Distributed by Cuba Free Press, Inc. - http: //www.cubafreepress.org
April 28, 1999
From, COOKING BY THE MINUTE: COVERING THE SUN WITH WORDS? By Graciela Alfonso, Cuba Free Press
Havana, Cuba Free Press. — Of all the tasks that man has imitated from the animal species, cooking is unique.
The inhabitants of localities in Cuba like Cienfuegos, Havana, or the Mariel consume products of the sea, while the mountain settlers preferred pork, and in Camagüey, cattle is preferred.
With the Castro triumph in 1959 the campaign of the culinary culture was initiated. Food became scarce, and ingredients were sometimes difficult if not impossible to find.
Nitza Villapol utilized the then popular program "Cooking in a Minute" which began television transmission in the late 1950’s to help Cubans modify their eating habits.
Cubans already knew of the need to include in their diet yogurt, oats, etc., but it quickly became important to consume one third or a quarter of the diet at breakfast. The "creativity" of Nitza arrived at the perfect time.
Quick and easy recipes were given on how to prepare peas, bread with syrup, sweet cabbage with coconut, ground meat mixed with oats, and shrimp fried rice without shrimp.
Nitza, with academic pose would say that to have breakfast was to break the fast. Therefore, when one had consumed a glass of sugared water in the morning, one had already had breakfast.
Before the start of each program Villapol would go to the nearest market to see what was most scarce, and on her television program would give the recipe of the day according to that product. In her final program she prepared red bean marmalade.
Some years have elapsed since then, and in spite of the growth of the Cuban economy the panorama has worsened. There are difficulties with finding fresh fish, the distribution of salt, there are no oats in the market and the availability of eggs is six for each citizen every fifteen days.
Nitza Villapol, and the campaign of the culinary culture have died. The hunger has not.
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From, THE JIRIBILLA NITZA VILLAPOL, The Woman that Wrote of the kitchen. By Ciro Bianchi Ross
Her programs on radio and television were enormously popular, her books always beat sales records, and her contributions to the press were sought after and conserved by infinity of readers. Few authors undertook the theme of the Cuban kitchen with so much depth as Nitza Villapol. Her new book, “Cooking in a Minute” has more than 350 recipes.
The work of Nitza Villapol went beyond the simple collection and disclosure of recipes. The author of Cocina al minuto, faced the kitchen as a dietary and economic problem that forms part of the culture and the nationality, and did it with artistic flight. "The kitchen — she assured— is an art, an art of each town, an art that forms part of the culture of the towns."
It is said that her television program, which lasted more than four decades, would have been written down in the Guinness Book of World Records. It surpassed Meet the Press, of the American NBC network. Nitza did not have a rival; nobody remained longer than she did in front of the TV. Her closest contender would be the journalist Lawrence E. Spivak he spent 27 years as journalist.
Her long presence on the small screen imposed the image of a gifted, convincing, meticulous, and nice woman with an enormous power of communication. Behind the scenes Nitza was a woman of culture and arduous studies. This was evidenced when she received the commission of the UNESCO to write the chapter relating to the kitchen in the book, Africa in America, which would be published in various languages and already has ten editions.
Cultured, intelligent, gifted, and an expert in nutrition and diet, Nitza Villapol is without doubt, the personality that has most influenced the dynamism and updating of the Cuban kitchen and, above all, the extremely difficult task of modifying the eating habits of the country, wrote Jaime Saruski in 1986, in his book, Encuentro con la cocina cubana.
Saruski recalled in his article that Villapol, in the 60 s, taught Cubans how to prepare such dishes as the hake and the tilapia, unknown to the diet of the average Cuban and of the advantages to cook with less grease. It was revealed that when making meats, the secret was to dust the meat with water and flour as the only ingredients.
That it is why, in Saruski’s opinion there are few in Cuba that doubt that without the magic and the culinary discoveries of this woman they would be able enjoy such delicious food. But Nitza confessed that what she invested in her recipes was to ask herself what recipes were realistic with the products available.
