Summer Slow Cooking: Ropa Vieja

Summer Slow Cooking:  Ropa Vieja

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This hot weather makes me hate my life. Like, I don’t really hate my life but any time spent outside involves me mumbling profanity under my breath while sweat. drips. everywhere.  I’ve been swimming a lot for sanity and whatever zen I achieve from an hour of monotonous laps is completely obliterated within 0.05 seconds of stepping outside. Cue the profanity.

I’m sorry if I complain about the heat. You know it happens every year. Just be thankful you don’t know me in real life and have to listen to me complain about it 50 times a day. Or endure my wrath when I just come in from my morning commute. 

Oh, the CTA.

Anyway, it is those days when its THIS HOT that none of us can fathom turning on the stove to cook things.  No stove! But we also want a real dinner that’s not a salad or a plate of cheese and crackers or a bowl of no-churn (oh, come on. I’m pretty sure you’ve done at least one of the above, if not all three, at some point in the past three months).  It’s those times when it’s a good idea to bust out the slow cooker.

Yup, summer slow cookin’. It’s a thing.   Or, at least it is now.

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Today’s summer slow cooker thing is ropa vieja, a dish popular throughout Latin America but most closely related to Cuban cuisine.  Yes, that translates to old clothes. No, it does not taste like old clothes. Far from it.

According to this, ropa vieja originated in the Canary Islands where, thanks to Spanish traders, the culture of the Canaries mixed and melted with that of the Caribbean.  The story goes that a poor man was expecting his family home for dinner.  Unable to afford ingredients, he prepared the dish with shredded clothes and after imparting his love on to them, the shredded clothes dish turned into the delicious beef stew that is popular today.

Cue the awww.

While it used to be considered a leftover dish, now it’s a starter dish!

I first discovered this tasty bite at one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Carnivale, years ago, and just knew I had to do it my way when I finally got to the Caribbean part of this schtick.  Traditionally served over potatoes or rice, I’m working to do mine the Carnivale way as a sort of appetizer:  piled atop oven-crisped plantains with a drizzle of spicy avocado creme.

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Yes, I said oven-crisped.  I turned on the oven.   Don’t be mean about it-I’m not saying you have to do that to make the the ropa vieja.  The oven part is merely about presentation. The essence of the dish is still oven-free.  Keep it that way by serving with some tortillas.  

Recipe notes:  

I combined a few recipes:  This + this + my own genius = my recipe.

I was weary of the olives and capers. I’m sure you are too, but don’t be scared. It works.

Because I made this into more small bites rather than big bites eaten in a bowl, I wanted to make sure that those small bites got the goodness of all the big chunks of onions and tomatoes.  Therefore,  I pureed some of them with the broth to make a sort of sauce that coats all the meat real good.  If you’re doing this more tortilla style, this step isn’t really necessary, but I think it does add a nice bit of concentrated flavor that way.

I used fresh tomatoes because they were coming out of my ears thanks to the CSA.  Canned is a-ok.

The avocado cream calls for taco seasoning.  I have a bottle of my mix in a shaker jar that I just use whenever (thanks for the tip, Orange!).  Use your favorite. You do you.

Don’t like plantains? Like I said above you can serve this with tortillas as well. I also think regular russet potato disks would be good, and sweet potato ones will be even better. 

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Ropa Vieja
Serves 4
Slow cooker Cuban style shredded beef appetizers
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Total Time
6 hr
Total Time
6 hr
For the beef
  1. 1- 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
  2. 1/2 large yellow onion, sliced thinly (about 1 cup)
  3. 2 bay leaves
  4. 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  5. 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  6. 1 tsp dried thyme
  7. 2 tsp cumin
  8. 1 tsp salt
  9. 1 tsp black pepper
  10. 1 TB red wine vinegar
  11. 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  12. 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced
  13. 1 cubanelle pepper, seeded and sliced
  14. 1/4 cup green olives with pimento, coarsely chopped
  15. 1 TB capers
  16. 1 1/2 cup stock or water
  17. 14-ounces of tomatoes, canned or fresh
For the avocado cream
  1. 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream (full fat is fine, too. Use what ya got)
  2. 1/2 large avocado
  3. 1/2 lime, juiced (about 2 TB)
  4. 1 TB taco seasoning
  5. 2 plantains, peeled and sliced about 1/2" thick on a bias
  6. 1-2 TB olive oil
  7. 1/2 tsp salt
  8. Cilantro, chopped, to garnish.
Make the beef
  1. Add all the ingredients into the bowl of a slow cooker and cook on high heat for 5 hours until the beef is pull apart tender. Remove the beef and cool slightly, until it's cool enough to shred. Once it is, using two forks to shred completely (alternatively, if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, throw the meat into the bowl with your whisk attachment and let it roll. Yes, it works. Trust.).
  2. Once the beef has been shredded, remove about 1 cup of the tomato/onion mixture and about 1 cup of the liquid and place all in a blender. Puree until smooth. Mix into the shredded beef and coat thoroughly.
Make the avocado cream
  1. Add everything to a blender and puree until smooth.
Make the plantains
  1. About 20 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 450F.
  2. Place the sliced plantains in a large bowl. Add the oil and salt, and toss the plantain slices in the sugar mixture until completely coated.
  3. Place in a single layer on the baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Flip the plantains and bake another 10 minutes until crispy and brown.
  5. Assemble each bite by placing about 1 TB of the beef atop a crispy plantain. Drizzle with the cream and garnish with cilantro. And an extra squeeze of lime, why not.
Adapted from various
Adapted from various
The Hungary Buddha Eats the World http://thehungarybuddha.com/
PS: Another way I’ve managed to keep my zen and pleasant demeanor amidst the insufferable heat is by coming home at night and chilled to my Simon & Garfunkel station because I love it so much and clearly a 64 year old is strong somewhere within.  But, seriously. All oldies and goodies.  And perfect antidote to hot-blood.  What’s your favorite chill music?

PPS:  Lettuce and I leave for the lands of Ice and Eng this weekend! Keep up with our adventures and misadventures by following me on the Instagram with the hashtags #IceLondon and #AdventuresoftheHB.  I promise it’ll be fun.

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2 thoughts on “Summer Slow Cooking: Ropa Vieja”

  • ummm, so I really want to make beef stew but it’s 700 degrees today with 400% humidity and I just blow dried my hair…….so, I probably won’t. But my dad roasted me a chicken and I remembered how great it is for other people to cook for me. #cheeseisnotdinner #eventhoughitshouldbe

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