



By integrating these tips into your cooking experience, you'll not only enjoy a delicious meal but also enhance your understanding of Cuban culture and the Spanish language.


Remember, language learning is not just about grammar and vocabulary; it's about culture, emotion, and real-life experiences.


¡Buen provecho y buena suerte con tu español!



The Ingredients: Lo Que Necesitas

  • 2 lbs flank steak

  • 1 large onion

  • 1 red bell pepper

  • 1 green bell pepper

  • 4 cloves garlic

  • 1 can of tomato sauce (8 oz)

  • 1 cup beef broth

  • 1 tsp cumin

  • 1 tsp oregano

  • 2 bay leaves

  • Olive oil

  • Salt and pepper

  • Optional: olives and capers



Step 1: Preparando la Carne



Start by seasoning the flank steak with salt and pepper. In a large pot or deep skillet, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Brown the steak on both sides, then set it aside. This step is key, amigos – it locks in those juicy flavors!


Step 2: Sofrito Time



In the same pot, add the chopped onions, bell peppers, and minced garlic. Cook until they’re soft and fragrant – this is your sofrito. It’s the heartbeat of many Cuban dishes, giving them that distinct, homey taste.


Step 3: Bringing it Together

Cut the browned steak into strips and return it to the pot. Add the tomato sauce, beef broth, cumin, oregano, and bay leaves. Stir it up, reduce the heat to low, and let it simmer. This is where the magic happens – the flavors meld together, and the beef becomes tender.



Step 4: The Final Touches

After about 90 minutes, remove the bay leaves and shred the beef in the pot. If you want a little extra zing, throw in some olives and capers. Let it cook for another 15 minutes or so.



Serving it Up A lo Cubano

Serve your Ropa Vieja over white rice or with some warm Cuban bread. It’s a dish that’s meant to be shared, so call over some friends, pour some Rum or Cuban coffee, and enjoy the feast.



Un Toque Final: Cuban Sayings

In Cuba, we say “Barriga llena, corazón contento” (Full belly, happy heart). That’s exactly how you’ll feel after diving into this dish.


Wrapping Up

Making Ropa Vieja isn’t just about following a recipe; it’s about embracing the Cuban spirit. It's vibrant, it's hearty, and it brings people together - just like the island itself.


¡Buen provecho, y hasta la próxima!

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