How do you connect to your cultural roots?
I like connecting with food.
Cooking Cuban food floods my house with the smells I remember from my Abuela’s kitchen. I felt her spirit guide me as I crushed the garlic, sauted the sofrito and swayed my hips to the Cuban music playing in the background. Last night, to celebrate what would have been her 96th birthday, I cooked Picadillo Cubano. This dish of ground beef, raisins, bell peppers, olives and tomato was not her signature dish – that was Arroz con Pollo with Tostones (twice fried green plantain) – but it evolved from the ingredients I already had in my fridge.
The centerpiece of the dish is the ground meat. I had a package of ground bison (the Pacific NW part of the recipe), my new favorite meat that is available at Costco. The meat is lean, organic and easy to digest, unlike much of the beef available.
The most important thing I have learned about cooking is to prep all of your ingredients before beginning to cook. It sounds simple, but I know many people who struggle with this simple concept.
I forgot to say that this recipe is not from my grandmothers’s cookbook Cocina Criolla by Nitza Villapol or from an online recipe, but adapted from a recipe in the ginormous cookbook Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel E. Presilla. Can I just say that a 900 page cookbook is just not practical.
The other very important ingredient is Cuban music – tonight it is Cubanismo’s first album. I believe the rhythms playing while cooking, impart a very special flavor into the food.
While the picadillo simmered, I left the kitchen to put laundry in the dryer. When I entered I had a flashback to my Abuela’s house. The fragrance of the picadillo embraced me with the warm memories of sitting in her kitchen and watching her cook with love and care. I love the way that food can bring me back to my roots and bring my Abuela back for a visit.