When I think of comfort food, I think of my dad’s Cuban cooking. A big scoop of Ropa Vieja served with white rice, black beans, avocado and some fried plantains. The name ropa vieja translates to “old clothes” as a play on the long shredded pieces of tender flank steak. I’m taking on the Whole30 challenge this month and I was pleasantly surprised to realize Ropa Vieja is essentially Whole30-friendly all on it’s on. As far as my sides go, I swapped white rice for an oregano and orange riced cauliflower side and sliced up a big avocado topped with olive oil and flaky sea salt. I think my dad would be proud!
His recipe of Ropa Vieja comes from a famous Cuban cookbook that my abuela Mia passed down to him. Traditionally you would use a pressure cooker to make the very lean flank steak super tender in no-time, but in my own kitchen I prefer the one-pot method using my Dutch oven. You’ll also see some recipes with olives… my dad has never put olives in his, so I don’t now!
- 1.5 - 2 pounds beef flank steak
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 2 red and/or green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 (14-ounce) can peeled whole tomatoes in their juices, crushed
- 1 cup homemade or store-bought chicken stock, plus more if needed (use water in replacement if needed)
- 2 bay leaves
- Serve with cooked white rice and black beans, or cauliflower rice and avocado to be Whole30-friendly.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Cut flank steak into large chunks (about 2 inches) and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat one tablespoon of oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add half of the steak pieces to Dutch oven and cook, turning, until each side is browned, about 6 minutes total. Transfer steak to a plate and set aside. Add more oil if needed. Cook second batch of steak and transfer to plate.
- Add sliced onion and bell peppers to Dutch oven. Cook for about 8 minutes until onion and peppers are tender. Scrape the bottom of the pan as they cook to release the delicious brown bits of flavor.
- Add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.
- Stir in tomato paste, cumin and oregano. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, for 1 minute.
- Add about ¼ cup of stock or water to Dutch oven and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot. Once some of the liquid evaporates, add canned tomatoes and rest of stock or water.
- Add flank steak back to the Dutch oven, placing within sauce so each piece is covered by the sauce. Add bay leaves to Dutch oven. If needed, top off with a little more stock or water to be sure all of the flank steak is covered.
- Cover Dutch oven and transfer to oven. Cook for about 1.5 hours, or until flank steak shreds easily and is tender.
- Remove bay leaves from the Dutch oven and discard. Take out the pieces of beef from pot and, using two forks, pull apart into very thin, long shreds. Return beef to pot, stirring to combine with vegetables and cooking liquid.
- If a lot of liquid is leftover, place Dutch oven over stove on medium heat. Simmer until sauce has reduced into a thicker consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Don’t be freaked out, the Ropa Vieja recipe looks long, but it’s essentially this big beef stew that you will make once and have leftovers for days! Serve over white rice for a perfect winter meal.
For my Whole30 sides, I just sautéed riced cauliflower with a little olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, added dried oregano (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) and squeezed fresh orange juice on top once it was cooked. The acidity of the orange and the flavor from the oregano paired perfectly with the Ropa Vieja.
Let me know if you have any questions and if you enjoyed the Cuban meal!
Love food. Love self. Love life.