with Stephanie Bullen
Discovering Cuban Island Spice
Think of Cuba and you’ll likely be picturing the booming years of the very early 1950s: the Tropicana Club, music and dance, a steady supply of rum, fashionable Panama hats and Cuban heels, Cuban cigars, and hedonistic tourists. You may not immediately think of the food, which is a shame. While simple in preparation and presentation, Cuban food is rich in flavor. Cuban cuisine is a product of many cultural influences including Spanish, Portuguese, West African, Afro-Caribbean, French, and Chinese.
For most Cubans, food is about family as much as sustenance. The preparation of a dish is family heritage and laden with stories and history. Many families have their own versions of authentic Cuban dishes. Cuban-Americans have adopted some of the ingredients and traditions of their new home while still retaining the integrity of their homeland favorites.
Cuban Island Spice is inspired by this history and tradition. The base of this blend is a combination of ingredients traditionally found in the two foundations for authentic Cuban cooking: sofrito and adobo. Sofrito is a base sauce, originating in Latin cuisine, which is traditionally made with fresh chiles, onion, garlic, tomato, cilantro, and parsley; this medley of ingredients is then cooked in olive oil. Adobo roughly translates as ‘to stew’ and is a common food preparation throughout Latin America. Cuban style adobo commonly includes a sauce of garlic, salt, cumin, lime juice and oregano.
Our first order of business was to use spices to create the same flavors. Using powdered lime leaves, we were able to replicate the bright flavor traditionally imparted by lime juice. We added a few herbs to enhance the flavor of dried parsley. Perfecting a dry version was the first order of business and finding the ideal balance of sofrito and adobo was the final step.
After tasting the finished product, the first thing that came to mind was one of our favorite sandwiches: the Cubano. Our twist on this Florida classic uses a combination of chicken and pork but feel free to use the traditional ham in addition! As with any good Cubano, it’s essential to add mustard, Swiss cheese, and dill pickles. If you’ve never had a Cubano but love ham and cheese sandwiches, this is a must-try recipe.
Our new Cuban Island Spice is flavorful but family friendly (not a spicy blend!). For a Cuban inspired family feast, start with arroz con frijoles (rice and beans). Add some Cuban Island Spice, onion, and bell pepper to black beans; top white rice with these flavorful black beans before serving. Another Cuban favorite, lechon asado (roast pork) is easy to recreate. If you are a fan of pulled pork, this is a must try. Generously rub a pork shoulder with Cuban Island Spice and let dry marinate overnight. Cook in the oven, low and slow, or in a crockpot and shred before serving.
It’s also perfect for preparing other Cuban favorites like Ropa Veija, Steak Palamillo, and Vaca Frita. This seasoning can also be used for spicing up tamales or empanadas, tostones, even pizza! Of course, it’s a great way to add flavor to your salsa or guacamole too.
Maybe that versatility is part of the reason it’s been flying off the shelves at many of our stores. We seem to have a new customer favorite and we’re eager to build our recipe repertoire. We look forward to hearing about the fantastic recipes you’re creating with this easy-to-use seasoning!
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