Tag Archives: plantains

Viva la Cuban!

This morning we ventured over to Sandy’s Cafe in Little Havana, a few streets over from Duval. Open 24 hours with an all day menu, and I have a hankering for a Cuban Sandwich. Sandy’s does not disappoint.

IMG_3058 (8 of 8)Sandy’s features outside only seating. We find a pleasant spot against the building under an awning where we can watch the world go by under an already scorching sun.

IMG_3443 (4 of 8)Orders are placed at the counter. I’m trying a cafe con leche for the first time, a shot of buchi (expresso) with cream and sugar. A bit too sweet for me. I should have asked for less sugar, but nevertheless cafe con leche makes a fine wake me up drink.

IMG_3442 (5 of 8)Sandwiches arrive wrapped in paper inside take-out containers and accompanied by a very small serving of passable shoestring fries.  The second you unwrap your sammy, you know… A feast for the eyes and the palate. A soft bun, loaded with roast pork crisped up and caramelized on the flat top, ham, fresh tomatoes and shredded lettuce, topped with thin cucumber pickle and pressed lightly. $7.99.

IMG_3449 (1 of 8)While eating, sitting up against the building with a window open to the small kitchen, you are surrounded by the mouth watering smell of pork roasting and frying on the griddle. The cook adds spice to the mix and it is positively intoxicating. Everyone should start their day this way.

IMG_3439 (6 of 8)Off to explore Higgs Beach and the Key West Garden Club at the West Martello Fort Tower. Already too hot to wander and take pics like I like to. I’ll save that for an early morning before we leave.

IMG_3468 (3 of 3)IMG_3478 (2 of 3)After a long day in the hot sun relaxing and swimming at the Inn, we are up for some more Cuban food, something that really does not exist in Ottawa.

El Siboney, tucked away in a residential part of Old Key West, celebrates its Cuban indigenous roots. The homey restaurant and warm decor features renderings and sculpture of this native population, the way other restaurants here are cluttered with cats and roosters. The Siboney are depicted much like American Indians were in the 1800’s. This population mixed with the Spanish as they arrived in the America’s much like Mexico’s indigenous peoples.

This neighbourhood joint, relatively free of tourists, had a fairly extensive menu in both English and Spanish. We are quickly seated and brought a basket of warm Cuban bread — white, toasty and buttered.

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I order a “Cuban Style” Hatuey beer, made in the USA. It is thin and bitter, not my preference but drinkable.

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We have limited experience with Cuban fare and want to try a few things. Rob orders the BBQ chicken with plantanos maduros (fried ripe plantains), rice and black beans, which are separate sides not mixed. The rice, coloured a deep yellow with annatto seed, a common spice in Mexican cuisine, provides a nice foil for the sweet, juicy chicken. The plantains are fried to a deep caramel, chewy and perfect. I decide on the roast pork, cassava and tamale. We choose a side of croquetta just to try.

Food comes out quickly and looks amazing. Rob’s chicken is a large half, generously sauced with a sweet BBQ sauce. He applies some of the house-made hot sauce and sings its praises.

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My heaping serving of moist, flavourful pork, comes with cassava, a starchy, bland, gluey, root vegetable, a staple in a good part of the world, which may substitute for a potato but has way less flavour. Both the pork and the cassava are covered in under-fried (in a good way) garlicky onions that provide a nice texture and mild bite. Cassava serves to fill hungry bellies and I don’t really care for it so it gets left. The tamale, made with fine masa flour, has great corn taste and the lightly sweet, cumin scented tomato sauce coating makes for a delicious accompaniment to the roast pork.IMG_3064 (3 of 5)

The side of shared croquetta are also well made and tasty. Darkly crisp, just shy of burnt, they are filled with smoky ham and potato.

IMG_3065 (4 of 5)Overall a cheap and very satisfying homemade meal.


Ackee and Saltfish

I say it often: if you are going to date someone for their family’s native regional cuisine I would highly recommend considering Jamaican.

Ackee and saltfish – Jamaica’s national dish – is a pile of sauteed peppers, onions, dried salt cod and squishy ackees, which are custard-coloured fruit that resemble tiny scrambled egg brains.

Bacon is sometimes added to transform ackee and saltfish into the perfect pan of breakfast. Otherwise, it makes a great dinner together with dumplings and other starchy goodies like green bananas, fried plantains or breadfruit… Jamaican cuisine has by far the best selection of boiled starchy things. We fried dumplings and plantains to go with our ackee and saltfish.

Ackees are members of the soapberry family and are native to Africa – an introduced species in Jamaica. The fruit are bell pepper-shaped with creamy, buttery flesh and giant, black pearl-like seeds. Raw ackees are the fugu of the fruit world, extremely toxic when not prepared properly – hence, “Jamaican vomiting sickness”. Only canned ackees are legal for importing into most non-West Indian markets.

Canned ackees can get quite expensive, and it’s one of the few West Indies ingredients that specialty stores don’t have the perplexing ability to sell cheaper than everyone else. More regular grocery stores are carrying it lately, and a can will normally run about $8 to $10. No worries, because Matt’s mom brought us some cans of it. She also brought us Caribbean johnnycake mix for the dumplings.

Prep-time on this dish is lengthy but not intensive – the fish is encrusted with salt and must be soaked overnight or at least for six hours, with the water being changed out two or three times.

The ackee’s flavor is very faint and not sweet at all, but more like a smooth, soft scrambled egg that’s quite tasty when smushed onto half a johnnycake. Peppers and fish make perfect comfort food, who knew?

That noise you hear is Matt bumping into me after he turns around to find me sneaking in a photo or two. He’s doing the cooking, but to be fair I rolled the dumpling dough into little balls.

Most of the ackee and saltfish recipes found online seem to be wrong (even Emeril’s!), according to the slew of Jamaican commenters shaming various recipes that use added aromatics and other ingredients that overpower the subtle ackee. This recipe is a hybrid of what Matt knows, recipes from Jamaican tourism sites and suggestions from those commenters.

We also went all out with our Jamaican dinner and picked up some kola champagne while Metro tries to impress us with its “Caribbeanfest”, offering bottles of tropical drinks for 50 cents – which of course, will be gone from the store next week. Kola champagne is similar to cream soda, with a delightful and intriguing soapy aftertaste not unlike Thrills gum.

For simplicity’s sake, here is the recipe link from which I derived my grocery shopping list for this dish that also comes with video instructions and photos. Try it. It. Was. Delicious.


Matt shows us his secret plantain-peeling tip: cut off the ends and then slice down the "corners" of the fruit, making it easier to remove the peel in sections.




Contributor Heather Rose is a freelance writer living in Toronto with her puppy, Bodie and boyfriend, Matt, one of whom enjoys her culinary experiments more than the other. She applies her life-long philosophy – “I did my best” – to all her recipes and cooking experiences. Check out her website at www.heatherrosewriting.com.