Nitza Villapol disappeared from the air suddenly. It was an error, José Luis Santana, president of the Cuban Culinary Confederacy would later say. Since its disappearance, certain politics have arisen of not touching the theme of the diet in the media.
Villapol went on to write and publish new titles, and they were sold with the same old success. The people, nevertheless, went on forgetting her. Upon her death in 1998, a handful of people attended the funeral of one of Cuba’s most popular women.
Nitza Villapol was born in New York, in 1923. She was the daughter of Cubans who had emigrated for their political ideas. Ten years later she was living in Havana with her family, and completed her studies in Doctor in Teaching in 1948. With her approach to the kitchen there was a great deal of vocation and little coincidence. She was pleased always to compile recipes and believed that one day it would be useful to publish them.
Villapol believed that the kitchen begins to be Cuban when the chickpeas are free of the garlic sauce. Up until then, the stew that had been nourished with various fresh and dry meats had not been more than the encounter of the Spanish stew with vegetables from the Island.
She believed that the difference was accentuated when the domestic servant —black or Chinese— assumed the kitchen of the white. Through slavery, and the sugar industry a series of food and seasonings entered the dietary habits in Cuba today.
The use of rice in the two daily foods as the basic cereal, the presence of a casserole to wet the rice, the fried food, and the preference for sweets, are constant in the native palate.
Nitza Villapol said that one of the most difficult and slowest aspects to change in any culture are the habits of conduct among which eating is found. For the changes to be accepted, deep, and lasting, they should be done for the sake of better health.
She knew it well and published more than 15 titles, thousands of television and radial programs and press conferences. Now that she is no longer with us, we can continue to enjoy the delights of the Cuban kitchen from the books that she left behind.
Black Beans Black beans are a staple to Cuban cooking, and its amazing in how many dishes it can be used. But it is used everyday. The following serves 6 as a side dish. It can also be thinned with chicken stock to make black bean soup, another common Cuban staple. Serve over white rice.
1 pound dried black beans
4 cups of water
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
¼ pound salt pork, chopped
1 pound smoked ham hocks, cut in 1 inch pieces
2 teaspoons paprika
3 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Place black beans and water in large stock pot. Cover and boil two minutes. Turn off heat and let stand covered for 1 hour.
Remove the lid and add the rest of the ingredients, except the vinegar, salt and pepper. There should be enough water to just cover the beans, so if necessary add a bit or water. Cover and simmer until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Take out the hocks and remove the bones. Return the meat to the pot. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper. Simmer long enough to heat the vinegar.
Moros Y Cristianos (Moors and Christians)
Black Beans and Rice
Remember that tiny history lesson at the top of this page. The name of this dish refers to the wars between the Moors (blacks) and the Spaniards (whites). This blend of black beans and white rice, is common on every Cuban table, every day, and it is a reminder of the Spanish influence on Cuba. Don't get me wrong there is no daily ritual, where Cubans reflect on the Spanish invasion of 500 years ago. But I just want to point out that history does not exist in a vacuum, it influences everything, including food.
2 cups of cooked white rice (1 cup of dry uncooked rice)
1 cup of cooked Cuban black beans (recipe above)
Drain the beans. Does not have to be well drained, just get rid of the excess liquid. Stir with the white rice until evenly incorporated.
Mix the following ingredients for a simple Cuban style salad.
Shredded iceberg lettuce
2 cups of pineapple chunks
1 large avocado, peeled and cut in slices
1 small onion, sliced thin
red wine or cider vinegar
salt and pepper
Pollo Con Quimbobó y Platanos
Chicken with Okra and Plantains
1 cup of chopped okra, fresh or defrosted
1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces (about 3 pounds)
2 tbsp of adobe seasoning or a mixture of the following:
salt or MSG, black pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander
1 large onion chopped
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 ½ cups of water
2 medium ripe plantains
2 medium tomatoes coarsely chopped
2 tbsp of lime juice
Season chicken with adobe or the alternative. In a heavy cast iron skillet brown the chicken pieces in hot oil on all sides. Remove the chicken to a plate. In the remaining oil, stir fry the onion, garlic and bell pepper for about 2 or 3 minutes.
