Cuban Influence on Miami

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written by Catrina Sally

The influx of Miami’s Cuban population began in the 1950’s. Following the rise of Fidel Castro, many Cuban refugees fled to Florida. Over 150,000 Immigrants travelled by plane and by boat to Miami. Welcomed into the city with opened arms, the refugees morphed Miami into “Little Havana.”

The cultural effect of the Cuban population is readily visible in Miami.  The people of Cuba have influenced the clothing, music, architecture, and food of the Florida city.  You can see, hear, and taste their influence in everything from the funky salsa music to the mint and rum laden Mojito.

Like most cultures, food is an important aspect of the Cuban Community. Cuban food is characterized by its heavy use of rice. Popular dishes include arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), pan con bistec (steak sandwich), platanos maduros (sweet plantains), and lechon asado (pork).

Watch People Try Cuban Food For the First Time:

Check out some the Cuban Recipes we have hear at MCCN

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Cuban Papas Rellenas Recipe

potato ball

Photo by Crystal Johnson, Multi Cultural Cooking Network.

Cuban Papas Rellenas are filled potato balls. It is often found in Cuban bakeries.  Here in Los Angeles, Porto’s Bakery is the popular spot in which to find this delicious treat.  If you seek to try a winning appetizer recipe then roll up you sleeves and let’s get in the kitchen.

Click to see Recipe

Cuba: Mojito Recipe


A Mojito is traditionally made of five ingredients: white rum, sugar (traditionally sugar cane juice), lime, sparkling water and mint. The original Cuban recipe uses spearmint or yerba buena, a mint variety very popular in the island.

  • 3 teaspoons of sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Fresh yerbabuena (or mint) leaves
  • 1 ounce white rum
  • Soda water

Put sugar and lime juice in a glass. Crush a few fresh mint leaves into the sugar and the lime juice. Add one ounce of white rum and ice cubes. Fill with soda water and serve with a sprig of mint.

The Tradition of Roasting Pig & Cuban Roast Suckling Pig Recipe

pig roast or hog roast is an event or gathering which involves the barbecuing of whole hog (the castrated male pig or boar, bred for consumption at about 12 months old). Pig roasts in the mainland American Deep South are often referred to as a pig pickin’, although roasts are also a common occurrence in Cuba as well as the non-mainland US state of Hawaii (a luau),[3] with roasts being done in the mainland states by descendants of other areas.

new pig photo

The tradition of the pig roast goes back centuries, and possibly longer. There are many ways to roast pork, including open fire rotisserie style roasting, and “caja china” style box grilling.[4] Many families traditionally have a pig roast for Thanksgiving or Christmas. In Miami and other areas with large Cuban, Puerto Rican, or other Caribbean populations pig roasts are often held on Christmas Eve by families and friends[5][6] whereas families from Hawaii often hold a roast on memorial day.


  • juice of 20 limes, strained
  • juice of 8 oranges, strained
  • 4 large heads garlic
  • 1 cup minced fresh oregano leaves
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 4 cups roughly chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon parsley leaves
  • 5 tablespoons salt
  • 1 whole suckling pig (12 to 15 pounds), split and washed


Place pig, belly down, into a large deep roasting pan. Thoroughly rub pig with marinade. Place in refrigerator overnight, basting occasionally.
Preheat oven to 275 °F. Pour off excess marinade from pan.
Cover pig’s ears, snout and tail with aluminum foil.
Prop mouth open with 1½ inch ball of foil.  Place in oven and cook for about 4½ hours (20 minutes per pound) or until internal temperature reads 160 °F.
Baste with marinade every 30 minutes. If pig starts to get too dark while cooking, cover with aluminum foil.

Cuban Pork Chops with Plantain Mash

We want to thank Gloria Cabada Leman of Carolina Hot Sauce Company for this recipe.   Pork chops and plantains are traditional Cuban foods, and my recipe is based on very old recipes dating back several generations. The Spanish name is “Costillas de Puerco con Machuquillo,” which translates to “pork chops with mashed plantains,” and the zesty marinade is called “mojo.” This very rich and highly flavorful dish requires at least 1 hour for marinating and then about an hour or so for cooking, but it’s not difficult and is worth the time. If you’re not familiar with Cuban food, this is an excellent introduction because the flavors are approachable and familiar rather than “exotic,” and it’s not hot or spicy (most Cuban food doesn’t use hot peppers).

For a healthier dish I reduced the salt (trust me, you won’t miss it), cut back on the amount of fat used in old recipes and suggested Spanish olive oil as an alternative pork fat. Also, traditional recipes call for frying the plantain rounds in a lot of oil, then mashing them with the cracklings and re-frying the mash in pork fat. Instead of double-frying the plantains, I boiled them first and then fried them after mashing.

The following recipe will serve two, and I don’t recommend simply doubling all the ingredients for more servings because it unbalances the marinade and probably also makes too much mashed plantain. I’m developing a 4-serving version and hope to post that in the future.

