Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ropas Viejas Mio

Spanish for “Old Clothes” – what this robust tomato beef stew is meant to resemble, the braised strips of meat and vegetables turn out looking like a mound of colorful rags.
Ropa Viejas is known as a classic Cuban dish, and very popular throughout the Caribbean. This is a dish I first learned of through my MIL. She does a darn good version but this is my own according to my tastes and the things I like best about the stew. For instance, she prefers to use green bell peppers, which I can’t stand in the least. She doesn’t use annatto either, to my knowledge. I feel it lends a nice mellow peppery-ness to the dish versus using chilies, which I’ve found detracts from the dish. Of course, should one find they prefer a little more kick in their stew, by all means, hot sauce it up.
My version also uses beer. Not really particular about the kind of beer. I mean, keep it light. Here I used some Red Stripe, a Jamaican Lager (trying to keep things Caribbean).
I’ve seen a good many bastardized versions of this recipe. Hopefully actual Cubans won’t scorn me for my own..

Ropa Viejas Mio

¼ c. Olive Oil
¼ t. Annatto Seeds
2 Yellow Onions – sliced thin
2 Bell Peppers – sliced thin (color of your preference. I favor orange ones)
Several Garlic Cloves – crushed
2-3# Flank Steak (preferably – I often use milanesa, as I have here)
2 cans Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 small tin tomato paste (I prefer sundried tomato paste)
3 c. Beer
1 Lime – Juiced & zested
1 Bay Leaf
1 t. Cumin
Salt & White Pepper TT

Sour Cream
Sliced Scallions
Sliced Avocado
Shredded/Crumbled Cheese

1. In a (preferably heavy cast) dutch oven, over med-high heat, pour in olive oil and annatto seeds and stir for 1-2 minutes to let the seeds infuse the oil with their color and flavor. Add sliced onions and bell peppers – sauté 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, if using milanesa steak, cut the meat into strips
3. Add crushed garlic, canned tomato, meat, tomato paste, bayleaf, cumin, lime and beer to the pot. Stir just to mix, bring to a simmer then cover and let everything braise for about 1.5 – 2 hrs.
4. Adjust seasonings. (If you used flank steak – transfer the meat to a cutting board and shred with two knives, then return to the pot). Serve with yellow rice, beans and fried plantains

This stew is at it’s most magical if made a day ahead and left to consummate overnight.
Perhaps the most unfamiliar ingredient in this whole thing is the annatto seeds. You should be able to find these in the spice section of the latino aisle in your grocery store. If you can’t find it there I suggest either heading to a tienda in your area or hitting up’s grocery section.

Annatto (also known as achiote) is the edible seed of the achiote/lipstick tree. These seeds are used to produce “annatto coloring”, which is used in many food items such as cheeses (cheddar, for instance), soups and rices. Depending on how much is used, it can tinge things in ranges from pale yellow to deep orange.
The plant flourishes in the south Americas, where natives have long used it in cooking, painting, treatment of heartburn and stomach pains, as a sunscreen and insect repellent and for make up.
I kind of view it as the poor man’s Saffron. It has it’s own flavor – as mellow yet pronounced as Saffron does – and it colors food the same way. It’s just hella cheaper, and that, me likey.

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Pretty Pepper
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After it’s all said and done
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With Ropas Viejas, I like to serve it with a garlicky rice pilaf and blackbeans and smother it in crema. I used annatto seeds to flavor the rice as well.
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To see more pictures of the achiote plant, there is a great set of photos here