Cuba

The largest island in the Caribbean is noted for it’s historic heritage, beautiful beaches, a missile crisis, cigars and rum.  Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Colombus, it became a hub for the slave trade and the export of sugar and coffee. By the mid 1800s sugar plantations were satisfying a third of world demand.

The Republic of Cuba encompasses more than 4,000 islands and cays and is located in the northern Caribbean Sea at the confluence with the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The average temperature is 21°C (69.8 °F) in January and 27°C (80.6 °F) in July. Protected natural areas make up nearly 22% of Cuban territory, providing habitats for crocodiles, flamingos, orchids among others.

Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba on February 16, 1959 and remained until he announced his resignation, due to bad health, in February 2008. In March 1960, Eisenhower gave his approval to a CIA plan to arm and train a group of Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro regime. The invasion (known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion) took place on April 14, 1961. About 1,400 Cuban exiles disembarked at the Bay of Pigs, but failed in their attempt to overthrow Castro. Since 1965, the country has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba and it is one of the world’s last remaining socialist countries following the Marxist-Leninist ideology.

A few interesting facts:
Only 5% of Cubans actually have access to the uncensored, open Internet.
The US pays Cuba $4,085 a month in rent for the controversial Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Cuba has never cashed the checks.
Cuba is one of two countries where the sale of Coca-Cola is prohibited (the other is North Korea).
Cuba possesses one of the best health care systems anywhere in the world with the highest doctor-to-population ratio of any country in the world.
Christmas did not become an official holiday in Cuba until 1997.
Cuba is full of US cars from the 1950s. This is because they’re the only cars Cuban citizens can legally own. Only pre 1959 cards that were seized from their original owners can be privately owned and worked on. All newer cars are owned by the government.

2.7 Million international tourists visited Cuba in 2011, the third highest in the Caribbean. It’s highlights include the UNESCO cities of Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Camagüey, Playa Sirena beach, Havana’s Capitolio Nacional building and Parque Nacional Viñales to name a few.

Some popular Cuban dishes I came across; Boliche (beef roast stuffed with chorizo sausages), Ropa Vieja (braised beef with tomato sauce) , Malanga Fritters, Cuban black bean soup and Mixto (cuban sandwich). As we had company (who had visited Cuba), I opted to cook a feast of Pernil Relleno con Moros y Cristianos (Pork shoulder stuffed with black beans stewed with white rice). It was a bit of an effort but it went down very well with our guests. I served it with a green salad of leaves, avocado, asparagus tips and broad beans.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 6 – 7

Prep time: 30 mins + overnight marinating
Cook time: 6 hours

For the stuffed pork
whole pork shoulder, boned and opened out
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
10 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the moros y cristianos
1 tin of black beans
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1/2 small green pepper, minced
1/2 white onion, minced
2 cups white rice, long-grain
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
salt and fresh ground pepper

For the stuffed pork
In small bowl, combine oil, orange juice, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper. Let stand for 1 hour.
Coat the inside of the pork with marinade and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 220°C.
Spread Moros y Cristianos down the middle of meat and fold to fully cover stuffing. Tie with a string both lengthwise and across.
Place in a roasting tray with 2 cups of water and roast for 6 hours, checking it isn’t getting too black.

For the moros y cristianos
Add the vegetable oil to a saucepan and sauté the garlic, pepper and onion for 5 minutes until they soften.
Stir in the black beans and rice, and add 4 cups of water.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the rice is tender, approximately 20 minutes.
Stir frequently and check to see if you need additional water to keep the rice from sticking. Add more if needed but don’t let it get too mushy.
Once the rice is fully cooked, add the lime juice and salt and pepper.

 

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Portugal

I’ve visited Portugal a few times and was looking forward to what the cuisine had in store for me. Piri Piri chicken is one of my favourites, so I was optimistic and fortunately not disappointed!
Portugal is situated on the Iberian Peninsula and was founded in 1139, making it one of the oldest nations in Europe. It is also the most westerly and it’s 754 mile long border with Spain is the longest in the EU.

