I can’t count how many people tell me they won’t give up meat because they’re afraid they’d tire of eating only vegetables all the time. That might be true if you only eat unseasoned steamed vegetables, but there are so many ways to cook and season produce that if you continue to try new things, you will always enjoy a plant-based diet.
For example, Cuban food is not very common in the U.S., yet there are thousands of Cuban recipes online for us to try. I decided to change things up a bit, so I read several recipes to get a feel for the common ingredients and seasonings used in traditional Cuban fare. Fortunately, Cuban recipes contain many flavors I love: garlic, lime, and cilantro, to name a few.
A recipe I came across many times was for a pork/chicken marinade called mojo. I knew I wouldn’t use it to marinate meat, but tempeh is the next best thing (in my opinion) for absorbing the flavors of a marinade.
If you’re not familiar with tempeh, it’s a dense “cake” made of fermented soybeans, and is much meatier in texture than tofu. I’m not a huge fan of tofu, but I find the texture of tempeh to be quite palatable. With its dense texture and garlic-citrus marinade, it is a great addition to this dish! (Don’t feel like you have to include the tempeh for this dish to be complete, because you don’t. There’s plenty of protein in the other ingredients. Just keep it in mind next time you’re preparing a large salad and would like to add something extra.)
Two things I learned about mojo tempeh are 1) it is delicious, and 2) it is possible to over-marinate it. I recommend making the marinade about 8 hours before you plan on cooking the tempeh. If that’s inconvenient, marinate overnight, then remove the tempeh from the marinade and put it in a bag or clean storage dish and return it to the fridge until you plan on using it. After I grilled a few pieces for the photo shoot, I left the rest in the marinade until dinnertime, and WHOA MAMA that was garlicky! Lesson learned!
Mojo recipe adapted from SAVEUR.
- 1 block tempeh, cut into thin triangles (see directions below)
- 1/2 large head of garlic, peeled and separated
- 1 t. sea salt
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 3 T. olive oil (optional)
- 1/4 t. ground cumin
- 1/2 t. fresh oregano, chopped
- Pinch dried oregano
- Smash garlic cloves with the side of a large knife blade and roughly chop (or mash with a mortar and pestle), and combine with the salt.
- Stir in the rest of the ingredients and set aside.
- Take your block of tempeh (usually a long rectangle) and cut it into 3 squares. Now cut those squares along the diagonals to create 6 triangles. These are too thick, so slice them carefully through the middle to make 12 thin triangles.
- Place tempeh triangles in a shallow dish and pour mojo marinade over them, coating all of the surface area. Cover and place in the fridge for 6-8 hours or overnight (12 hours max.)
- When ready to serve, grill or pan sear over medium heat (I used a panini press) for about 2 minutes, or until golden. Plate and serve with a lime wedge, if desired.
A common ingredient in Caribbean and Central American cooking is the plantain. It looks like a banana, but is starchier and much less sweet. It is also never eaten raw, so it’s considered more like a potato than a banana in terms of cooking. You can find plantains in the produce section of most grocery stores (usually with the tropical fruit), and they are considered ripe when the skins are entirely black (unlike the one I used, which still had some yellow). If you have to leave one thing out of this dish, I would choose the plantain. You get plenty of starch from the rice and sweet potatoes, but if you’re serving this to guests, the plantains are a fun and interesting addition.
The most delicious way to cook a plantain is to fry it (duh), but I wanted this dish to remain healthful. I sliced mine about 1/4-inch thick and baked them at 425°F for about 15 minutes, flipping them halfway through the baking process until the edges were golden. To save time, I baked my plantain slices in the toaster oven while I used the large oven to roast the sweet potatoes. Multitasking!
One of my favorite components of this dish is the coconut lime rice with cilantro. The coconut milk creates a subtle coconut flavor and creaminess, while the lime and cilantro add fresh overtones. I could eat it by itself, but it complements the flavors of the black bean mixture nicely. This recipe makes a lot of rice, so you will have plenty left over. To save time, feel free to make it a day or two ahead. You could even put the extra rice in a bag and freeze it for future meals!
Recipe adapted from www.foodrenegade.com. Yields 7 1/2 to 8 cups rice.
Coconut Lime Rice With Cilantro
- 2 1/2 cups long-grain white rice (I used basmati)
- 1 15.5-oz. can coconut milk
- 3 1/4 cups water
- Pinch sea salt
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 1 lime
- Combine rice, coconut milk, water, and salt in a 2 or 3-qt. pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 22 minutes.
- Leaving the lid on (!), remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes.
- Remove lid and fluff with a fork. Add the cilantro and squeeze lime juice over the rice. Stir well, serve, and enjoy!
Note: This dish can be made the day before and reheated to save time. You can also freeze the leftovers and reheat them at a later date.
Perhaps the heart of this dish is the Cuban black beans, which are to be served atop the coconut lime rice. I’ve always loved the simplicity and ease of a traditional beans and rice dish, but the Cuban version contains a little extra flavor to make it more interesting.
I used salt-free, canned black beans (BPA-free) for ease, but if dried beans are your thing, go for it! This dish comes together quickly, so it would be a great family meal for a busy weeknight.
Cuban Black Beans
- 1/2 large yellow onion, minced
- 1/2 large bell pepper, minced
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- Large handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1/4-1/2 t. red pepper flakes OR 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 2 15.5-oz salt-free black beans, NOT drained
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 t. ground cumin
- 1 T. red wine vinegar
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Heat a splash of water or broth in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion, pepper, garlic, cilantro, and red pepper flakes (or jalapeño), and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 15 minutes.
- Serve over coconut lime rice.
This dish can be made a day ahead. I actually prefer it as leftovers because the flavors have had time to meld.
For many of my home-cooked meals, I’ve found myself needing an extra side dish and simply cubing a sweet potato and baking it with a little sea salt. I will never get tired of eating sweet potatoes, especially now that I’ve tried them with Cuban seasoning! The garlic powder and lime juice go so well with the sweetness of the potatoes, I’m not sure I can go back to eating them plain!
Cuban Sweet Potatoes
- 1 or 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 t. garlic powder (not garlic salt!)
- Sea salt to taste
- Handful fresh parsley (or cilantro), chopped
- Juice of 1/2 of a lime
- Preheat oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, toss sweet potato cubes with the garlic powder and sea salt.
- Spread potatoes out on baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, flipping/tossing once halfway through baking, until starting to brown and crisp on the edges.
- Return the hot potatoes to the original mixing bowl and toss with the parsley and lime juice. Serve immediately.
To prepare your Cuban Harvest Bowl, simply put the amount of each dish you’d like into your bowl! I added a handful of greens topped with chopped mango, avocado, and hemp seeds with a squeeze of lime juice for dressing. I also recommend adding a wedge of lime to your bowl so you can squeeze it over the entire dish. So fresh and colorful!
Now, how can anyone call this meal boring???