Sunday, February 1, 2009

Harina de Maiz Con Patas de Cangrejo (Cuban Polenta with Crab Legs)

It doesn't get more messy and home-style than this. These are crab legs and claws cooked in a flavorful cornmeal pudding with a strong cuban sofrito and spices. This dish is VERY MESSY! The crab legs and claws are smothered in polenta, you got to use your hands and teeth and dig in that's how you eat this, and a spoon to eat the polenta, but for the most part you'll be using your hand and mouth to break the crab leg pieces and suck the polenta stuck to them, the delicious polenta even get's inside the crab legs so good. I suggest you eat this with family and close friends because it is not a dish to be practicing one's "manners"

Cubans refer to cornmeal used to make "polenta" type dishes as "Harina de Maiz" which means "Flour of Corn" if translated directly. We use regular fine yellow corn meal for this stuff.

Cuban cornmeal based dishes are almost non-existent in Cuban restaurants from what I have seen and I really don't know why they aren't in Cuban restaurant menu's. I'm sure many would love them.

In Cuban cooking cornmeal was used to make cormeal porridges similar to polenta that are flavored with typical Cuban seasonings, and then meat or seafood is added, such as pork, shrimp, or crab that's how it is in my household. Also cornmeal can be boiled with water or milk and sweetened with sugar to have it as a breakfast, or simply just boiled with water and salt to use in place of rice in Cuban cooking. We also have a dessert called "Majarete" (Sweet Cuban Corn pudding) which can be made with a really fine ground cormeal. Eventually in my blog I will have all the cornmeal dishes that I enjoy in my house posted to share with all of you.

Anyways in Oriente provinces (Eastern Cuba) my grandma told me that plain boiled salted cornmeal was usually associated with "poor people food" as it was cheap and filling, and during the depression it was popular. OF COURSE she says that many people consumed it simply because they enjoyed it (such as her and her family which where never poor in Cuba and fortunate enough to leave before that revolution and Castro's conquest of Cuba)

Just so you guys know when I speak of Cuban cooking I speak of pre-castro, as in 1950's and way more back as in the food my grandmother and grandfathers family cooked a long time ago and passed on through generations which eventually ended up with me still preserving their cooking and eating habits.

-2 lbs. crab legs and claws (washed well, and torn into segments like seperate them at each joint into sections)
-2 cups yellow cornmeal
-10 cups water
-1 medium onion minced
-1 medium or small green bell pepper minced
-1/2 a head of garlic peeled mashed to a paste (garlic press or mortar)
-extra-virgin olive oil
-salt to taste (about 2 tsp. or more)
-1/2- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1 teaspoon "Bijol" (annato seed/ achiote powder)

(1)Have everything chopped and ready. In a large pot, bring 10 cups water to a boil WITH NO SALT.

(2)Meanwhile heat generous amounts of olive oil in a pan, sautee onions and bell pepper until translucent (5-7 minutes) add garlic and sautee until fragrant. You may add a few pinches of salt in there. Stir and set aside in pan leave it alone. Turn off heat.

(3)Get cornmeal and put it in a bowl, wash it in cold water twice. Yes you heard wash it to remove excess starch. You do this by putting it in a big bowl, adding water and swooshing your hands, then letting it sit less than a minute so the cornmeal sinks back down just a bit and pouring water out. Do this twice.

(4)Add this to the boiling water and stir constantly (this is the toughest part if you don't stir constantly it will lump on you) stir well on high heat until it comes to a bubbling boil (you do not want this hot bubbling cornmeal to jump at you it hurts). When it's boiling lower to low heat, cook it for a total of 15 minutes.

(5)When cooking for 15 minutes, lower heat to very low, add cumin, bijol, salt to taste, and "sofrito" (onion, garlic, bell pepper sautee in olive oil), stir well, add crab legs and claws and brin to medium heat stir gently for about 5 more minutes until flavors come through, taste if it needs more salt.

(6)It's DONE! You do not want to serve this piping hot it WILL BURN YOU! Let it sit a bit, then serve it.

You serve this as a stand alone dish if you wish a light salad or some vegetable dish in a separate plate may be served.