Cut the okra in 1 inch size pieces. Cut away the tips and caps if desired. Peel the plantain and cut into 1 inch pieces.
Place the chicken in a deep stewing pot. Add the water and all the other ingredients. Cover and simmer until the chicken is very tender, about 15 minutes
Serve with white rice.
2 pounds flank steak
2 whole bay leaves
6 black pepper corns
3 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, sliced
2 medium green bell peppers, sliced
Seasoning rub 1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoon salt
Place the steak in a cover pot with just enough water to cover. Add the bay leaves and peppercorns. Simmer covered until tender, about 1 ½ hours. Allow the steak to cool in the liquid, covered. It's common to place the entire covered pot in the fridge and proceed to frying the next day.
Mix the dry spices.
Cut the meat across the grain into serving size pieces. Pound with a meat mallet until increased in size by 25-50%. Rub each piece with a bit of the dry rub and splash with dry sherry.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet or griddle. Fry each piece of meat until it barely browns. Fry the onions and peppers also. Place all on a plate with the lemon wedges as a garnish.
Cuban Lamb Shanks
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 pounds of lamb shanks in 1 ½ inch pieces
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 tablespoon annatto oil
salt and pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon cumin
1 cup of chicken stock
In a large casserole or stock pot with cover, sauté the garlic and onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add the lamb and remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until tender about 1 hour 45 minutes.
Guava is a fruit that can be found fresh in the produce section. Guava can also be found canned, in varying consistencies from large chunks in syrup to a smooth paste. A Cuban meal always ends with a piece of guava and cheese. Fresh guava should be eaten when they are yellow and slightly soft. If bought green they will ripen at room temperature in a paper bag. Though not very common, guava can sometimes be found as a frozen puree to be used in drinks, custards, or cakes.
For the most authentic taste, don’t use standard processed cold cuts. Try making it after Thanksgiving when you are likely to have both leftover turkey and ham. If you must use cold cuts, at the very least, make sure they sliced thickly, or use more than indicated.
This sandwich is usually made using Cuban bread. If you can’t find it, substitute any crusty bread such as French or Italian. It is also usually pressed in a sandwich iron. If you don’t have one, use a skillet as described.
1/2 loaf of bread
2 slices of turkey breast
2 slices of roast pork
1 slice of ham
1 slice of Swiss cheese
Split the loaf and spread with mustard and mayonnaise. Layer the remaining ingredients and top with the other half of the bread. Lightly butter the OUTSIDE of the bread and wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil. Place on a skillet over low heat. Squish it with a heavier skillet on top of the wrapped sandwich and keep it there for a minute or two. Flip over and repeat for another minute or two. Unwrap and eat.
Cuban Style Flan
5 eggs, beaten
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon vanilla (can use up to 1 tablespoon)
½ cup of sugar
1 tablespoon water
In a small saucepan heat the sugar and water over low heat. Stir constantly, preferably with a wooden spoon until the sugar melts and just begins to turn a light caramel color. Immediately pour into a 1 quart mold. You may want to oil the mold ahead of time. Soufflé molds work well but I have also made this in an oven proof enameled covered iron saucepan.
Blend all the remaining ingredients. Pour this mixture into the pan that contains the sugar mixture. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in a water bath and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for about 1 hour or until the tip of an inserted knife comes out clean. Chill overnight without removing the cover. Invert and serve.
