Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

There’s something about a great historical fiction novel that gives me all the feels. A novel that then has me scouring the internet to learn more about history often proves to be one that I fall in love with quickly.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton is one of those novels. I was enchanted by the idea of reading something set in Cuba since, as an American, we know of Cuban culture through the Cuban-American population, not from being able, until recently, to travel to the country itself. Cleeton uses a split narrative to share the lives of her two main characters, Elisa and Marisal.

Elisa’s plot line is set against a background of Cuba in 1958, before the Cuban Revolution fully took off. I found myself putting down the novel every 10 pages or so in order to read more about the Cuban Revolution. Marisal’s story line is set in present day as she visits Cuba for the first time to spread her grandmother’s ashes and learn more about the place her family originated.

Cleeton’s descriptions of the landscape were enchanting, but what really drew me in, like in most stories, was the discussion of the food. When Marisal arrives in Cuba, she stays with her grandmother’s long-time friend. The friend, with her family, runs a restaurant out of their home, for Cubans and tourists, serving just a few basic items from the Cuban menu, but done to perfection. The first night Marisal stays with her host family she is served lechón asado, black beans and rice, and maduros.

In order to recreate this for Reads & Feeds, I scoured half a dozen Cuban cookbooks, made a pitcher of mojitos, and invited some people over for a Cuban dinner party. I adapted some recipes and deep-fried tostones instead of serving maduros. I also made a ceviche, not mentioned in Next Year in Havana, that I am definitely going to whip up again. I hope you enjoy these pictures and recipe adaptations. Share your own Cuban dinner party with me if you recreate this menu! Tag me @chelseatuthill and use #readsandfeeds on Instagram. Happy reading and eating, folks!

 

Cocktail Hour

Mojitos

1/2 lime, quartered
8-10 mint leaves
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 1/2 oz Bacardi white rum
Lime Le Croix
Mint sprig, for garnish
Lime wedge, for garnish

Lightly muddle the quartered lime and mint leaves with the simple syrup in a glass. Add ice and rum and top with Lime Le Croix. Garnish with mint spring and lime wedge. This can easily be modified, as I did, to make a pitcher for the party. Just be sure not to add the bubbly until you serve. Ideally, pour the mint/lime/rum mixture over ice and top with Le Croix.

Mojito Ceviche adapted from Cuban Flavor by Liza Gershman

3/4 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, cut into bite size pieces
4 limes, juiced
1 Tbs lime Le Croix
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 Tbs Bacardi white rum
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup white or yellow onion, diced
1 large jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, minced (use a smaller jalapeno or eliminate if you don’t want too much heat in your ceviche)
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 Tbs snipped chives

Seasoning:
Salt and pepper, to taste
Extra lime juice, if wanted
Mint, to garnish

Placed cubed, raw shrimp in a mixing bowl. Add the lime juice, club soda, sugar, salt, pepper, and rum. Evenly coat the shrimp. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30-40 minutes to allow the fish to marinate and partially cook in the lime juice. Stir the shrimp about every 10 minutes to evenly marinate.

When the shrimp is close to being “cooked through,” (it will be pink as though you cooked it with heat), add the rest of the ceviche ingredients and toss to combine the flavors. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Re-cover the bowl and return to the refrigerator for another 10 minutes.

Remove the ceviche from the refrigerator, taste, season with salt and pepper, garnish with mint. Serve with tortilla chips to dip or in individual serving bowls with freshly popped salty popcorn!

Tostones with Garlic Aioli adapted from Emeril Lagasse

Garlic Aioli
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
1 Tbs lime juice (leftover from Mojito Ceviche/Mojitos!)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine the garlic, egg, lime juice, salt and pepper in a food processor, blender, or use an immersion blender and puree. Add the oil in a slow stream and continue to process until the mixture has formed a thick emulsion.

Deep fry or pan fry in an inch of oil frozen tostones until golden brown. You could make your own tostones fresh if you’re so inclined and not making four other complicated dishes for your guests! I cheated and went frozen and they were delicious. Salt tostones when they come out of the fryer and serve with garlic aioli for dipping.

The Main Course

Lechón Asado adapted from The Cuban Table by Ana Sofía Peláez & Ellen Silverman

For the marinade I “cheated” and bought Mojo Criollo Sauce from my local grocery store made by Goya. I don’t regret a thing because it came out just as good as I could have made it myself.

4-5 lb bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder
1 24.5-oz bottle Goya Mojo Criollo Sauce

Place pork shoulder in a large bowl or roasting pan. With the tip of a sharp knife, make numerous incisions into the meat NOT the skin. Pour 2 cups of Goya Mojo Criollo Sauce on and around the pork shoulder. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and place in the refrigerator to marinate overnight. Turn the meat several times if possible/if you remember. (I forgot to do this. Oops.)

The following day, about six hours before dinner time, preheat your oven to 250°. Let the meat come to room temperature. Place pork shoulder in roasting pan, skin-side up and pour marinade around the meat. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven.

Cook for 4-5 hours. The meat should reach an internal temperature of 170° to 190° near the bone, should shred easily, and the juice should run clear when pierced. When it has reached the required temperature, remove from the oven and let rest for 15-20 minutes. Carve into chunks and serve with Mojo Criollo sauce poured over the top alongside rice and black beans.

Black Beans with Rice adapted from A Taste of Old Cuba by María Josefa Lluriá de O’Higgins

1 lb dry black beans
2 1/2 quarts water
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into strips
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed, but left whole
1 large slice of white onion

1/2 cup Spanish olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs white wine vinegar

Place dry beans in a colander and rinse under cold water. Transfer beans to a large pot, cover them with the water, and soak for at least 8 hours. They can be left right on the counter covered with a pot lid. This can be done the night before when you set the meat to marinade.

Day of the dinner, add the green pepper, garlic, and onion to the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, cover, and cook the beans until they are tender, about 1 hour. Skim the foam from the top of the pot periodically.

While the beans are cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Sauté the onions and green pepper until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove half of this mixture, called sofrito, and place in a food processor. Add a large ladle of cooked beans to the food processor, as well. Pulse until well puréed. Stir the puree, remaining sofrito , bay leaf, and sugar into the beans. Bring to a boil again, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, until the cooking liquid has the consistency of thick gravy. Stir frequently to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot. Just before serving, remove bay leaf, stir in white wine vinegar and drizzle in a little more olive oil.

Serve with your favorite fluffy white rice.