Cuban “Roots” – from Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen

Ed. note: As promised, this is the first installment of Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen where every other week or so Marta of My Big Fat Cuban Family will pique our appetites with a fresh comida criolla a lo Cuban-American recipe. I hope you all enjoy and we are not liable for any weight gained as a result.



Hello there, all you hungry Babalusians!

I made some Ajiaco in my crockpot and I just have to share it. But first some background…

In the 1930’s, Cuban President Gerardo Machado made a proclamation that once a week everyone on the island would eat an “ajiaco” – a type of country stew made mostly with root vegetables and flavored with meat. According to my mom (a 93-year-old guajira) every restaurant, fonda, and home followed the “weekly ajiaco” rule. It was a way to use all the different root vegetables indigenous to Cuba, taking advantage of what was available in each province.


The classic ajiaco includes tasajo (salt-dried beef), which I don’t use at all. Some have chicken pieces. I favor the combination of flank steak, chicken broth and pork loin.

In other words, there are as many ways to make this tasty stew as there are Cubans in exile.

And so it goes today…. I use whatever I can get here in Southern California. Most of the time I have to improvise (resuelvo) and I favor adding more garlic, plantains, and corn. I also make a small amount each time, so I peel and cube the vegetables and freeze them for the next Mandatory Ajiaco Day.

What follows is my own Cuban American version of my grandmother’s recipe. The difference? My chicken broth comes in cubes as opposed to my grandmother’s which began with “choose an older hen from the pen….” =D


Crockpot Ajiaco Criollo

Place the following into a 6 quart crockpot:

¼ lb. Flank steak, cubed into bite-size pieces
½ lb. Pork loin, cubed into bite-sized pieces
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup red wine
¼ cup boniato (sweet potato) peeled and cubed
¼ cup yuca (cassava) peeled and cubed
¼ cup fresh pumpkin (or butternut squash) peeled and cubed
1 ripe plantain, peeled and cubed
1 ear of fresh, sweet corn, husked and cut into 2 inch chunks
1 tsp. Salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 tsp. Paprika
1 bay leaf
1 fresh lime, cut into slices

Prepare the sofrito:
3 Tbls. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
¼ green pepper, diced
2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
½ tsp. Cumin
½ tsp. Oregano
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion and green pepper until the onion is transluscent. Add the garlic, tomato sauce, cumin and oregano.
Add this to the vegetables & meat in the crockpot.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 4-5 hours.
Makes 4-6 servings
Remove the bay leaf, squeeze in the lime and serve with hot (Cuban!) bread.

You can thank me later when you’re nice and full. 😉

16 thoughts on “Cuban “Roots” – from Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen”

  1. Yum! Thank you Marta – gonna have to give it a try. The Mrs. liked the homemade fabada I cooked up once; maybe can do justice to ajiaco.

    Did not know how ajiaco came to be until reading the post. Interestingly, the concept is not unlike the nazis’ “one pot” (eintöpf) weekly quasi-communal meal ritual, supposedly to encourage savings and discourage food hoarding. At least Machado’s motives were more or less benign.

  2. ONe of my favorite dishes esp. on cold days. Cause you eat a bowl of this and you start to perspire (at least I do)

    How would the dish be prepared if you do not have a crock pot?

    Also, I’d really be curious if you have a good recipe for tamal en casuela. My grandmother in law made it by grating fresh corn until she had enough corn meal for the stew. No one bothered to get her recipe before she died and I’ve yet to find a comparable recipe.

    Thanks for this one though
    Chef Cohiba

  3. Mike,

    My wife loves the crock pot. Basically she just tosses in all the ingredients before leaving for work and when we get home whatever it is thats cooking is done. You should really consider getting one.

    BTW, my neighbors mom makes the absolute best tamales I have ever eaten and from scratch. She’s promised to let me have the recipe and one of these days let me help out in making a batch or two.

  4. Martha-I am a bachelor and have to travel for a living so I don’t cook very often, but this recipe looks like a winner. I’m going to get a crockpot ASAP and give it a try. BTW your sofrito recipe is nearly identical to my sofrito when I make Frijoles Negros de la Lata.

  5. wow I could even smell it, que bien se ve, thanks Marta, I bet the red wine gives the ajiaco a great touch.

  6. The ajiaco is a direct descendent of the Spanish olla podrida. There is a definite talent in making it: the ingredients should break down in the cooking process sufficiently to form a thick broth but not to the detriment of the individual character of the viands, which should always remain integral. (Yes, I write about cookery in the same style I write about politics).

    Also, in pre-revolutionary Cuba, there was a law requiring that all bread should contain 10 percent yucca flour. Since most of the white flour was imported, this was one way to foster local agriculture and reduce dependence on the U.S. The bread also tasted much better. If anyone besides me remembers it so, the yucca flour was the reason.

  7. Thanks Marta! I can now make ajiaco without the tasajo which is not available where I live. Not that flank (believe it or not) is that easy to get either….but I can resolver!

  8. Contemporary Cuban ajiaco has been around several centuries and it is partially related to the Spanish olla podrida and to the stews the Amerindians of Cuba use to make with animal flesh, especially jutias (hutias)and iguanas, and a variety of tubers such as malanga (taro root), yuca (cassava not yucca which is another plant altogether), and boniato (sweet potato), and calabazas (squashes). Plantains, onions, garlic, tasajo, chicken, beef, pork, lemons, etc. were of course introduced by the European conquerors from Iberia.

  9. I don’t think plantains were a European contribution to the ajiaco. In any case, the ajiaco should contain both green and sweet plantains.

  10. Hay que delicia – I’m so tired of all the other crockpot recipies, after a while everything tastes the same. This is wonderful!!! Thanks.

  11. Yes, both green and ripe plantains are a good idea, but the best are the pintones (in between green and ripe). Plantains and bananas did not exist in Cuba nor the rest of the Americas until the Iberians brought them in their ships in the 16th century.

  12. Manuel & Mamey –
    Thanks for the history/food lesson.
    Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to avoid foods with the word “podrida” in the name. =D
    Trust me, slow cooking all the viandas for that many hours will definitely make them soft and almost completely dissolve. And yes, both kinds of plantains are ideal if you can get them.

  13. Marta:

    The weekly ajiaco, which was favored as an economy in Machado’s time, would today be regarded as a great boon by the Cuban people. The only thing better would be to be able to eat this “economy” every day.

    48 years ago Castro pledged that the Cuban people would eat only malanga for 20 years if it meant becoming economically self-sufficient. The Cuban people should have been that lucky, too. The malanga also banished from the Cuban diet (today it’s reserved for invalids). Castro’s reason? The humble tuber was a “indicator of underdevelopment!” It’s better to starve than to be “underdeveloped”

  14. Marta… Te la comistes!!! y nos lo comimos!! y estaremos comiendo ajiaco por tres dias.Por que “my hand left me”… I doubled your recipe, YUM! Gracias y Bienvenida .

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