Fidel Castro's political revolution had a profound effect on Narciso Anillo's weight: He gained 60 pounds the first year he and his wife lived in the United States after they had fled Cuba.
"I had one year of eating white rice, bacon, raw onion and fried eggs," Dr. Anillo recalled as he nibbled on a chicken and ham croqueta and sipped a mojito , the main ingredient of which is rum. Dr. Anillo was kibitzing as his wife, Ortensia and her Cuban-American friend Vida Weaver prepared a Cuban feast in the Anillos' Kenwood Park home.
As a typical middle-class Cuban woman, the only thing Ortensia Anillo could do in the kitchen when she married was make fancy French desserts. Like so many other political refugees who suddenly found themselves without servants when they came to the United States, Ortensia had to learn the rudiments of cooking an ordinary meal. She has become so skilled that Cuban friends are not only willing, but eager, to travel 200 miles just some "home cooking." American neighbors are delighted to be asked over for dinner, if only to find out what their children, friends of the Anillos' youngest son, have been raving about.
It was a matter of luck that she learned her native cooking in a foreign land. Cuban exiles who lived in the same apartment house in Maryland had brought their maid with them when they fled. But they were leaving Washington temporarily and asked the Anillos if the maid could live with them.
In exchange for a place to sleep, each nigth the maid taught Ortensia Anillo everything she knew about Cuban and French cooking. French cooking was particularly popular among the middle and upper classes in Havana just as it has been around the world. What the teacher knew was considerable, but she had an apt pupil. Ortensia Anillo's father had owned one of Havana's most famous restaurants, El Carnelo, in pre-revolutionary days.
"One night we would have tamales. Another night we had crepes. It was crazy," Mrs. Anillo said as she rolled what would become Cuban cold meat pates in cracker crumbs and eggs.
Like other immigrants, many Cubans do eat American food - sometimes their Children actually like it better - but generally they prefer what they ate back home. And as more and more emigres of Spanish extraction have settled in the United States, more and more of their raw ingredients have become available. Since the largest Cuban population is found in Miami, a little Havana has sprung up and much of what was available in Cuba can be purchased there. And as the Latin population has increased in Washington, more and more staples have made their way here, but Mrs. Anillo prefers to buy in bulk in Miami on her annual trip. "It's so much cheaper there," she explained.
Much of what she buys is similar to what a Spanish cook would purchase. Of all the former processions in the New World, Cuban food is most like that of its mother country. There were very few indigenous Indians in Cuba when the Spaniards arrived and the few who were there didn't last long. "They were killed off by the Spaniards, who were very cruel colonizers," Vida Weaver explained. "Cubans are either Spanish or a mixture of Spanish and their African slaves," she said. Cuban food is similarly a mixture of influences including the raw ingredients available on the island: plantains, guava, excellent fish. Unlike other Carribean food, but like Spanish cuisine, it is not spicy. The use of beans, and roots like yams and yocca, is typically African. In pre-Castro Havana there was an added dimension: a significant French influence most obvious in the elegant rich desserts.
Weaver, who had come to this country before Castro came to power, also knew something beyond how to make such desserts. As a single woman living in New York, shw, too, had to learn how to cook. She married an American, Peter Weaver. Her family easts Cuban and American food, plus Mexican because they spent several years in that country.
She and Mrs. Anillo collaborated on a panoramic Cuban dinner recently just to show an American how the food ought to taste. What started out as a small dinner for six or eight ended up as a buffet for 20. "We never make a Cuban Party small," Dc. Anillo explained. The variety of dishes served was far more extensive than a traditional meal, though the emphasis on pork and carbohydrates is typical. "Cubans like starchy food and fied food," Weaver explained.
Like Americans, Cubans love small finger foods. On the island they would serve them for merienda , the equivalent of the English high tea. "Cubans love to eat," Weaver said, and even though they would have breakfast and a complete lunch, they liked a snack in the late afternoon - something to tide them over until dinner, which was never served before 8. Often the snack was sweet, but it might also be something fried like the bite-size chicken croquettes, chatinos , squashed twice-fied plantain slices, or deep fried empanadas. Baked empanadas may be found all over South America, but Cuba is one for the few places where they are fried. Another popular dish, corne fria, literally "cold meat," is what the French would call country pate.
