I first had ropa vieja ("old clothes" or "old rags," because of how it looks) at the Little Havana Café in Clarendon. There we discovered that Cuban food isn't hot and spicy, but slow-cooked and savory.
This kind of became the day-after-Thanksgiving tradition when we used spend the holiday in a cabin in West Virginia with friends. It's easy to adapt the recipe for varying quantities, it doesn't require a lot of ingredients, travels well, and it's easy for people, based on how well they're recovering from Thanksgiving, to eat as much as they want. Plus, it's really easy to make.
Ropa Viejafrom Good Old Food by Irena Chalmers
2 pounds beef flank steak
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons peanut oil or olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green pepper or more
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups tomato sauce
1 cup chopped tomatoes or more; I generally used canned
Put the beef in a large pot (I use a dutch oven for the whole process) and add enough cold water to cover. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, until meat is tender. Lift meat from the pot, reserving liquid. When the beef is cool, shred with a fork.
Combine vinegar, lemon juice, and crushed garlic. Add shredded beef and stir to coat; add salt and pepper and marinate at least 45 minutes. I generally increase the quantities of marinade ingredients by a fair amount, maintaining the proportions; that marinade barely coats the meat even then. Usually, I do this all the night before, and refrigerate the meat.
Heat oil the dutch oven; add onion and green pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, for about five minutes. Add chopped garlic and cook for 2–3 minutes more. Add tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, and 1 cup of reserved liquid (saving the rest for later and/or for cooking the black beans). Cook over moderate heat for at about 20 minutes. Add beef to add the sauce. Simmer at least long enough to heat the beef through … or just let it cook for hours, adding more reserved liquid as needed.
Serve over rice with black beans.
Serves 6 to 8.