My grandmother does this "a lo Gallego" very rustic and carefree, the crab shells really add much flavor to the dish, IT IS MESSY AND FUN! I suggest you try it :)

Boniato Con Mojo (Cuban White Sweet Potato with Garlic Citrus Sauce)

Yet another one of the simple Cuban "Mojo" type dishes. The Mojo de Ajo (garlic citrus sauce) is consumed with a variety of things, we love it especially on starchy tubers like Yuca, Malanga, Ñame, and even Boniato.

Here I will show you what it's like with Boniato. If you can't find "Boniato" any firm WHITE FLESHED sweet potato will be fine. BUT DO NOT TRY TO SUBSTITUTE IT FOR REGULAR ORANGE FLESHED OR PURPLE FLESHED SWEET POTATOES! It will not have the right taste or texture and is just a big no-no.

Just skip it if you can't get white fleshed sweet potatoes (which when steamed or boiled become a light yellowish color)

Main Ingredients:
-Boniato (as much as you wanna make I made 1 pound)
-water to boil Boniato
-salt to salt Boniato's water

Serve with:
-Mojo de Ajo

(1)Wash and clean Boniatos, trim of any bad parts if it has any at all (mine was sitting in the fridge for awhile so yeah...) Now place in a pot with enough water to cover completely and salt (or it will discolor) now bring to boil on high cover bring to medium heat and boil until tender about 30 minutes or more. Check with a knife if tender if it can go through fine it's done.

(2)When ready to serve drain, peel and serve with mojo

Other recipes you may find interesting with Mojo or Mojo flavors:

(1)Yuca Con Mojo (Boiled Cassava Root with Mojo)

Yuca Frita (Fried Cassava Root with Mojo)

Col Con Mojo (Cabbage with Mojo)

(4)Calabaza Con Mojo (Winter Squash With Mojo)

Ensalada de Aji (Fire Roasted Peppers in Mojo)

(6)Ñame Con Mojo (True Yam with Mojo)

(7)Pollo al Mojo de Ajo

Pollo Frito a la Criolla

Other recipe with "Boniato":


Salmon a la Vizcaina

Bittermelon Stirfried with Egg and Bacon

Bittermelon I have written about it in my post called "Bittermelon Salad" but just real brief. It is a very bitter vegetable, with lots of health benefits, and I actually enjoy the bitterness and have acquired a taste for it. You can find it at some Asian grocery stores and especially at Filipino stores.

Bittermelon was 1 dollar for 2 pounds so I bought plenty bittermelons, two to make into "Bittermelon Salad" which I enjoyed with Jasmine rice and fried rockhead cod with soy sauce vinegar dip.

So anyways, I remember often times having Bittermelon stirfried with egg and bacon at my Filipino friends house (Shantall) and I really enjoy it, so I gave her a call and asked her how they make it. It is EXTREMELY EASY, I had this for breakfast this morning with Jasmine white rice. (Yes I am aware of the high glycemic index of 109 of Jasmine white Rice, but I hate brown rice in all it's forms I tried it for 2 years and tossed it out the window, I'm sorry I like white rice!)

-2 bittermelons (cut in half, pith and seeds removed, sliced thinly but not like paper thin)
-1 onion minced
-1/2 head garlic (finely minced)
-4 -6 strips bacon chopped
-6-8 eggs (beaten with a dash of milk, and a couple pinches of salt) -salt to taste
-ground black pepper to taste
-1 pinch of monosodium glutamine/ msg (optional)

(1)Heat a wok (if you don't have one a skillet or any pan is fine) on very high heat, add chopped bacon and stirfry until it renders all it's fat, add onions and stirfry for about 3-4 minutes until fragrant and caramelized a bit add garlic and cook until fragrant.

(2)Add bittermelon, mix well, add salt, black pepper, and msg. Stir every 1 minute for about 4 minutes to cook bittermelon.

(3)Add eggs, fold in well and slide, until eggs are cooked and scrambled in well. Taste for salt and add more to taste if neseccary.

(4)Enjoy with some white rice.