Meriendas are a thing of the past; but the cocktail party now is the place to find the finger foods. And according to Dr. Anillo, Cubans are very fond of cocktails, especially Scotch and mixed drinks made with rum, once one of Cuba's most-famous exports along with cigars. One of the best known rum-based drinks, the daiquiri, is a joint Cuban-American invention. According to a guest at the Anillos' dinner, it was connocted by an American general who landed in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
Awaiting the Anillo's guests after all of the above-mentioned finger foods was a sumptnous buffet table, set with the Cuban silver the family managed to get out of the country. In the beginning it was all they had. The huge casserole of arroz cos carne de puerco , rice with pork, was glided with a bechamed sauce. Cuban tamales were stuffed with pork. Unlike those in Mexico, they are made with fresh corn as well as dried corn. The Cubans call a salad of avocado and pineapple, dressed with mayonnaise, guaca-mole . In Mexico guacamole is seasoned mashed avacado. Cubans often serve a sweet dish with the main course. One of the most popular is called platanos en tentacion ' "temptation bananas, "baked in brown and white sugar with sherry or port.
Vida Weaver had made a flan for dessert, a dish that is typically Spanish and typically Cuban. Mrs. Anillos' double-crust guava pies were made with a very buttery, short dough.
Cuban coffee, dark and very strong, and as it always is served sweetened and in demitasse cups.
One dish, typical of almost all Latin countries was not served - beans and rice. It's the one most Hispanics always mention when they talk about what they miss most from home. The Cuban name for black beans cooked with rice says everything there is to say about the melding of the Spanish and African cultures - Marros y Cristianos , "Moors and Christians."
Often the Anillos' eldest son Sergio, a student at Georgetwon University, brings his Latin-American friends home for dinner. "They long for their black beans and rice," Mrs. Anillo says.
Sergio was 1 1/2 years old when the Anillos left Cuba. He couldn't have eaten much Cuban food in his first 18 months of life, but he still prefers it to hamburgers. But his younger brother, Alvaro, turns his nose up at the Cuban dishes. Give him a fast-food hamburger and French fries any time.
Alvaro's friends in the neighborhood, howeve, think its a treat to be invited to dinner. One of them, whose parents were at the Cuban "smorgasbord," is particularly food of a beef dish in which the meat is coocked until it is in shreds. It is appropriately named rpas viejas , literally "old clothes".
But it is affectionately known at the Anillos' now as "dirty clothes," the name the child gave it when his mother asked him what he had been served.
What a meal at the Anillos' actually produces is "tight clothes". These few recipes explain why.
(24 medium) Dough: 3 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup vegetable shortening 2 eggs 6 tablespoons dry white wine
Sift flour and measure again. Add salt and sugar and sift once more. Add shortening and blend with pastry blender or fingers until mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Make a well in the center and place eggs which have been mixed well with the wine. Combine liquid and dry ingredients with hands, kneading just enough to hold mixture together.
Take a small handful of dough and place on floured board. Roll out with rolling pin into a circle about 5 or 6 inches in diameter and about 1/4 inch thick. Place tablespoon of filing in center of dough and fold one half over, pressing edges down with fingers. Use rolling pip to flatten edges and then cut off excess dough with scissors, leaving just enough edge to press with wet fork times. Continue making empanadas this way. Smaller or large ones can be made.
When all empanadas have been prepared, heat enough cooking oil in heavy-bottomed pot to cover two or three large empanadas. Fry at 350 to 375 degrees. Fry until just light golden if they are being prepared ahead and frozen. Or fry to deep golden brown if they are to and frozen. Or fry to deep golden brown if they are to be served immediately. Drain on paper towels or brown paper bags.
Freeze if desire. To serve, reheat in 350-degree oven on cookie sheets until bubbly and brown, 15 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately.
PICADILLO FILLING 1 1/2 pounds ground meat (can be all beef or mixed with 1/4 to 1/2 pound ground pork) 1 or 2 tablespoon cooking oil 1 large onion, finely chopped 1 small or large clove garlic, crushed 2 tablespoons chopped pimiento stuffed olives 2 tablespoons chopped capens 1 tablespoon or more (to taste) seedless raisins Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup dry white wine, optional.