Here are a few interesting facts I came across:
Portugal was the first county in the world to decriminalize the usage of all common drugs.
The biggest wave ever surfed, at 90ft (27.5m) was at Praia de Norte in Portugal by Hawaiian Garret McNamara.
The longest bridge in Europe, measuring 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) in length, is the Vasco da Gama bridge in Lisbon, completed in 1998 to celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the discovery of the sea route between Europe and India.
The largest community of Portuguese outside Portugal is in Paris.
There are 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal and more than 13 million tourists visit the country each year.
The largest artificial underwater park in the world – The Ocean Revival Underwater Park is in Portugal.
The oldest director in the world, Manoel de Oliveira lived until he was 106 and continued to make films until his death on 2 April 2015.
Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world, around 70% of total production.

Besides the obvious Piri Piri, there were plenty of tasty recipe options I found including Cataplana stew with Sausage and Clams , Cabidela (rice with chicken or rabbit), Caldeirada (fish stew) , Canja de galinha (chicken soup) , Espetada (chunks of beef rubbed in garlic and salt, skewered and barbequed), Queijada (a sweet made with cheese, milk, sugar & eggs) , Peixinhos da horta (deep fried green beans) and Camel’s drool (a portuguese sweet that recently featured on Master Chef, UK). I opted for Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork and clams). It was relatively simple and tasted really good. I served it with Portuguese style fried potatoes, which were equally delicious.

Rating: A high 9/10!

Serves 2
Prep time: 30 mins + 10 – 24 hours marinating time
Cook time: 45 mins

450g pork fillet cut into 2″ thick slices
50 ml dry white wine
250 ml milk
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
100 ml vermouth
500g clams (fresh or frozen)
175 ml (3/4 cup) chicken stock
1 bunch thyme, tied with kitchen string
1 tbsp parsley, chopped

For the roast pepper paste
2 long red peppers
6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

To make roast pepper paste
Preheat oven to 200°C. Place peppers and garlic cloves in an oven tray with olive oil. Season well and roast for 35 – 40 minutes or until softened and slightly blackened. Transfer to a bowl, cool slightly, then remove the skins and seeds from the peppers and the garlic skins.
Blend the peppers and garlic in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and cover with oil.

To make the Porco à Alentejana
Place pork in a bowl with white wine, milk, bay leaves, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp white pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 10 – 24 hours.
Drain, discard liquid and pat dry with paper towel.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Heat oil in a large ovenproof and lidded casserole dish over high heat and brown the pork for 3 minutes.
Remove the pork using a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl.
Add garlic and onions to the same pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until softened.
Stir in ¼ cup roast pepper paste, vermouth and pork.
Place the dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until pork is tender.
Add clams, stock and thyme, cover the pan and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the clams have opened.
Remove the thyme sprig.
Season and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve with Portuguese style fried potatoes.

Poland

“Cześć” … “Hello”
The world’s tallest statue of Jesus is found in the town of Swiebodzin in Poland.  The 167 foot tall statue (including its 55 foot pedestal) is called Christ The King and towers higher than Rio de Janeiro’s Christ The Redeemer which stands at a mere 125 feet.
It is also home to Wroclaw, Europe’s Capital of Culture 2016, which is often called The Venice of the North, due to it’s location on the Odra River, with its 12 islands, 130 bridges and riverside parks.
One of the world’s oldest salt mines is the Wieliczka Salt Mine which was built in the 13th century and produced table salt until 2007.   It is also referred to as “the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland” due to its three chapels and an entire cathedral which was carved out of the rock salt by the miners and was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1978.
Many notable people hail from Poland including; Marie Curie, Chopin, Roman Polanski and Pope John Paul II.
Poland has been invaded or fought for freedom in insurrections 43 times from 1600 – 1945.
In September 1939, World War II started with the invasions of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (as part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact). More than six million Polish citizens died in the war.

Some popular Polish recipes include Bigos (hunters stew), Pierogi (dumplings),   On a wet and cold February evening however, we were in the mood for something relatively simple & quick, so I cooked Kotlet schabowy (breaded pork cutlet) and served it with little roasted rosemary spuds.
Rating: 7/10.  It could’ve benefited from a little more seasoning, so I have adapted the recipe slightly.

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins

2 boneless pork shoulder steaks (or 1 each for however many you want to feed!)
Salt and black pepper
1 tsp season all
Plain flour
1 large egg beaten with 1 tsp water
Panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil

Bash the pork between two pieces of clingfilm to 1/4-inch thickness.
Season both sides of the steaks with salt and pepper.
Put flour on a plate with 1 tsp of season all.
Dredge each steak in flour, then egg, then panko breadcrumbs.
Allow cutlets to dry for 10 minutes before frying.
Heat oil to a depth of 1/2 inch in a large skillet.
Fry the pork cutlets one at a time in the pan for 5 minutes per side until golden.
Put in the oven covered with foil to keep warm whilst you cook the other steak(s).
Serve with chips or little roasted potatoes.

