I’ve lived way too long hearing about, being tempted by, but not cooking Cuba’s national dish, ropa vieja: shredded beef stew. Finally, last week I immersed myself in a week of research and recipe testing. The happy outcome is this scrumptious recipe for slow cooker Cuban ropa vieja.
Ropa Vieja means “old clothes” in Spanish. Old clothes tend to be shredded and so is the beef in this stew, hence the name. This kind of dish is perfect for the slow cooker.
My slow cooker lives deep in my pantry closet where it often stays for months. Occasionally I remember it’s there, pull it out and fall back in love. It’s great for those busy times when there just aren’t enough hours in the day (my life lately). I love knowing the crock pot is chugging along for me all day long.
In a matter of hours, while you’re off getting work done or (even better) enjoying the lazy days of summer, solid hunks of beef simmer with onions, garlic mild fruity peppers and a deliciously spiced tomato sauce. The meat is transformed to a beautiful tenderness, easily pulled into shreds using two forks.
After it’s shredded, the meat goes back in the slow cooker for a half hour more, along with some sliced olives and a splash of vinegar, to build that final layer of flavor. The result is the most tender, succulent and irresistibly delicious shredded beef stew!
It’s traditional to serve ropa vieja with rice and black beans. Fried plantains are often on the side as well.
Plain white rice will do just fine. There’s plenty of flavor in the stew. But if you’re interested, here’s what I did to take the rice up a notch: sautée a teaspoon of minced garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil for 30 seconds in a saucepan. Add 1 1/2 cups of raw white rice and cooked it, tossing, for about a minute, in the garlicky oil. Add 3 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt, cover and cook on low, per the package directions, about 15 minutes.
To jazz up simple canned black beans, here’s what I do: Sauté one small chopped onion, 1/2 chopped bell pepper, and a teaspoon of minced garlic in a little oil, just for two minutes or so. Add two cans of drained and rinsed black beans. Add a teaspoon of cumin seeds or 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 cup water. Simmer until hot. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
If you can get everything going in your crock pot in the morning, come dinner time, you’re in for a treat – a delightful tender stew, ready to ladle over a bed of rice!
More Delicious Slow Cooker Recipes on Panning The Globe
Here’s the recipe for slow cooker ropa vieja. If you make this I hope you’ll come back to leave a comment and let me know how it turned out.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 pounds London broil or boneless chuck roast (flank steak or brisket also work well)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 carrot, scraped and sliced in half lengthwise
- 1 Cubanelle pepper or green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled and roughly chopped (10 cloves or 3½ tablespoons)
- ½ cup dry white wine (Vermouth works well)
- 2 cups good quality canned tomato puree (such as Muir Glenn organic)
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup sliced green olives
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 lime or two, cut into wedges
- Season meat on both sides with 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper. Heat oil in a heavy (preferably cast iron) skillet. Brown meat over high heat for 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the bowl of a slow cooker. Toss in the sliced carrot.
- Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet along with the garlic, onions and peppers. Turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 6-7 minutes until the vegetables are softened and starting to caramelize, stirring constantly for the first minute, to make sure the garlic doesn't brown. Add wine and simmer for a minute, stirring and scraping the browned bits from the pan. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker.
- In a medium bowl whisk tomato puree, tomato paste, broth, dried spices and 2 teaspoons salt. Pour over meat. Cook on high for 6 hours. After 5½ hours stir in olives and vinegar.
- Serve with a sprinkle of cilantro and lime wedges on the side.
- Traditional accompaniments are white rice and black beans.
If you’re in the mood for more great crock pot recipes, check out this roundup of delicious healthy summer slow cooker recipes from Cooking Light.