How to turn a tough chuck roast into a tender shredded ropa vieja
Julia Turshen has co-written cookbooks with several celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow, but after publishing several blockbuster books herself, she's now a food celebrity in her own right.
Starting in 2016, Turshen published three books in quick succession — "Small Victories," "Feed the Resistance" and "Now & Again" — and also founded Equity at the Table, which helps connect people of color, women and non-binary people in food.
She also hosts a podcast ("Keep Calm and Cook On"), which she has continued to produce during the pandemic. Her big project this year is "Simply Julia" (Harper Wave, $32.50), a new cookbook that explores her food identity and what it means to eat "healthy" and have complicated relationships with food and our bodies.
She finished the book before the pandemic started, but she was able to rewrite many parts to reflect this difficult year, including this recipe for ropa vieja, which she served to first responders in her area early in the pandemic.
The dish, which is popular in the Caribbean and beyond, can be served alongside black beans, rice, potatoes, tortillas or bread. It keeps well in the fridge and can be used in multiple dishes over the course of a week, which cuts down on food waste, another one of Turshen's passions. ("Now & Again" was dedicated to cooking with leftovers in mind.)
Not all cooks use raisins and olives in this dish, so if you already know you're not a fan of that combination, leave them out. If you haven't tried the salty-sweet combo that also appears in picadillo, check it out. And if you can find plantains, pick them up, too. Fried plantains and ropa vieja are a classic pairing, particularly in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Eighth Avenue Ropa Vieja
In my early twenties, I ended up living in a studio apartment in the same building that I grew up in. It was a surreal experience, almost a time loop, and living there allowed me to reconnect to some of the places I went to as a little kid. One of those places was La Taza del Oro, down the block on Eighth Avenue, a very special lunch counter that opened in 1947 and sadly closed in 2015. Along with Casa Adela in the East Village, La Taza del Oro was one of New York’s iconic Puerto Rican restaurants and it served dishes from other cultures, too, including traditional Cuban ropa vieja, which translates to “old clothes,” an evocative description of the texture of the shredded beef. I make this version at home regularly, and while it doesn’t bring back a restaurant I wish was still thriving, it helps me keep my memories of it alive. It’s also just so satisfying and soul-warming, which is why I made it a few times for our local volunteer EMT squad when COVID-19 hit our area.
— Julia Turshen
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juice
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, plus 3 tablespoons olive brine for finishing the dish
One 2- to 3-pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed of any large pieces of fat or gristle, cut into 3 even pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Fresh cilantro, for serving (optional)
Heat your oven to 300 degrees. Place the onion, garlic, bell peppers, diced tomatoes with their juice, mustard, raisins and olives (hang onto that brine for later) in a large, heavy ovenproof pot (such as a Dutch oven). Mix well to combine.
Sprinkle the chuck roast pieces all over with the salt, black pepper and cumin. Nestle the pieces into the mixture in the pot. Cover the pot tightly with a lid or aluminum foil.
Roast the beef until it’s incredibly tender and shreds easily when you poke at it with tongs or a couple of forks, about 3 hours. Add the olive brine to the pot and use those tongs or forks to shred the beef directly in the pot (discard any large pieces of fat as you work) and mix it together with the juices. Season to taste with salt. Serve warm with cilantro sprinkled on top (if you’d like). Serves 6 to 8.
— From "Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food" by Julia Turshen (Harper Wave, $32.50)