The flavours of the island can now be cooked right in your own home
For a country that has seen an explosion of private restaurants in recent years, the launching of Cuba The Cookbook seems a natural extension of the emerging “foodie” experience. Plus, if you have ever stayed in a casa particular and had your hosts or hostesses prepare a home-cooked meal for you, or you have been to one of the thousands of paladares (small dining rooms in private homes), you might well have a hankering for Varadero Lobster or a Cuban Sandwich about now. Good news! Help is on its way! And with Cuba The Cookbook, you are in good hands.
Written by Madelaine Vazquez Galvez (basically a Cuban food scientist) and Imogene Tondre (a Californian chef who immigrated to Cuba from Oakland California – yes, immigrated to Cuba), both have collaborated not only to share these classic Cuban recipes but to also protect them from obscurity and obsolescence as some have been disappearing over the years -partly due to the absence of ingredients and difficult economic times.
Published by Phaidon and beautifully illustrated with full colour photographs of both the food creations and images of Cuban markets and neighbourhoods, this is one serious tribute to the food traditions of Cuba.
I rarely “read” cookbooks since I am only interested in a recipe or two, but Cuba The Cookbook, thanks to the seriousness of the authors, reveals some interesting facts about the influences that have impacted these recipes over the centuries. Many of the food inspirations were created due to whomever was “occupying” or assisting the island (the Americans, the Spanish, the Russians, the Chinesese) and when. Therefore, do not be surprised to find in Cuba The Cookbook a simple but accurate recipe for Beef Stronganoff (Russian)(true fact: I made this one over the weekend, and it’s spot on), another for Fish Chop Suey (Chinese), and one for Paella a la cubana (Spanish and Cuban). But fear not, the more traditional Cuban plates such as Cuban chicken croquettes ( my Achilles heal) or ropa vieja( virtually every Havana restaurant has this on their menu) or chicken steak with onions (my new go-to comfort food) are also all available.
For those who like to imbibe from time to time, classic recipes for a perfect mojito, Cuba Libre or the Mary Pickford (inspired by the silver screen star and created at the bar in the Sevilla Hotel) are also contained therein to help you prepare for your next “Havana Nights” theme party.
Plus there is a chapter featuring recipes by “guest chefs” both from on the island and
off the island (Miami, Brooklyn, etc) who add Cuban treasures from their own restaurants such as Havana’s own Atelier’s “Shrimp, cucumber and yogurt salad” or “Red snapper with pureed potatoes and pesto”. Before you know it, with Cuba The Cookbook, you have all of the ingredients to open your own paladar or Cuban restaurant chez vous!
Cuba: The Cookbook
Madelaine Vázquez Gálvez and Imogene Tondre. Phaidon, $49.95 US (432p) ISBN 978-0-7148-75
A.J.Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer who has actually cooked a Cuban meal in a casa particular kitchen with resounding success!
Follow him on Instagram @ajtwistthebest