A taste of Cuban home cooking

Paulina Picciano

As much as I’ve come to love New Orleans and its culture as my home away from home, Miami, my hometown, will always have a special place in my heart. Not a day goes by where I don’t find myself longing for the beach and occasional sea breeze, but those are easy to do without. What I can’t do without is the food. From the moment I leave, it’s like my very soul starts to cry for some good ol’ Cuban food, the food of my childhood, the food I immediately demand to eat whenever I’m back home.

Now, this type of cuisine exists outside of Miami, but it’s hard to find and not quite the same, either. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cringed and grimaced when I see something on a menu deemed Cuban and it’s anything but the food I grew up eating. Luckily, thanks to a very understanding mother who doesn’t mind a billion calls and texts, I’ve finally figured out how to make it at home, and I’ve got a few recipes to share with you. So crank up the Spanish music (Justin Bieber remixes don’t count) because it’s time to get cooking.

Sofrito (pronounced like ‘so-free-toe’)


Let’s start with the base. Sofrito is an onion-y, garlic-y mixture of beauty that will change all your dishes. It’s the flavoring for most Cuban food, and an article regarding this kind of cuisine that doesn’t talk about sofrito would just be sacrilege. We love this stuff, and once you try it, you might just find yourself incorporating it into your own recipes, as well (hint: it’s awesome in red beans in rice).

What you need:

  • One large onion
  • One green bell pepper
  • 4+ cloves of garlic
  • Oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

How to make it:

Get yourself a sharp knife and a big cutting board, we’ve got a lot of chopping to do. Start by dicing your onion into small pieces. This is where personal preference comes in. If you don’t like large pieces of veggies in your food, then chop it as fine as possible. Otherwise, a rough chop will do. Same treatment goes for your bell pepper. (Note: this is also where I like to put a little color in my food. Personally, I go half and half with one green pepper and one red pepper, but if you don’t have the space in your fridge or any use for two halves of either of these things, then just go ahead with the one green pepper). In case you couldn’t tell, garlic is important here, so the more the merrier, but you’re gonna want to have at least four decent sized cloves in your mixture. Once you’ve decided how much, peel and mince away.

Set a pan to medium heat with a quarter sized amount of oil. Then add in the onion, bell pepper and garlic mixture. What we’re going for here is a nice sautéed effect. You want everything cooked down until your onions are looking clear and really melded in with the bell pepper. Stir every once in a while to ensure even cooking, and add in some salt and pepper for taste. Remember, this is your flavor base, so whatever you do here will have a pretty big effect on the rest of your dish.

Picadillo (pronounced like ‘peak-ah-dee-yo’)


When I think home cooking, picadillo is what I think of. I have so many memories of my grandmother making it for us when I was a kid and later of my mother whipping it up for me after a long plane ride home from New Orleans. I kid you not, when I cooked up a batch for photos, I almost started crying, I was so happy. It’s so easy to make, requires minimal clean-up once you’re done and is oh so satisfying to eat. Mind you, your entire living space will smell like food, but it’ll be worth it.

What you need:

  • Sofrito (the amount made in the last recipe is what you’ll need here)
  • 2 pounds of ground beef
  • 1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • Olives (Spanish or Manzanilla)
  • One small pack of raisins
  • Salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder to taste

How to make it:

That whole sofrito mix we just made? Yeah, we’re gonna need all of it for this recipe. Once you’ve finished cooking that, add in two pounds (at least, this will feed about 4-5 people) of ground beef and brown it with the sofrito. This really helps develop the flavor of the dish. Once the beef is all cooked and crumbled, mix in the entire can of tomato sauce. Give it a good stir, until everything is well melded together. From here, all we’ve really got left to worry about is spices. Add in your salt and pepper to taste. I also like to throw in a pinch of both garlic and onion powders.

Now, I don’t know if you remember, but we also had raisins and olives on that ingredients list. Weird right? Not for picadillo. It all adds up to giving the dish its final, unique flavor, and the quantity of these last two ingredients also comes down to preference. Raisins add sweetness while olives add a salty kick, so adjust your recipe with this in mind. I’m not a huge raisin fan, so I never add in more than maybe half a little snack pack of them. I will, however, add in about 10 olives. Once you figure this out, give the dish one last good mix and then serve over white rice.


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Every main dish needs a side dish. Although, plantains tend to hold up pretty well on their own. For those of you who might not know, plantains are sort of like bananas but with a slight difference. They tend to hold up better with savory-ish cooking and are very common to Hispanic cuisine. While this recipe is slightly different from what I’m used to at home, it still packs a punch and pairs well with the picadillo from earlier.

What you need:

  • 2+ plantains
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar
  • Rum (optional)

How to make it:

We’re making this in the oven, so before you do anything, remember to preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Then grab a sheet pan and tin foil and set aside for later.

The number of plantains you need depends on how many people will be eating it, but I found that at least two can feed up to four people, if everyone eats 2-3 pieces on their own. To prepare your plantains, cut off the ends and remove the peel. An easy way to do this is to slice down the side of the peel and tear it off. Then cut the plantain in half and slice these two pieces down the middle, creating four pieces per plantain.

Then take your plantain pieces and nestle them inside a square of tin foil (Note: four pieces will fit in one square). Slice some pieces of butter and cover the plantains. You can’t really have too much, as the butter will melt and seep into the plantains. Then sprinkle some brown sugar over them. If you can and want to, you can also splash a little bit of rum over them for an additional kick. Close up the tin foil and place on a baking sheet, and then stick inside the oven for about 20-25 minutes. They’ll be ready when the butter has melted and the sugar has caramelized into the plantains. Your time might vary depending on your oven, so check in on them periodically.

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