RECIPE: A favorite traditional Cuban dish meets the Big Green Egg

Ropa vieja, named with the Spanish term for “old clothes,” is one of Cuba’s most traditional recipes. Courtesy of Ramses H. Batista.
Ropa vieja, named with the Spanish term for “old clothes,” is one of Cuba’s most traditional recipes. Courtesy of Ramses H. Batista.

Credit: Ramses H Batista

Credit: Ramses H Batista

Born and raised in Havana, Ramses H. Batista is one of Cuba’s best-known photographers.

He founded a photography studio and gallery, conducts workshops, and guides visiting photographers around the island.

“I found out that the best way for me to talk to people was through my photos,” Batista said during a recent phone call.

He has been spending a good bit of time in Atlanta, working on Big Green Egg’s next cookbook, “The Flavors of the Caribbean.”

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Ramses H. Batista has traveled extensively across Cuba to chronicle the food culture and history of the country’s different regions. Courtesy of Lia Hernandez.
Ramses H. Batista has traveled extensively across Cuba to chronicle the food culture and history of the country’s different regions. Courtesy of Lia Hernandez.

Credit: Lia Hernandez

Credit: Lia Hernandez

Batista explained that many visitors don’t understand the culinary history of Cuba and the Caribbean.

“They think it’s just rice and beans,” he said. “So, with all my friends at Big Green Egg, there was the idea to create a book that would bring that hidden treasure of the islands over here.”

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The book is expected to be released in early 2022, when Batista is planning to embark on a U.S. book tour. In the meantime, Big Green Egg is previewing a classic recipe for ropa vieja.

“I first met with lots of chefs to get that orientation,” Batista said. “I’m a photographer, not a chef, so I had to learn, and travel to the source.”

He added that the recipe in the book for ropa vieja originally was from the area where Christopher Columbus first landed. “That’s how far it goes back.”

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Ropa Vieja

This recipe, named with the Spanish term for “old clothes,” typically is made with flank steak, which is quite lean and has long, shredded fibers, resembling torn clothes. This is one of Cuba’s most popular traditional recipes.

Ropa Vieja
  • 3 pounds flank steak
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup pimento-stuffed Spanish olives
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • Set the Big Green Egg for indirect cooking at 350, and place an iron Dutch oven on the grill to preheat. Pat the flank steak dry with paper towels. Heat the olive oil in the Dutch oven. Add the flank steak and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on both sides, 5 minutes per side. Remove the steak, leaving the juice, and set aside.
  • In the Dutch oven, with the steak juice, cook the onion and bell peppers, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the salt and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to brown. Stir in the wine and broth; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the sweet paprika, oregano, cumin, black pepper and cayenne pepper, and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the tomatoes and break them up with a spoon. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the steak and the bay leaf to the Dutch oven. Braise the steak and vegetables until the meat is very tender and shreds easily, 2½ to 3 hours. Add more broth if the liquid evaporates. Let it cool for 15 minutes.
  • Discard the bay leaf. Using meat claws or large forks, shred the steak and stir until it is incorporated into the sauce. Stir in the olives and vinegar.
  • In Cuba, ropa vieja often is eaten with crackers as a snack, but you can serve it over rice, along with black beans and fried sweet plantains, or on tortillas, topped with sour cream and fresh cilantro. Serves: six to eight.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on six: 512 calories (percent of calories from fat, 47), 51 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 26 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 148 milligrams cholesterol, 1,694 milligrams sodium.
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