Last year around this time, my BFF Ayesha came for a visit and we headed down to Key West for a weekend getaway.  Even though I live in Florida, these getaways within my own state still feel like a vacation.  The sun just seems hotter and brighter, the skies are bluer and the carefree attitude of being away soars!!  Afternoon tropical drinks and light, easy meals filled our days.  Ayesha and I share a passion for food, easily being able to spend hours chatting away about recipes, ideas to recreate our own and always seeking out-of-the-ordinary places to dine!

One hot afternoon walking down Duval Street we passed by a Casablanca style bar/restaurant, which unfortunately, the name is long forgotten.   Large fans overhead sent cooling breezes down to the small round tables.  Cuban influence in Key West is very present in music, shopping and food.  This little place caught our attention for a much needed break from the heat and a small bite to eat.  Mojitos are always my drink of choice when dining on Cuban/Latin cuisine; the cooling minty taste is so refreshing on a hot day. 

One of the dishes we ordered were nachos ala Cuban style.  Tortilla chips were replaced with Plantain chips and covered with Picadillo; a Cuban dish consisting of ground beef, tomatoes, pepper, Spanish olives, garlic and spices.  Picadillo is usually served with white rice as in my photo, along with black beans.  I have since served my Picadillo with plantain chips for a casual, fun dish.   In fact, as soon as we got back from Key West, Ayesha and I recreated that Cuban Nacho dish!  The long plantain chips work the best in serving ‘nacho’ style as they hold and scoop up the Picadillo nicely.  I have used either ground beef or ground turkey in my Picadillo and sometimes spice it up a bit as Cuban cuisine is seasoned well but never spicy hot!


Adapted from Estafan Kitchen

 4 teaspoons olive oil

3 lbs lean ground beef or turkey

1 red pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Pinch of cumin powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 ¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup ketchup

½ cup pimento stuffed Spanish olives

Plantain chips (optional, but necessary for preparing “nacho” style)

 In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil.  Add the ground beef or turkey and brown the meat, stirring occasional.  Remove the browned meat and drain any excess fat from the skillet.  Add the remaining olive oil and allow to heat to medium heat.  Add the pepper, onion and garlic, sauté until onions are soft.  Return the browned meat to the skillet, add the remaining ingredients.  Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer.  Cover and simmer the Picadillo for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove the bay leaves and serve over white rice or layer on Plantain chips for serving as nachos.

Cuban Shrimp Creole (Enchilado de camarones)

I am beginning to take a liking to Cuban food.  Partly due to my fascination in exploring different ethnic dishes and finding many similarities, such as Greek Moussaka is similar to Italian Lasagna.  Every nationality has distinctive staple foods and styles of preparation. 

Shrimp Creole is one dish I have ordered several times at our favorite Cuban restaurant.  Cuban cuisine is not known to be spicy, but it is well seasoned.  This dish however, does have a bit of a kick and that may be one reason I enjoy it so much. 

In attempting to recreate it, I was aware that Cuban’s prepare their own sofrito (not to be confused with soffritto, which is the Italian version) of onions, garlic and sweet peppers and spices such as cumin, bay leaf and cilantro.  Taking that and adding what I know of sauce making, I made my version of Shrimp Creole.  Traditionally it is served with white rice.  We chose to have Cuban bread to sop up the sauce and round out the meal with an Avocado Salad. 

Shrimp Creole

1 1/2 lbs peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp, leaving the tails on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped large onion
1 cup chopped sweet peppers, I used a mix of yellow, orange & red peppers
3 garlic cloves minced
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine
pinch of cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and sweet peppers and saute until the onions and peppers become soft.  Add the garlic cloves and lightly saute.  Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, wine, water, cayenne pepper, cumin, oregano, sugar and salt and pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  Add the shrimp and simmer for 15 minutes until the shrimp turn pink and curl up.  Serve over white rice or with Cuban bread as we did!  Makes 4 servings.

Avocado Salad

You won’t find many vegetable dishes in Cuban cuisine; but you will see this salad.  The avocado used is the larger Florida variety.  It is less buttery and flavorful than a California Haas; however, in this salad the taste is creamy and refreshing especially when paired with a somewhat spicy dish such as the Shrimp Creole.  The traditional dressing is simply oil, white wine vinegar and salt.  I added lemon juice to brighten the flavor as well as pepper and a dash of Complete Seasoning. (Complete Seasoning is used in Latin cooking; a blend of salt, pepper, cumin and other spices.  It does contain MSG so I use it very sparingly.)

Avocado Salad

1 large ripe Florida avocado, cut in chunks
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
Dash of Complete Seasoning

Place avocado chunks and onion slices in a bowl.  Pour over dressing and lightly toss.  Serve immediately.