I’ve always been fascinated with Cuba. Perhaps because it remains a romantically forbidden destination, or maybe because Hemingway wrote two of my favorite novels there. Or, maybe it’s the food. Enter the Ropa Vieja.
Considered Cuba’s national dish, its name translates to ‘old clothes,’ and the story goes that a destitute old man once shredded and cooked his clothes because he could not afford food for his family. He prayed over the bubbling concoction, and a miracle occurred, turning the mixture into a tasty, rich meat stew. Generally made with flank steak, this vegan version uses the ever-versatile Jackfruit. For our Ropa Vieja recipe, we’re also adding an array of other classic Cuban and Spanish ingredients such as olives and pimentos.
Ropa Vieja only tastes better the next day as the flavors have more time to meld, so this is a perfect dish to make in large batches for leftovers! I like to serve it over Cuban black beans and cilantro rice. If you can find them, fried plantains called Maduro’s make an excellent accompaniment as well!
- 2 cans young green jackfruit, drained and dried
- 1 “not beef” bouillon cube
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 large onion, halved and sliced thin
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4” thin strips
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup dry wine (I used red wine)
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives, halved crosswise
- 1 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
- Avocado, sliced in half
- Chopped cilantro
- Serve with cilantro white rice, maduros, and Cuban black beans
- Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 250°.
- Drain jackfruit and dry with a towel.
- Mix bouillon cube with 1/2 cup of hot water.
- Heat oil in a large heatproof pot over high.
- Cook jackfruit, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, 5–7 minutes. Add bouillon mixture to pan and scrape and bits of jackfruit stuck to the bottom of a pan. Stir in 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Mix well. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
- In the same pan add remaining tablespoon of oil and cook onion, bell peppers. Add salt, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 12–14 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pan, until vegetables are golden brown, 3–5 minutes.
- Stir in wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until evaporated.
- Stir in paprika, oregano, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne until vegetables are coated; continue to cook, stirring, until spices are fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add tomatoes and coarsely break up with a spoon (they’ll continue to break down as they cook). Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
- Add jackfruit back into vegetable mixture with bay leaf.
- Cover and transfer to oven. Braise until jackfruit and vegetables are very tender about 30 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes.
- Discard bay leaves. Using a potato masher or 2 forks, tear and smash jackfruit into sauce until it’s shredded and incorporated into sauce.
- Stir in olives and vinegar.