I used to work for a Cuban woman who is still a close friend. Although I liked Cuban food before I met her, she brought my appreciation for it to a new level. When she traveled to Miami she brought me a small device to make Tostones (twice-fried plantains), special spice mixes loaded with garlic flavor, and robust Cuban coffee. When I got married, she gave me a Cuban cookbook entitled Memories of a Cuban Kitchen by Mary Urruita Randelman. This is a great cookbook filled hundreds of classic Cuban recipes that include Randelman's family's favorites, as well as stories about her family and life in Cuba as a small child. When I open this book, I feel like I have the chance to sit down with a Cuban family and learn more about the culture through its delicious food. I have enjoyed all the dishes that I have prepared using this cookbook, but the recipe I return to most often is one of the most simple. Crushed Potatoes. Potatoes are simply boiled until tender, then crushed and fried in olive oil to produce a golden crust on each side. Topped with parsley, red onions and coarse sea salt, they are delicious. They are great really with any meal in which you might want to have a potato side dish, so I encourage you to try them even if you are not making Cuban food.
6 medium size new potatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan over medium-high heat boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and place on a clean kitchen towel. Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet (preferably cast-iron to achieve a great crust) by about 1/4 inch, and heat over medium heat. While the oil heats, cover a potato with a second kitchen towel and press gently with the palm of your hand until you hear the potato crush and it has flattened a bit. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Using a spatula, transfer the potatoes to the skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side. (Don't worry if some pieces of potato fall off; it will all get golden and crispy, so it won't really matter how intact they remain). Remove and place on serving platter. Sprinkle potatoes with parsley, onion, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 2-3.
Since I'm in the Cuban mood, I also want to include the Avocado Salad that I make quite often. This recipe does not appear in the book, but I order it everytime I go to Versailles in L.A. It's simply an avocado dressed with vinegar and thin onion slices. You hardly need a recipe, but here's how I make it:
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1/4 red or white onion very thinly sliced
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Lay the avocado slices on a plate. Top with onion. Drizzle with a little bit of vinegar and oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serves 2.