Ropa vieja—literally, “old clothes”—is a humble dish at heart, typically served alongside Cuban-style black beans and rice. Here, the flavors of beef and cumin combine in a one-pot meal that’s as comforting and company-worthy in warm weather as it is in cold.
Swap out flank steak for skirt, if you want—just make sure that the meat is immersed in liquid during the simmering process and let it go slow and low for as long as it takes to tear.
I like serving this casserole with mojo criollo; La Lechonera is the superior on-the-shelf brand. Throw in some mojitos and it’s just the ticket for a backyard bash.
- For the Beef:
- 1 whole flank steak, about 2 1/2 pounds
- 2 medium carrots, cut into chunks
- 2 medium celery stalks, cut into chunks
- 2 medium onions, one peeled and quartered, divided
- 5 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 5 teaspoons), divided
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, divided
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch strips
- 1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch strips
- 2 cups reserved braising liquid, plus additional as needed
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole tomatoes with juice, crushed by hand
- 2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1/3 cup pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives, drained and sliced
- For the Rice:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 2 cups chicken broth
- For the Black Beans And “Crust”:
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lime
- 6 (8-inch) flour tortillas
- 1 cup pepper jack cheese
Place flank steak, carrots, celery, quartered onion, 2 cloves garlic,1/2 teaspoon oregano, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large stock pot. Cover with water, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove the meat from the stock and allow to cool. Strain stock, discard vegetables and bay leaves and reserve broth for later use. Cut meat into 2-inch cubes. Shred it by hand or use two forks to pull meat into strings and reserve.
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.
Slice remaining onion into 1/4-inch strips. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add red and green peppers, sliced onion and a 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until nearly softened, about 8 minutes. Add remaining garlic and continue cooking until tender, another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of reserved broth, along with tomatoes, tomato paste, remaining 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon of cumin, peas and olives. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add beef to pan, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Return to a simmer. Remove from heat, and cover to keep warm.
While sauce is cooking, heat the vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds and cook until they’re fragrant (about a minute). Add the rice and cook, stirring to coat for a minute before adding chicken broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, season with salt and fluff with a fork.
Place beans in a medium bowl. Add lime juice and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cumin. Season with salt, and mash lightly with a fork or muddler.
Spray an 8- by 8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Line the bottom with 3 overlapping tortillas to form a bottom crust. Spread with black beans, followed by layers of beef mixture and rice. Top with another overlapping layer of 3 tortillas. Scatter with cheese and transfer to the oven to cook until casserole is warmed through and cheese is bubbly and browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.