Before I studied abroad in Spain, the program coordinators warned the students that our living situations were simply business deals and that the Señoras who would be hosting each of us would likely be older and strict. They would provide us with our own bedroom, two meals a day and clean sheets once a week.
Thus prepared for the worst, I was shocked when my host family came to pick me up. The husband and wife were in their early thirties and they had the sweetest three-year-old with curly hair and big brown eyes. I had learned Spanish in California, where my teachers had focused on Mexican grammar, which doesn't distinguish between the formal plural you and the informal plural you. But in Spain they do use the vosotros or the "you guys" form. I had assumed I would be able to use the formal you with my all-business Señora, but this friendly couple wasn't much older than me and they refused to let me get away with that. We spent many evenings together eating delicious Spanish food and talking, talking, talking. While my classmates were out partying in the clubs of Madrid, I was having family time. It was fantastic and my Spanish improved muy rápido.
I also gained several pounds. Man, the food was so good! The wife usually worked late so the husband did most of the cooking. I'm sure it was a pain to have to cook a real dinner every night and often he would do most of the cooking ahead of time and then reheat everything. Arroz a la Cubana was one of my favorite meals and it turns out it's pretty simple to make, ahead of time or at the last minute.
As I'm learning through this project, a dish's name is not always accurate, so even though the title Arroz a la Cubana would indicate this is a Cuban dish, it seems to be more of an homage. Something along the lines of how the Spanish think the Cubans like their rice. I happen to have some close family friends who are Cuban and they had never heard of this dish, but apparently the father of the family does like a fried egg with his rice.
You heard that right. We're talking about rice, a fried egg and, in the case of Arroz a la Cubana, tomato sauce. It's delicious. And so easy to make. Most versions on the internet include a fried banana, I assume as a stand-in for the fried plantains typical of the cuisine of Cuba and neighboring countries. I don't think we ever had bananas when I would eat this in Spain, but I decided to give it a try anyway. So good, but frying the banana does slightly complicate this recipe, which otherwise is something you could probably make with ingredients in your pantry and fridge right now.
Arroz a la Cubana
1 cup of rice
2 cups tomato sauce (I used homemade sauce I froze last summer, but any basic sauce will do)
Cook your rice however you like. I was always pretty terrible at cooking rice until my husband introduced me to rice cookers. They are a lifesaver. Perfect rice every time.
While the rice is cooking, heat up some tomato sauce. I don't remember the tomato sauce in Spain being particularly complex, just a basic tomato flavor, so you could easily make this yourself by a) seasoning some tomato puree or b) pureeing and seasoning some canned tomatoes. I made my sauce last summer with the bounty of tomatoes we got from our CSA, some onion and maybe some garlic.
Open your banana and slice it the long way once. (Sidenote: I have always been impressed by how handy non-Americans are with a simple knife and fruit. They seem to be so much better at peeling things than we are! I told my host family this and my host father proceeded to show me how to peel and eat a banana with a knife and fork. Impressive! But unnecessary.) Cut your two banana slices in half the short way. Put a couple of tablespoons of flour in a bowl or on a plate and drag your banana pieces through the flour and then set aside.
Once your sauce and your rice is ready, heat up a frying pan with a little olive oil in it. When the pan is hot enough, fry your two eggs. If you have room in the pan you can try frying your banana slices at the same time. I had to do them right after the eggs and let them get nice and brown while I plated everything else.
Whenever we had Arroz a la Cubana, my host father used a bowl to mold the rice into a perfect little dome on the plate. I didn't have any bowls that size, so I just served it up the same as always. I put the sauce kind of to the side so each person can decide how saucy they want their rice and eggs. And then I very elegantly tossed the banana piece on there.
This is a great weeknight dinner that I'll be adding to the mix more in the future.