Growing up Cuban means eating a sleuth of pork and animal products, starches and ignoring vegetables. Fueled by African and Spanish influences, Cuban cuisine is as diverse as the island’s residents, and its ever growing diaspora.
Last year, I joined a vegetarian lunch club at work and felt it was the perfect opportunity to bring awareness to Cuban cuisine. I was shocked at how many of our traditional recipes were already vegan or vegetarian! Ingredients like okra, beans of all colors, pepper varieties, and root vegetables make up a lot of our dishes. I also experimented with replacing meat with similar texture ingredients like lentils, garbanzo beans, or okra.
Below I have compiled a list of simple, fast, and delicious dishes you can make to bring a taste of Cuban food into your home. Enjoy!
- Frijoles Negros Cubanos (Cuban Black Bean Soup)
The Cuban Black Bean soup is one of the most famous and common Cuban dishes in the world. This dish is vegan, using simple ingredients to create a flavorful and heart-warming dish to remind you of home. I like to eat mine with white rice and fried plantains (can be sweet or tostones). This recipe from Cuban Recipes is a great guide for making this at home. If you’re in a pinch and forgot to soak your beans overnight, you can use canned black beans. Also, my family secret is to add culantro to your black beans, fresh is always preferred.
- Fabada Asturiana (White Bean Soup with Kale)
Fabada is the name given to a white bean soup native to Asturias in the North of Spain. This dish is a favorite among Cubans, loaded with smoked ham hock, chorizo, morsilla, and salted pork bits. Not to mention the sweet fragrance of saffron and smoked paprika. This vegan version preserves the smoked flavors and adds kale for bitterness and bite. It is my personal recipe, below.
- 1 large onion, peeled
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 large pinch of saffron threads
- 1 pound dried fabes, cannellini or other large white bean, left to
soak overnight (can be substituted for a can of cannellini, do not
- 1/2 bunch of kale (sliced) or 1 cup of spinach.
- Soak your beans in water overnight.
- Add 2 garlic cloves and half of the large onion to the pot where you soaked the beans overnight. Bring the pot to a low boil, then allow to simmer for 30 minutes-hour. If you are using canned beans, skip this step and proceed with step 3.
- On a separate pot, allow to heat to a medium temperature and add 1 tbsp of olive oil, remaining garlic (crushed or diced), the other half of the onion (cubed), the smoked paprika, and the sprig of saffron. Once the onions are pale and covered with the spices, add the beans and the water.
- Allow beans to become fully cooked for approximately 30 minutes at medium heat. The pot should be simmering, not boiling. Once the soup looks dense, add kale or spinach and allow to simmer with the beans for approximately 5 minutes. Add salt, black pepper and white pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro if desired.
- Vegan option: serve with coconut-turmeric rice. Vegetarian: add a fried egg on top and serve with rice
3. Crema de Malanga
Cream of Malanga reminds me so much of my childhood. My grandmother used to make this for me whenever I had an upset stomach, or simply as a treat with some cheese sprinkled on top. Malanga is a hairy root that is very starchy. It is also very filling and fibrous, with a creamy consistency and flavor. This recipe adds roasted garlic for an extra boost.
4. Vegan Picadillo
Who doesn’t love a good picadillo? Every Cuban family has its own way of making it. Some add fried potatoes (Habanero), others add sweet fried plantains, others forego the raisins and olives, and others have it plain. Either way you make it–its delicious. This recipe from Connoisseurs Veg, replaces ground beef with lentils. The results are spectacular. Give it a try!
5. Fufu de Platano (Mashed Plantains)
Mashed green plantains can be made to replace mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes or rice in any recipe. The plantains are creamy and salty, also malleable. In this recipe from Taste of Cooking, replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock, or create your own stock with the plantains, half an onion, 3 garlic cloves and some peppercorns. Add a mojo made of garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and red onion as topping.
6. Okra Stew
This recipe is a substitute for Cuban Meat and Potatoes. Okra is one of my favorite ingredients due to its versatility. It is also a staple of Cuban cuisine. Stew the okra in tomato to eliminate the slime and add potatoes to re-create the taste of “carne con papas”.
- 1 lb fresh or frozen okra
- 1 can of diced tomatoes in juice
- 1/2 green bell pepper
- 1/2 red bell pepper
- 1/2 onion (diced)
- 3 garlic cloves (crushed)
- 3 potatoes (diced)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cumin powder
- 1/4 tsp oregano
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1 cup of water
- In a pot large enough for stewing heat olive oil. Add: onions, garlic, peppers and spices. Add okra and potatoes until covered with spice mixture. Add canned tomatoes and water. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Once liquid has slightly evaporated and the stew is thick, add salt and pepper. Serve over rice or with fufu.
6. Yuca Puree
Yuca puree is a great substitute for mashed potatoes. This recipe can accompany any side, but preferably dishes that have excess sauce or are grilled. Yuca can also be served fried or with mojo criollo.
7 and 8. Cheese Croquettes, Spinach Croquettes
Croquetas are my favorite snack. You can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can be any flavor or size you want. It is always filling. Here’s the recipe, you’re welcome!
9. Arroz con Leche
Rice pudding has got to be one of the most comforting dishes in any cuisine. In Cuba, we add condensed milk and evaporated milk that folds into a delicious rice pudding. This dessert is best sprinkled with some cinnamon for optimal enjoyment. Check out this recipe.
Who can say no to this? It has everything you could ever dream of and more. Although it is not vegan, vegetarians can enjoy flan’s delightful, milky flavor. Served cold with caramel on top, this recipe is a must for anyone looking to learn more about Cuban cuisine.