There's a little Cuban restaurant in Los Angeles called Versailles, and it's there that I fell in love with a folksy stew called ropa vieja, or "old rags," given the appearance of the shredded beef prominently featured in this dish. Ropa vieja is roughly a Cuban equivalent to our traditional meat-and-potatoes beef stew, minus the gravy and potatoes but with wine and peppers. It's a food of the people - the heart-warming, belly-filling sort of staple that, as my Google search indicated, everyone and her mother and Emeril Lagasse apparently make a version of.
I wanted to replicate the dish at home and concocted my own version using some reason and deduction. Traditionally, ropa vieja features beef, onions, peppers, tomatoes, wine and garlic. Although I've made the dish with beef, this recipe was spawned during my vegan days, and I still like to fall back on the seitan version. I love the way the seitan soaks up the flavor of the broth.
Two more inspirations found their way into this ropa vieja recipe. I like wine, and I like garlic. Maybe it's the French in me, but I knew my version would need both of these things in large quantities. Whenever I cook with wine, I can't help but remember my favorite Julia Child quote: "I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food." This recipe calls for about half a bottle of wine; I'll leave the amount to your discretion.
As for the two heads of garlic, I guarantee you'll have no vampires dropping by this Halloween.
Seitan Ropa Vieja ("Old Rags")
(or, a Vampire-Repelling Cuban Vegan Tribute to Julia Child)
Try making your own seitan using your favorite recipe or the one in Isa Moskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance, available free on her Post-Punk Kitchen website.
Homemade seitan is cheaper than buying prepackaged, and the flavor and texture are incomparable. Vital wheat gluten can be found at natural food stores or even Woodman's (which carries the Bob's Red Mill brand).
If you are a diehard carnivore, this dish is fantastic in its original form with shredded beef: Brown a three-pound chuck roast (whole), then boil the meat for a few hours until tender. Cool and shred the meat to use in place of the seitan. Like most stews, it's even better the day after.
- one batch of homemade seitan, or 2 8-ounce packages of seitan
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 green bell peppers, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 2 yellow onions, sliced
- 2 heads of garlic, roasted (see recipe)
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- dash of turmeric
- dash of cinnamon
- 28-ounce can plus 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 2 cups dry red wine (Chilean wines work well)
- 3 bay leaves
Chop seitan into bite-size pieces; set aside.
To roast garlic, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Chop the ends off the garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the heads in foil and bake for 40-45 min. until soft and fragrant. Once cooled, pop out cloves and mash into a paste. Set aside.
In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, peppers and cook about 15 min. until browned and softened. Add garlic, spices (except bay leaves) and stir for 1-2 min.
Add seitan, tomatoes, wine and bay leaves and bring to boil. Turn down heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 min. Add more liquid as needed to maintain desired consistency. Serve over rice.