Culantro is an herb similar to cilantro, but with a more pungent taste and a long jagged leaf. It can go by many names including Saw Tooth Coriander, Thai Coriander, and Recao, and is used in Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, and West Indian food. It's an optional ingredient in the recipe but if you can find it, it adds a distinct layer of flavor.
The liquid left over from cooking your beans is essentially bean broth. It is full of flavor. I like to save it and use it to fortify other dishes. Same goes for the beef broth that is left over from cooking the flank steak. If like me you always have a bag of frozen cheese tortellini in your fridge then in a pinch you can put together one of my all time favorite dishes-tortellini en brodo.
This dinner serves 4
For the ropa vieja:
2 pounds of flank steak
1 small onion, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup reserved beef broth
For the sofrito:
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled
12 sprigs of cilantro
1 green pepper, cored and seeded
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
3 leaves of culantro, optional
For the beans:
2 cups dry black beans
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
1 bay leaf
1 T salt
2 Tablespoons sofrito
For the sweet plantains:
2 ripe plantains, sliced into 1/2" thick rounds
1 cup coconut oil
To cook the meat:
Place your meat, bay leaf, onion and salt in a dutch oven with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to medium, simmering until the meat is tender - about 1 1/2 hours.
Using tongs remove the meat and place it on a large plate or platter. Strain the broth and reserve. Once the meat has cooled enough to handle, but before it cools completely, shred it.
To make the sofrito and sauce for the ropa vieja:
Place the onion, cloves, green pepper, oregano, and cumin in the bowl of a food processor and process until everything is chopped very small. Scoop out two tablespoons of the sofrito and set aside for your beans. Add the cilantro and culantro, if using, and process again.
Heat 3 Tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat in the dutch oven you used before. Carefully add all the sofrito you have left. Be mindful that it might splatter. Sauté stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Add the red wine and tomato paste. Cook for about 10 minutes. Add the shredded beef and 1 cup of the reserved broth. Let everything simmer for 15-20 minutes.
To cook the beans:
Place your beans in a medium sized heavy pot and cover with 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to medium. Add the onion, bay leaf and salt. I know salting beans early on in the cooking process is controversial. If you prefer to add the salt later do that. I've never had any problems salting my beans early and find they taste better when I do.
Cook your beans at a gentle simmer for about two hours. Checking on them every once in a while to make sure the liquid has not completely evaporated. Add more if it has. You want your beans to have about 1-2 inches of water above them at all times. While you are checking on them gently stir them so they cook evenly.
Start checking your beans after 1 1/2 hours have passed. I like to nibble on one as a test. The beans are ready when they are completely soft and creamy. When they are. cooked through turn off the heat and allow them to cool a bit. Strain the beans and reserve the cooking liquid.
To make the sauce for the beans:
Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat in a medium saucepan. Carefully 2 Tablespoons of sofrito being mindful that it might splatter. Sauté stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the bean broth and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
To make the sweet plantains:
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat to 350°. The oil will be rippling ever so slightly. Add the plantains in batches and cook them until they become golden brown and caramelized on both sides. Flip them after about 2-3 minutes. Remove them using a metal spatula or slotted spoon, and place them on a plate with paper towels.
Serve the ropa vieja on top of the beans with the sweet plantains on the side.