To celebrate Food Day Canada, Neil and I came up with an idea inspired by a fond food memory and fresh local produce, resulting in a new take on a classic sandwich; The Cubano.
There seems to be some debate about where the sandwich was born. Some say it was created in Cuban cafes, some say it evolved to what it is today in nearby Florida as Cubans eventually settled there. Either way, today you can find different variations depending on where you go, but the basic components seem to always be the same: bread, Swiss cheese, roasted pork, ham, mustard and pickles. Usually grilled or pressed, always delicious. The pickles really bring it home for me, but all of those basic ingredients oozing and hot between good bread really can’t be beat.
The first time Neil and I experienced a Cuban sandwich was in the back seat of a New York City cab. We found ourselves in a huge rush to get across the city, but we were also starved so we ran into the first takeout place we could find; The Original Sandwich Shoppe of NY on Greenwich Ave. in the West Village. We read the menu quickly and chose the Cuban mostly by default, agreeing that it sounded interesting but not really paying much attention. There was little expectation or anticipation. We grabbed it to go and hopped in the cab not realizing we were missing a key ingredient – napkins, much needed when tackling a really good Cuban sandwich. How naïve we were before taking that first messy bite. We were completely unprepared for the sheer sandwich nirvana that followed. But we never forgot it. I usually seek one out now when I’m in New York and you can find them at just about every corner deli. Sometimes the pork is roasted and shredded, sometimes it’s in bigger chunks, but those main ingredients are always there and they pair so perfectly together.
We were bouncing around some ideas for dinner on Food Day, when I found myself thinking about those ingredients and how well the flavors work together. But we wanted to do something a little bit different and decided we’d take our cues from what we found on our travels that afternoon.
At Rowe Farms we found beautiful Ontario heirloom beets and green beans and thought it would be fun to play with the pickled part of the sandwich. We also picked up some of their boneless pork loin chops, which we thought would also be a nice update considering it’s BBQ season and chops grill so nicely and quickly on the BBQ. Across the street at the Leslieville Cheese Market we got two different kinds of mild and creamy Canadian cheese and a loaf of good fresh sourdough bread.
Back at home our vision evolved and we decided we’d create a bit of visual feast for ourselves, laying out all of our ingredients to make our own open-faced Cubans with a few twists. We ditched the ham altogether and figured heating the bread on the BBQ would give enough of that grilled flavor in place of dragging out the Panini press.
I quick-pickled the beets and beans in separate batches with slight variations in the pickling liquid. Neil made his own version of a mojo marinade for the pork after reading that the slow-roasted pork usually found on classic Cubanos is marinated in this unique and delicious blend of citrus and spices.
After leaving the pork to marinate and the veggies to pickle for a few hours, all we had to do was light the BBQ, grill the chops and bread and help ourselves to what turned out to be a really fun and delicious take on a sandwich that we both love. Of course we didn’t forget the real pickles (we used mini kosher dills) and grainy mustard.
We couldn’t completely stray from tradition, though our modern additions made for one enjoyable backyard meal that we’ll definitely be making again. A slight step up from the back of a cab, but just as fun and memorable.
* Quick-Pickle Disclaimer: We barely followed a recipe for the pickled vegetables. We just threw a bunch of stuff into a pot and hoped for the best. Though we did decide to use more sugar for the beets to offset their slight bitterness and changed up a few of the ingredients for the beans. I tried to give measurements, but give or take for each… use your judgment! You can’t really screw them up by adding a little more or less of these ingredients.
Quick-Pickled Raw Beets
Small bunch of fresh beets
1 cup white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
Handful of black peppercorns
Small handful mustard seed
A few bay leaves
Clean and peel the beets. Slice them thinly into rounds and put them in a bowl or container.
Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiled, remove from heat and pour over the raw beets. Cover and leave them to sit in the pickling liquid for a few hours or in the fridge overnight. We let ours pickle for about two hours and they were delicious.
Quick-Pickled Green Beans
A bunch of fresh green beans, washed & trimmed
1 cup vinegar
A little less than ¼ cup sugar
6-7 grinds of sea salt
Handful of mustard seed
A pinch of ground ginger
A few bay leaves
Lightly steam the green beans so they’re heated and slightly cooked but still crunchy.
Bring all of the pickling ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiled, remove from heat and pour over the green beans. Cover and let them sit in the pickling liquid for about 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.
Mojo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chops
3-4 small boneless pork loin chops
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 2 fresh limes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
1/3 cup olive oil
A few pinches of sea salt and black pepper
Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade and pour on top of the pork chops. Cover, refrigerate and let marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. We left ours for about 2 hours and they were very flavorful but next time we’d like to try leaving them overnight to let the flavors penetrate the pork even more.
Heat your BBQ to approximately 450 degrees. Cook the pork chops for about 4 minutes per side.
To Assemble Open-Faced Cuban Sandwiches:
While the BBQ is hot, grill slices of fresh bread brushed with a little bit of olive oil. Slice the pork into strips and lay them out on a platter. Slice pickles and arrange pickles, beets and beans on a tray or wooden board with any kind of semi-soft, creamy cheese and Dijon or grainy mustard.
Take a slice of grilled bread, spread with mustard and top with cheese, pork and your variety of pickles. Keep a stash of napkins closeby…