Ingredients for Pork Chops

  • 2 pork chops (about 1″ thick, approx. 3/4 lbs total weight)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup bitter orange (also called “naranja agria” or Seville orange juice)*
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup white wine (I used chardonnay but any drinkable dry white is fine)
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbs olive oil (preferably Spanish), pork lard or bacon fat

Ingredients for Plantain Mash

  • 2 green plantains (approx 1 1/4 lbs total)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 Tbs salt
  • 1 Tbs bitter orange juice, or lemon or lime juice, in a small bowl
  • 1 Tbs olive oil (preferably Spanish), pork lard or bacon fat

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Chef Marta’s Cuban Ropa Vieja Recipe

Ropa Vieja is a dish that can be prepared a day or two in advance, which will enhancethe flavor and leave you time to Ropa Viejaenjoy the guests at your table. In Cuba this dish is served with Congri (black beans and rice), yucca with mojo and sweet plantains. Serves 4 to 6 people.  This recipe comes from Chef Marta Quintana from the Havana Road Cafe in Towson, MD, right outside of Baltimore.

The Meat

  •  2 qts water or enough to cover the brisket
  •   3 lbs flat/first cut brisket, trimmed of excess fat
  •  1 tspwhole black peppercorns
  •  3 ea dried bay leaves
  •  1 tsp sea salt
  •   4 cloves garlic, peeled
  •   1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

 The Sauce

  •   ¼ C extra virgin olive oil
  •  1 C green pepper, finely diced – approximately 1 medium green pepper
  •   1C yellow onion, finely diced –approximate 1 large yellow onion
  •   1 Tbsp finely minced garlic
  •  1 Tbsp Kosher salt
  •   ½ C dry white wine
  •   1 tsp ground black pepper
  •  1 tsp sweet paprika
  •   1 tsp ground cumin
  •   1 Tbsp onion powder
  •   1 Tbsp garlic powder
  •  1 tsp dried oregano
  •   1 tsp dried basil
  •   ¾ C tomato paste
  •   ½ C+ dry white wine
  •  1 C tomato sauce


2 C+ strained beef boiling liquid

2 ea limes juiced


The Meat

1. Use a Dutch oven or roasting pan with a tight fitting lid. You want your brisket to just fit in the bottom with not a lot of space around it. Start with 2 quarts of water and bring to a rapid boil. Add the brisket. The water should just cover the brisket. If there is too much liquid just ladle it out or add enough to cover.

2. Add the whole peppercorns, bay leaves, sea salt, whole garlic cloves and teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil.

3.Reduce to a rapid simmer and cover. Watch the water, you don’t want it to boil over but you want it to be active. Check from time to time to make sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated too much. In the end it might reduce itself by half.

4. Cook the brisket for two to two and a half hours until it is fork tender.

5. While the brisket cooks you can start to cook your sauce.

The Sauce

1. Heat a large saucepan, 4 or 5 quart, on medium high heat. Add the ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, the diced onions, the diced green peppers, the minced garlic and the 1 tablespoons of Kosher salt. Stir for about two minutes and then add the ½ cup of dry white wine. Let that cook until the onions become translucent.

2.Once the onions are translucent add the ground black pepper, sweet paprika, cumin, onion powder, and garlic powder. Stir.

3. Take the dried oregano and basil and rub them in the palms of your hands to enhance their flavor and add to the pot. Stir for about two minutes. Add the tomato paste and ½ cup of dry white wine. Stir constantly to blend the vegetables, herbs, wine and paste. Stir and cook for about 5 to 8 minutes until well blended and cooked. 4. Add the cup of tomato sauce, stir to blend and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes. It will be fairly thick but if you think it needs a bit of thinning, just add a ¼ cup more of white wine. Turn off the heat when done. Assembly 1. Once the brisket is deemed fork tender. Turn off the heat under the pot, take off the lid and let it sit in the liquid for 30 minutes.

2. Put the brisket on a cutting board. Take the beef boiling liquid which is now a beef broth and strain the solids reserving the beef broth. Throw away the solids. Take the sauce and put it in the now empty Dutch oven or roasting pan you cooked the brisket. Add two cups of the strained beef broth to the sauce and the juice of the two limes. Stir. Reserve the remaining beef broth if you need to or wish to thin the sauce. Any leftover broth can be frozen and used in a soup.

3.While the brisket is hot with two forks, start to shred the meat in long strings, which is with the grain of the meat. Once all the meat is shredded add to the sauce. Stir to blend and let simmer on a low heat for approximate 20 to 30 minutes. If the sauce seems too thick at the end of simmer time thin it with some of the remaining beef broth from the brisket.

Cuban Cheese Turnovers recipe – Empanada de Queso

  • 1 pound flour                                                       
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound butter, chilled and cut into small cubes,
  • plus 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 scant cup ice water
  • 1 medium white onion, small dice
  • 1 bunch spinach, chiffonade
  • 3 cups coarsely grated manchego cheese
  • 1 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 cup dark raisins
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water)

See Directions

Platillo Moros y Cristianos

Wikipedia-Platillo Moros y Cristianos (or simply moros, moro, congri, or arroz moro) is a famous Cuban dish. It can be considered the Cuban version of rice and beans, a dish found throughout the Caribbean and in Brazil.

Moro y cristianos means “Moors and Christians”. “Moors” refers to the black beans, and “Christians” to the rice. The name of the dish is likely a reference by early Cuban settlers to the Islamic Conquest of Spain (early 8th century) and subsequent Reconquista (15th c.) which both had a profound effect on the Spanish culture and language.

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