I was despondent not long after I arrived in Havana. People laughed when I told them I was a food writer. “Boy, you’ve come to the wrong place!” they replied. There was nothing super about the few supermarkets that existed; the dim aisles sparsely stocked with Russian pasta and mysterious frozen chicken parts were the saddest I’d seen in the world (and I’ve been to many developing-world places). The butternut squashes and the cucumbers at the farmer’s markets were misshapen and filthy. The first state-owned restaurant we went to served limp spaghetti in a watery tomato sauce and something called “chicken gordon blue” — an endearing mistranslation but nevertheless bland version of the French dish.
But then I tasted my first homemade Cuban meal. It was in our own home, and cooked by M, a housekeeper we’d recently hired. After thawing the frozen chicken I’d bought at the market, M marinated them with lime, cumin, and garlic and roasted the poultry in the oven until the skin was crisp and crackling. Accompanying the chicken was a large bowl of rich black beans, simmered with onions, chicken stock, and green peppers for hours on our stove. She steamed white rice, fluffed and seasoned with a sprinkle of oil and salt. The beans could go over the rice, or on the side — it was a matter of preference, she said. And fried plantains, sweet and so soft they were bordering on gooey. The kids devoured the meal and shouted in unison for more “platanos maduros fritos!” a refrain that now echoes through our kitchen on an almost daily basis.
In my last post, I provided a recipe for Roast Chicken, and over the next week, I’ll provide the rest of the recipes to make this delectable meal … check back to make your own complete Cuban dinner.