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Go Cuban in Your Kitchen

September 15th kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month.

Why September 15th?

It's the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico declared its independence on September 16, and Chile on September 18.

The term Hispanic, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, refers to Spanish-speaking people in the United States of any race. More than 35 million people identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino on the 2000 Census. That's a lot of people who are going to be celebrating their heritage in the next month. Our own "Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez is a proud Cuban American, and we are celebrating her family history -- her family culinary history, that is.

Rodriguez handed over her family recipe of traditional black beans and rice to celebrity chef Daisy Martinez. Martinez, the host of Food Network's "Viva Daisy!," added her own personal touch on the broadcast Friday. She made a few changes, and cooked the recipe on "The Early Show."

Maggie's Original Black Beans & Rice Recipe
This recipe is Maggie's family tradition. It's a great example of the flavors of Cuba, where sofrito (different sauces made with onion and often, but not always, tomato which have been cut in very small pieces and slowly cooked in olive oil) is a base for beans, stews, rices, and other dishes, including ropa vieja and picadillo. The main components for Cuban sofrito are onions, garlic, and peppers. Other secondary components include, but are not limited to, cumin, oregano, bay leaf, cilantro, and culantro.

Beans:
1 pound dry, cleaned, black beans soaked overnight in water
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch dried oregano
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dry cooking wine
1 bay leaf

Sofrito:
1 chopped green pepper
1 chopped large onion
1 small chopped garlic

The next morning, boil beans in that same water until soft (45 mins to an hour).
In a skillet, sautee the "sofrito" in olive oil. Add sofrito to the pot with the beans, along with salt & black pepper to taste. Then add sugar & a pinch of oregano.
Lower heat and add red wine vinegar, dry cooking wine & bay leaf. Cook another hour on low heat, until sauce is nice and thick.
Serve over white rice.

Daisy's Black Beans & Rice
Daisy's recipe maintains a lot of basic flavors of Maggie's, allowing the elemental tradition of the dish to stand. However, you will notice the sofrito has some different flavors in there. Daisy has added peppers, fresh herbs, and tomatoes. Is it an improvement? Make them both and you decide.

Beans:
1 pound dry, cleaned, black beans soaked overnight in water
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch dried oregano
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dry cooking wine
1 bay leaf

Sofrito:
2 medium Spanish onions, cut into large chunks
3 to 4 Italian frying peppers or cubanelle peppers
16 to 20 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large bunch cilantro, washed
7 to 10 ajices dulces (see note below), optional
4 leaves of culantro (see note below), or another handful cilantro
3 to 4 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into large chunks

Yield: about 4 cups

After soaking beans overnight, boil beans in that same water until soft (45 mins to an hour).
Chop the onion and cubanelle or Italian peppers in the work bowl of a food processor until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, add the remaining ingredients one at a time and process until smooth. The sofrito will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It also freezes beautifully.

In a skillet, sautee the 'sofrito' in olive oil. Add sofrito to the pot with the beans, along with salt & black pepper to taste. Then add sugar & a pinch of oregano. Lower heat and add bay leaf & cooking wine. Cook another hour on low heat, until sauce is nice and thick. Stir in red wine vinegar right before serving.
Serve over white rice.

*Cook's Note: Ajices dulces are little sweet peppers that look similar to the fiery hot Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, only smaller. They have a wonderful fresh herbal flavor, almost like cilantro, but only a tiny bit of heat. Culantro is an herb with broad, round-tipped leaves. Its flavor is similar to cilantro, but much more intense. Both ajices dulces and culantro are available in Latin markets. If you cannot find them, simply increase the amount of cilantro to 1 1/2 bunches.

Ropa Vieja
Recipe courtesy Daisy Martinez

Ropa Vieja, which is Spanish for "Old Clothes," is a popular dish of the Canary Islands, Greater Miami and the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. It is a shredded flank steak in a tomato sauce base. It's called old clothes, because as the beef gets cooked through, it shreds in the rich sauce and as you stir it, they say it looks like old clothes in a washer. But let us tell you, the taste will blow you away.

1 (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pound) chuck roast or 2 (1 1/4 pound) flank steaks
2 teaspoons fine sea or kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the beef
Freshly ground black pepper
Onion powder
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup Sofrito
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 (8-ounce) cans Spanish-style tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons alcaparrado or coarsely chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
2 bay leaves
4 celery stalks, with leaves, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 medium carrots, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pound the chuck roast or flank steaks out with a heavy meat mallet until about 1/2 inch thick. Season both sides of the beef generously with salt, pepper and onion powder.

Heat the oil in a large, oven-proof, heavy skillet over high heat until rippling. Add the beef and cook it until well browned on both sides, about 10 minutes.

Drain or spoon off most of the fat from the pan. Stir in the sofrito, 2 teaspoons salt, and the cumin and bring to a boil. Depending on how much oil was left in the pan, you may have to add a little olive oil to give the mix a nice, creamy texture. Stir in the tomato sauce, water, alcaparrado or olives, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover the dish and bake until the meat pulls apart easily with a fork, about 2 1/2 hours. Let stand in the sauce until cool enough to handle.

Shred the meat coarsely by hand or using two forks. Return it to the sauce and add the celery and carrots. Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the peas and cook a few minutes more. Watch the liquid as it cooks, and add more broth of water as needed.

Yield: 6 servings

For a Plantains recipe, go to Page 2.

Plantains
Recipe courtesy Daisy Martinez

2 very ripe plantains (almost all black)
Canola oil/ vegetable spray

Peel plantains and cut into 1/2 inch pieces on a bias. Sautee in frying pan on each side for about 2 to 3 minutes or until caramelized.