My mother lived just south of Miami, Florida during the 1960s, when more than 14,000 children were exiled on their own to America from Cuba through operation Pedro Pan. This is something that is common knowledge in the region and those living at the time, but relatively unknown beyond the borders of the U.S. It is worth reading about and here are a few articles:
Pedro Pan: A Children’s Exodus from Cuba (Smithsonian Insider, July 2017)
Cuba’s ‘Peter Pans’ Remember Childhood Exodus (National Geographic, August 2015)
The Secret Cold War Program That Airlifted Cuban Kids to the U.S.—Without Their Parents (History.com, May 2019)
Children Of Cuba Remember Their Flight To America (NPR, November 2011)
Having moved to Florida herself from elsewhere, she made many new lifelong friends and learned to speak Spanish with a Cuban accent. She also learned to appreciate Cuban cooking and prepare it herself. And back in 2006 before I got married, she took time to show me how to make one of her favourite dishes.
What appeals to me most about Cuban dishes is that they are flavorful, but not necessarily spicy. This column features my mother’s recipes for Picadillo and Tropical Salad. Picadillo is a comforting meat dish with sweet and savory flavors bursting from each bite. The Tropical Salad seemed like an odd combination to me at first, but is refreshing and cool.
2 lb. ground beef or ground turkey
1 teaspoon ground cumin or fajita seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 large fresh tomato, diced, or 1 can diced tomatoes, well drained
1/2 cup golden raisins
4 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1. Mix the raw ground meat, cumin, and black pepper together and set it aside.
2. Sautee the olive oil, garlic, onion, and bell pepper in a large skillet over medium heat.
3. When the onion is soft, add the tomato and cook for five minutes. Add the meat mixture and cook until it has browned. Add the raisins and capers then let the mixture cook on medium-low heat until the meat is completely cooked and the liquid in the pan has reduced.
4. Serve hot with black beans and rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pinch of granulated sugar
2 cups fresh pineapple chunks or well-drained canned pineapple
1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, rinsed and chopped
1. Whisk the vinegar, oil, lemon juice, and sugar together or mix in a cruet.
2. Blend the pineapple, cucumber, onion, and cilantro in a bowl. Pour the freshly whisked dressing over top and toss to coat.
3. Serve chilled, plain or on a bed of lettuce.
If you are interested in learning more about Miami-Cuban life and cuisine, my mother raves about these books:
Note: Amazon.co.uk links may be affiliate links, I use the small amount of affiliate income (usually about £25/year) to buy books for my kids.