I won't pussyfoot around it: I'm royally pissed about Prop 8. I'm pissed that that many people in the state of California are so blinded by religious doctrine. I'm pissed that they're so impressionable and prone to accepting blatant lies as truth. I'm pissed that barely 50% of registered voters in San Francisco bothered to give a damn. And I'm pissed that more people are concerned about the well-being of chickens destined for our plates than in the fundamental rights of actual human beings living in this state. (Mind you, I did vote for the chickens, too!)
But what really stuck in my craw most of all was the surprise. I sincerely believed that this whole elimination-of-human-rights thing would all blow over, that people would see reason and be able to make rational decisions. And above all, I was surprised at how powerful the emotional impact was. It's one thing to live your life without a fundamental right. It's not appropriate or just, but you just sort of accept it. However, it is altogether another matter to have something given, then abruptly taken away. I can tell you now, having fought back tears of rage all day on November 5, I understand prejudice in an entirely new light as of now. I want to say it left me speechless, but that is clearly not the case.
Hey, you know who else used to have rights, then had them unjustly taken away? Cubans! (You like the segueway? Didja see that coming?) Yes, like the gays, Cubans once had a swingin' good time until a group of radical asshats spoiled the party. Like the gays, Cubans have a penchant for soulful music and refreshing cocktails. Unlike the gays, Cubans have retained a rich culinary heritage that remains unspoiled in the era of carb-Nazism.
Perhaps the quintessential Cuban main is ropa vieja, strips of beef cooked with peppers until tender, then shredded. The name translates to "old clothes," referring to the rag-like texture of the broken-down meat.
My fabulous friend David has fabulous Cuban parents. How fabulous? Well, his mother is an opera diva, for starters, and his father is by all accounts a very good cook. It's through him that I learned of the Taste of Cuba website, which he mines for recipes from their homeland. I used their ropa vieja recipe as the foundation for my adaptation.
It's not a pretty dish, but it is very much a tasty one. It's also super easy. Best of all, it's another excellent candidate for our new favorite toy, the pressure cooker. (Though it's equally well suited to the slow cooker or just on the stovetop.) Enjoy it with some Spanish rice, washed down with a nice Cuba Libre, or whatever libation you require to soothe the wounds of injustice.
Adapted from Taste of Cuba
The original recipe calls for green bell peppers, but many people don't care for them. You can replace them with red bell peppers, but the flavor will be much more mild. I like to use both to get a balance between the sweetness of the red and the pungency of the green. The remaining halves of each pepper I use for the sofrito, below.
2-1/2 lbs flank steak, cut into 2" long strips
1 onion, diced
1 green and/or red bell pepper, diced
8 oz tomato puree
1 c. water or stock
1 to 2 tsp cumin or adobo
1/4 c. sofrito (see below)
Salt and pepper
Brown the meat in olive oil in the cooking pot of the pressure cooker. Remove and set aside. Cook the onions, garlic and peppers in the same pot until translucent. Add the sofrito and cook a minute or two longer. Add the browned meat, along with any juices that may have come out, the cumin, salt and pepper, water and tomato puree. (I also threw in some braised greens I had on hand.) Put the lid on the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Allow the pressure to come down naturally; do not quick-release. With tongs or forks, pull the strips of meat to shred them; they should come apart easily. Serve with Spanish rice.
Sofrito is a base used in Cuban and many other cuisines. Like the French mirepoix, it's a simple combination of common vegetables, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Make extra, and keep it in the fridge in a jar with a thin float of oil on top, and scoop out as needed for soups, sauces, braises ... anything.
Taste of Cuba's recipe is very traditional and satisfying, but if you don't want to go through quite so much effort, simply combine two parts onion to one part each peppers and tomato plus a few cloves of garlic in a blender or food processor until broken down into a paste, then season to taste with salt, pepper, cumin or adobo and oregano. Sauté the sofrito before braising to remove raw onion and pepper flavors, which may overwhelm your dish.