Monday, December 14, 2009

Nochebuena...A Cuban Christmas in Georgia!

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Being a hyphenated American, in my case, Cuban American (I hate the terminology), is a great excuse to celebrate two wonderful Christmas traditions within 24 hours of each other. I would have to be in Siberia to  think of skipping one of them even though it involves quite a lot of work. Luckily,  I can always count on a close relative to celebrate one or the other. Not this year.

This week my mother arrives and she is the queen of the black beans. No one can touch her, it's not even close. Her sisters, being younger and very smart, always defer this part of the meal to her and believe me, she relishes every minute of it.  She's shown me the ropes a few times, but every time she makes them, it's a different routine.  As with all good cooks, there is no recipe for my mother's black beans, just a matter of tasting and adding to an otherwise very simple recipe.

As in the case of the Classic Cuban Picadillo, I see all kinds of recipes calling for esoteric ingredients that have nothing to do with the original.  Most Cuban recipes entail making a classic spanish sofrito which is onions, green peppers, garlic and sometimes parsley sauteed in olive oil.  That's it. You then add this to the pre soaked cooked beans, add a few more things and cook until done.  The trick is the beans.  Sometimes, if they are fresh, they take less time to cook than beans that have sat in a supermarket for a long time because they are not popular in that area.

As to the pork, here again, the secret is in the marinade and the time it sits soaking up all that garlic and onions!  It doesn't have to be a whole pig in a pit like in the old days.  A nice roast which can be simply cooked in the oven is very tasty and very Cuban.  Nowadays,  Cubans in Miami, and everywhere else where they can find it, have revived the caja china which is a contraption made of a box with wheels where they cook the pig.  It's an all day/lots of beer affair with friends and relatives dropping in and giving advice on how best to season and cook the pork! I don't have a caja china at the lake nor do I have any intentions of getting one.  My roasted pork in the oven is yummy enough for this family!

Yuca, is an acquired taste.  If you are not Cuban forget it.  I have been working on my children for 30 years and they still don't like it.  I'm afraid it might disappear with my generation.  It is a fairly insipid root quite stringy and buttery and I can't think of any other time when it is served in my house.  That is why lots of mojo with garlic is added for flavor.  Don't even think of kissing anybody afterwards! Now fried yuca is something else, and I can have that any day of the year!

If you can get through this wonderful but heavy meal at midnight, more power to you.  I can't.  In my house, we celebrate the other part of the hyphen, my American part, on Christmas Eve and my Cuban side Christmas Day.  It makes for a better digestive experience, even though most Cuban families will cringe at the thought!

For dessert we usually have turrones of all kinds, jijona, alicante and yema are my favorites.  You can find them at any Latin supermarket at this time of the year or by mail order.  By the time you get to dessert you are in such an acute food coma, especially if you ate at the traditional hour of midnight, that you don't care what you are served.  All you can think of is going home and tearing off whatever you are wearing.  Not that its easier during the lunchtime hour, but there you have the siesta alternative.

A red Rioja or Ribera del Duero is a nice wine to have with this meal, but to me, a cold beer is the best! Try Presidente or Corona.

Nochebuena Menu

Lechon Asado - Roast Pork
Frijoles Negros -Black Beans
Arroz Blanco - White Rice
Yuca con Mojo

The black bean recipe is coming up tomorrow and I'll try to post the roast pork also sometime this week.

Poinsettias, pictured above, are called Flor de Pascua or Flor de Nochebuena in Spanish.

1 comment:

  1. This is my favorite meal! I also make the following easy to make Flan....3 egg yolks, 1 can condensed milk, 1 can evaporated milk, 8 oz cream cheese and a splash of vanilla....all mixed in a blender. Melt 1 cup of sugar in a metal loaf pan over a low fire and let cool. Add the mix and bake in a water bath for approximately 1 hour at 325 F or until it sets. Let cool and flip the custard over onto a suitable dish. Enjoy!


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