Haiti

The first time of sharing (inflicting one could say) my cooking challenge with anyone other than my generally thankful husband!! … Mum and Dad joined us this evening.
Haiti makes up one third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, with the Dominican Republic making up the other two-thirds.
Native Haitians were pre-Columbian Amerindians called Taíno, “the good people.” The Taíno named their land “Ayiti,” meaning “Land of Mountains”—a term that evolved into “Haiti”
In the jungles of Haiti, one can find certain species that do not live naturally on any other part of the globe; some bat species native to Haiti include the Greater Bulldog bat, the Sooty Mustached bat and Waterhouse’s leaf-nosed bat.
There are some quite harsh facts associated with this Caribbean country:
– It has been ranked as one of the five most corrupt countries
– Because of both violence and AIDS, it has the highest percentage of orphans of any country in the Western Hemisphere. Before the 2010 earthquake, the United Nations estimated there were 430,000 orphans
– From 1804-1915, more than 70 dictators ruled Haiti
– It is estimated between 200,000 – 300,000 Haitians died and 1.5 million were left homeless in the devastating earthquake in January 2010.
– c.1% of Haiti’s population owns more than 50% of the nation’s wealth.

These were some of the recipes I found in my research; Diri kole ak pwa (rice and beans), Kribich nan sòs (Haitian Shrimp), Legim (thick vegetable stew), but as I knew I was entertaining, I chose the more popular Griyo or Griot (fried pork).  I found several recipes, all varied quite significantly in both method & ingredients.  This is how I made it:

Rating 7/10

Ingredients for 4 people
6 pork shoulder steaks, cut into 1” square chunks
1 large onion, sliced thinly
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 jalapeno chilli pepper, seeds removed and sliced thinly
1.5 tsp of thyme leaves
Juice of 2 limes
Juice of 1 orange
3 garlic cloves
500ml water
2 tbsp olive oil

Put the pork with all of the ingredients except the water and oil in a bowl, mix well, cover and refreigerate overnight
Take the pork out of the fridge an hour before you want to start cooking
Drain any liquid and reserve it.  Place the pork, onions & water in an oven proof covered dish
Preheat the oven to 190
Cook the pork for 1.5 hours.
Using a large colander, drain the liquid into a medium saucepan, reserving the pork & onion in the colander.
Put the oil in the same oven dish and place into the oven for 5 mins
Place the pork into the hot oil and cook for 25 mins
Meanwhile heat the remaining liquid in the saucepan with ½ cup of orange juice and reduce by half to make the sauce
When the pork is cooked, remove from the oven and pour the reduced sauce over the pork and serve with cooked boiled rice.

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Cyprus

I have 2 distinct food memories from my first trip to Cyprus.  The first was of Crêpe Suzette – not a Cypriot dish obviously, but it seemed to be the chosen dessert in the restaurants of Ayia Napa in 1990!  I’ve loved it ever since.  The second was a little more authentic, a simple barbecued chicken in a restaurant with no menu, in the heart of the Troodos mountains – it had such an amazing flavour.

I found a number of recipes, namely Tavas (lamb stew), Kaloirka (tortellini) and Loukoumades (doughnuts). I came across a fair few Turkish and Greek originated dishes but I wanted to select something authentically Cypriot, so I decided on Afelia (pork with red wine and spices).  I served it with red peppers stuffed with cherry tomatoes & fried potatoes.  I used pork fillet, but I’d like to try pork shoulder next time.
My rating 8/10
This is the really easy recipe I followed:
Ingredients
500g pork
200ml red wine
1 tbs coriander, crushed
2 tbsps olive oil
salt, pepper
roughly chopped parsley to garnish
Method
Cut the meat into small pieces and marinate in the red wine and coriander overnight.
Drain and reserve the marinade.
Heat the oil and fry the meat in batches on a medium heat until slightly brown.
Add salt, pepper and the remaining marinade
Add some water, enough to reach the top of the meat.
Cover the pan and simmer until the meat is tender (approx 30-40 mins)
Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley

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