Heat oil in frying pan until very hot. Add onions and sauce until they are translucent. Add garlic, olives, capers and raisins. Stir and cook until well blended. Add ground meat, turning up heat to brown it. Keep stirring and chopping meat with spatula to break it up. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Wine may be added and mixture simmered for 5 minutes after meat is browned for additional flavor.
The picadillo may be served as is or used as filling for empanadas. As filling, the juices should be drained off completely to keep empanada dough from becoming soggy.
CROQUETAS DE POLLO Y JAMON
Ham and Chicken Croquettes
(Makes 25 to 30) 4 chicken breast halves
2 medium onions, sliced 2 cloves garlic, cut in half 1 large onion Few sprigs parsley 1/4 pound butter 1/2 pound ground ham 10 tablespoon flour 10 ounces milk 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon white pepper 1/4 teaspoon cumin 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt 2 eggs, beaten lightly 1 cup dry bread crumbs Oil for deep frying
Cook the chicken breasts with the 2 medium onions and garlic until chicken is tender. When cool enough to handle, skin and bone chicken and grind in meat grinder with the large raw onion and parsley. Melt butter in large skillet and stir in flour. When well mixed, add, all at once, the milk, salt, pepper, cumin and garlic, salt. Stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Then add ground chicken and ham and mix well.
Allow mixture to cool and then shape into croquettes: Take a heaping teaspoonful of mixture and shape by rolling in the palm of your hand into a cylinder. (Larger ones can be made as a first course.) Roll croquettes in eggs, then in bread crumbs. Heat enough oil to 375 degrees in heavy skillet to cover the croquettes. Fry croquettes until they are golden. May be served hot or warm. Tastes best with a few squeezes of lemon or lime juice.
Cuban Country Pate
(Makes 6 to 8 rolls) 2 pounds ground round 2 pounds ground pork 2 pounds ground ham 2 onions, chopped 4 cloves garlic 2 tablespoons salt 2 tablespoon mustard 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1/4 teaspoon white pepper 1/4 teaspoons nutmeg 1/4 teaspoons cumin 1/4 teaspoon oregano 14 eggs, beaten 3 1/2 cups cracker crumbs 1 1/2 cups raising 1/4 cup dry white wine Cooking Medium: 2 onions, chopped 1 tablespoon salt 2 garlic cloves 1 bay leaf 1 tablesspoon freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon cumin 1 teaspoon oregano 1 cup dry white wine
Grind beef, pork, ham, onions and garlic together. Mix in salt, mustard, Worcestershire, spices, raisins, wine, 6 beaten eggs and 1 1/2 cups cracker meal. Combine throughly. Shape mixture into rolls about 2 inches thick and 8 inches long. Roll each cylinder first in the 8 beaten eggs, then in 2 cups cracker meal, then in eggs and then in cracker meal once more in eggs and finally in cracker meal. Pat coating well to hold in place. Wrap each roll in double thickness of aluminum foil and twist ends to hold in place. Casing must be totally sealed.
Combine cooking medium ingredients in large heavy pot with enough water to cover meat rolls. Place rolls in water, bring to boil and simmer for 2 hours. Allow meat rolls to cool thoroughly before slicing.
PLATANOS EN TENTACION
(8 servings) 8 very ripe bananas, peeled and sliced 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup brownulated sugar 1/2 cup sweet wine (Port, cream sherry, etc.) Butter and cinnamon
Grease a rectangular baking dish with butter all over and lay bananas in it, cut side up. Sprinkle bananas with both sugars and pour over wine. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve at once.
(6 servings) 12 ounces guava paste, cup up 1/4 cup guava marmalade 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature 1 egg yolk, beaten Confectioners' sugar
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Blend in the butter until mixture is grainy. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons room-temperature water and kneed dough lightly until it can be extended.
Divide dough into parts, the one for the bottom crust a little large than the other. Roll out the larger piece of dough about 1/4-inch thick and one inch larger than diameter of 9-inch pie plate. Frease and flour pie plate. PLace dough in pan and fill with mixture of guava andguava marmalade. Roll out remaining dough and cover filling. Seal edges of upper and lower crusts together and crimp edges. Make several slits in pie to allow steam to escape. Brush top crust with beaten yolk. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until crust is golden. Remove pie from oven and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Serve warm.