This book focuses on the festive culinary abundance of a middle-class, Cuban-born author and Miami resident. Raquel Rabade Roque’s The Cuban Kitchen offers a savory glimpse into the pre-Castro days.
Roque is the owner of one of Miami’s largest bookstores, the Downtown Book Center. She is quick to share that she is no chef, but that she was raised in a proud Cuban household. This translates into a homespun book with recipes that even kitchen novices will be able to create successfully.
The Cuban Kitchen (Knopf, $20) is a 432-page cookbook packed with 500 short recipes that are easy to follow and cover everything from cocktails to Cuban baby food, ice cream treats, and candies, all served up with a side of culture and history.
The Cuban Kitchen is an expanded version of Cocina Cubana: 350 Recetas Criollas, the Spanish-language cookbook Roque published in 2007. She hopes this book will appeal to a broader audience; it contains, as she shares in the introduction, “the recipes that shaped me through childhood and adulthood.”
This cookbook is helping to educate people that Cuban cuisine is more than beans and rice. In fact, Cuban cuisine amalgamates Spanish, Portuguese, Arabian, Asian, Caribbean, French, Italian, Jewish, and African culinary traditions. Spanish influence is particularly heavy since Cuba was Spain’s first stronghold in the New World. (For history buffs: Cuba achieved independence from Spain in the late 1890s.)
Most of the recipes have a definite Cuban flavor with the influence of the other cultures as a tasty undercurrent. The drinks and desserts are especially delightful. There are lots of good-looking seafood meals, which makes sense for an island community. If you enjoy idiosyncrasies, you’ll find them in this book, and who knows when you’ll need to know what to do with pig’s feet.
Overall the recipes seem easy to create and the book helps readers understand more about the Cuban way of life. It was easy to picture a wonderful party with family and friends where the Cuban coffee flows freely. Adding more photos would have enhanced the experience, but the book is worth reading and the recipes worth trying even without pictures.