Culture through Music
Lesson: Video, Buena Vista Social Club
This portion of the unit will be the final one. The instructor will begin the unit by providing students with background information including some of the topics listed below. A nice addition to this introduction would be to quietly play in the background some of the music that students will be hearing in the movie. (See Appendix Three) Introductory points for students include:
African and Spanish influences on Cuban music since colonial times
Themes addressed in Cuban music
Contemporary Cuban society
After the film is shown, the students will be taken to the computer lab in order to explore the interactive site dedicated to the group and the movie, www.buenavista-socialclub.com.
The students will prepare one of the projects which follow.
At the beginning of Buena Vista Social Club, there is a duet by Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo. The words are as follows:
What do you believe this song communicates? To whom/what do they refer when they sing, “Silencio, están durmiendo”?
Compare this song to one in English. How are they similar?
What period(s) of Cuban History are represented in this song, if any?
Using visual media: Poster, Collage, Pictures, etc., tie your oral presentation into a segment of Cuban History. Be sure to make your message clear.
Explain how the music of the Buena Vista Social Club Still exists today in other music genres.
Teach the class a Latin American dance with African origins.
Your dance should include a handout outlining the steps.
Describe how Buena Vista Social Club is an American Story with vast contributions from Cuba, Europe, the United States, and Africa.
Play a song in Spanish that shares the music and lyrical themes of Buena Vista Social Club. Provide words for the class to follow along with.
Describe how the “Ghosts of History”
in Buena Vista Social Club invoke desire and that which is beyond desire. Include the metaphors of fire and water and direct references to deities. How do these tie into Cuban “Santería”, the spiritual heart of Cuban music?
Make a collage of Cuban Santería. Label each “Santo”.
Develop an argument about the importance of the voice in Buena Vista Social Club. What is significant about the testimony of the musicians? What role does the music play for each?
Develop a visual: pictures, collage, etc. which refers to and supports the voice as testimony.
Discuss how each of these members of the Buena Vista Social Club was found and what each of the following were doing when found:
Company Segundo (89 years old)
Rubén González (pianist)
Ibrahim Ferrer (vocalist)
Display a musical instrument that is like one used in the film. Give a lesson on playing the instrument.
Discuss what some of the members of the Buena Vista Social Club went on to do after the film.
Teach the class how to play dominoes.
Lesson: Listen to the song by Willie Chirino. Dance the meringue to the music.
Mr. Don’t Touch the Banana by Willie Chirino
Changó es el dios del trueno Changó is the god of thunder
Y los negros africanos and the black Africans
Lo visten de rojo y blanco dress him in red and white
Porque no me da la gana because I don’t feel like it
Teacher In-Service On June 7, 2004, I held an in-service at my school. I prepared a packet for each teacher which included a brief history of Cuba, details about my trip to Miami, and several recipes for Cuban dishes (All excerpts from this document).
We met in the Home-Economics room. Eight teachers were present, among them two History teachers, two Science teachers, a Spanish teacher (my colleague), a Business teacher, a French teacher, and a Math teacher.
There are two kitchens in the classroom; therefore I had the teachers choose a kitchen (4 in each kitchen). Kitchen #1 prepared Moros y cristianos y plátanos (Black beans and rice and sweet plantains), and kitchen #2 prepared Flan y Pollo con quimbombó (Custard and Chicken with Okra).
The teachers followed their recipes and chopped, stirred, and mixed the ingredients which I had brought in. They had many questions, including what they were preparing, how it would taste, and if they were preparing it the right way.
While we waited for the actual meals to cook I went through the packets with them, outlining the History of Cuba, and then we talked about the trip to Miami. The History teachers in particular were very interested in the Cuba’s history and commented on Cuban-North American relations today. They had many questions about what will happen when Fidel Castro dies or can no longer run Cuba, and many opinions about what should or might occur.
When the food was ready, we set the tables and enjoyed the foods prepared by the novices. There was unanimous agreement that it was all very delicious. We had to wait a little while longer for the Flan to cool, but that too turned out great.
The three and a half hours that we spent together were very successful. They all agreed that we should have more in-services like this.