These days, Cuba is on everybody’s mind and itinerary, now that travel restrictions have been loosened, allowing Americans to travel to the island nation more easily.
For those of us who haven’t yet jetted there, we can at least take our palates there, thanks to “Cuba!: Recipes and Stories From the Cuban Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press), a new cookbook by photographer Dan Goldberg, art director Andrea Kuhn, and food writer Jody Eddy.
The timely cookbook offers an inside look at the everyday food and culture of this mesmerizing country. Included are 75 recipes for classic Cuban dishes such as “Crispy Pork with Mango Salsa,” “Fresh Corn Tamales with Poblano Sauce,” and “Cuban Coffee Flan.”
Because Cuba has been isolated for so long, food shortages have been a regular occurrence. In particular, chicken, beef, and pork are still considered luxuries. Beef is especially scarce because all cows are considered state property.
I couldn’t help but think of how fortunate we are in this country when I made a batch of “Pork Chops with Warm Grapefruit Vinaigrette.” When pulling the pan brimming with eight thick pork chops out of the oven, it made me think how downright spoiled we are in this country, particularly in California, to have such a breadth of fresh, affordable and top-quality ingredients easily available. It made me savor this recipe even more.
The pork chops get marinated in a mix of fresh grapefruit juice, garlic, dark brown sugar, and salt. Then, they are seared on the stovetop, before finished in the oven. A warm vinaigrette of onions, orange juice, more grapefruit juice, and white wine is mixed together on the stovetop, before spooned over the pork chops.
I don’t know if I necessarily tasted the marinade when just biting into the pork chops alone. But with its acid, salt and sugar, the marinade probably does help brine and tenderize them. The flavor really lies in the vinaigrette, which lends a lovely bright yet slightly bitter citrus taste with the natural sweetness of the onions.
It’s a sunshine-y dish that makes you glad of the greater light now shining on this once forbidden country.
Pork Chops with Warm Grapefruit Vinaigrette
(Serve 4 to 6)
For the chops:
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
2 teaspoons salt
8 center-cut pork chops
2 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced into rings
1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
To make the chops, mix together the garlic, brown sugar, grapefruit juice, and salt in a bowl. Arrange the chops in a single layer in a glass baking dish and pour the marinade over them. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, turning halfway through.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the chops from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy, oven-proof skillet over high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, with additional oil if needed, so as not to crowd the pan, sear the chops on both sides, making sure to get a good, dark, crusty sear. If your skillet is large enough to hold all of the chops, return them to the skillet and place the skillet directly in the hot oven. If not, transfer the chops to a baking sheet and place the baking sheet in the oven. Bake the chops until they are fully cooked, 12 to 15 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a paring knife into the thickest part of a chop and peeking inside. There should be no pink color visible.
To make the vinaigrette, heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a healthy pinch of salt. Cook until the onions have softened and are lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the orange juice, grapefruit juice, and wine. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the olive oil, season the vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
When the chops are fully cooked, spoon vinaigrette over the hot chops and sprinkle with cilantro.
From “Cuba!” by Dan Goldberg, Andrea Kuhn, and Jody Eddy
More Grapefruit Deliciousness: Grapefruit Custard Pie
And Orange Recipes to Enjoy: Chilled Soba Noodles with Spicy Orange Sesame and Tofu