Ropa Vieja (Omelette)

ropa vieja (omelette)

Our typical American cuisine was inspired by the familiar recipes brought over by English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers, as well as those of Scotch-Irish and German colonists, who followed these early immigrants; all of this European influence merged with the available Native American foods.

African slaves played a broad part in fashioning our distinctive Southern cookery; the mistresses of these slaves initially taught these, our people, receipts recalled from their individual heritages; then, with the Africans’ natural appreciation of and aptitude for cooking, prized dishes were developed, which were used in the strong social competition among the plantations.  These delicacies, which in large part formed this region’s cuisine, were not initially compiled in books for the public, but rather closely safeguarded within each family, due to the rivalry among these established settlements; thus, there were no Southern cook books until the first quarter of the 19th century.  A few recipes from this geographic area were preserved, however, in some American cook books, mostly those published in and around Philadelphia.

Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, printed in 1824, in Washington D.C., is an early example of a receipt book specializing in foods from the South.  It also includes some Northern recipes, as well as a few Spanish dishes, of which our Ropa Vieja omelette is one; this promising recipe boasts of only five ingredients-one of which is our garden tomato-and just a few succinct instructions; its simplicity makes it exceptional.

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains why this sweet-tart fruit tomato, which is used as a vegetable, has such great appeal.  (Note: any produce with seeds is considered a fruit!)  He attributes this attractiveness to the unique flavor brought about by its low sugar content (3%), as well as the large amount of savory glutamic acid (as much as 0.3% of its weight), and ample quantities of aromatic sulfur compounds.  These two latter ingredients, present in ripe tomatoes, predispose them to complement the flavor of meats; this is because these two substances exist more commonly in animal flesh than fruits; thus, their rich presence in tomatoes allows for added taste to meat dishes.  Savory glutamic acid and sulfur aromas likewise bring out great depth and complexity in sauces and other food combinations; therefore, this particular produce can even replace meat in flavoring vegan dishes.

The tomato originated as a weed in Central American fields of maize and beans; extensive varieties existed there, by the time Hernando Cortez and his 400 Spaniards discovered Mexico in 1519.  Tomatoes were incorporated in American (and later European) cookery in various ways.  At the time of Cortez’ arrival, Mexicans used thin shavings of this green, unripe fruit in many dishes; they also mixed ripe tomatoes with chillis in a sauce to top cooked beans.  Subsequently, the Spaniards in Europe readily adopted them in their cuisine.

When Francisco Pizarro began his bloody attacks in Peru in 1532, this South American land, with all its royal Incan wealth, was eating mostly a vegetarian diet of maize, potatoes (including sweet and manioc potatoes), squash, beans, peanuts, avocados, chillis, and our beloved tomato.

Some time later, the Italians were adding it to broths and soups, as noted by the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson, in 1742.  Tomato sauce for pasta followed several decades hence.

Britain lagged behind Italy, in accepting this item, due to their long-held mistaken viewpoint, which had originated on the Continent, connecting it with a deadly nightingshade, being it was of this same family.   Not until the 20th century did the English acquired a taste for tomatoes, particularly canned tomato soup.

North America was almost equally slow in receiving this fruit, probably due in part to these same European misconceptions; they considered it to be lacking in nourishment and substance, as well as a cause for gout.  During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S began what was to become a wide acceptance of tomatoes, primarily due to the strong influence from the great Italian immigration then.  Nevertheless, their first appearance here was when Thomas Jefferson brought back seedlings from a diplomatic trip to Paris; there the Parisians had just accepted this “love apple”, believed to be an aphrodisiac; their acceptance directly resulted from the affect Italian cooking had on French troops during the French Revolution (see Spicy Sausages with Tomatoes & Turnips, 2017/09/25).

It is interesting to note that our third president had an extensive garden of 170 varieties of fruits and 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs; his grand kitchen utilized most of this produce, even producing tomato ketchup for our epicurean leader, who primarily chose a vegetarian diet.

Be sure to access my other tomato recipes: Parmesan Dover Sole (2017/03/27), Rosemary Eggs (2017/08/21), and Spicy Sausage with Tomatoes and Turnips (2017/09/25).

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 181-193.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 329, 330.
  3. On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: The Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 30, 206, 207, 214.
  4. www.nellositaly.com/the-history-of-the-tomato-in-italy.html
  5. www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/historic-gardens

ingredients for ropa vieja

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)  Adapted from an 1824 Southern recipe in Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964).  Yields 2 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.

2 large firm ripe tomatoes  (Cut these in eighths, removing seeds and juice.)

2/3 cup shredded leftover chicken, ham, or beef

4 large eggs, beaten lightly  (May use 3 duck eggs, which are bigger than chicken eggs; for egg history, see 2017/08/21.)

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley, optional

Salt, to taste  (Real Salt is important for health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. cooked tomatoes

    Spay the optional parsley with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray-mix 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle; let sit while proceeding to the next step.

  2. Prep the above ingredients.  Cut the tomatoes in eighths, gently scoop out liquid and seeds with a spoon (it not necessary to peel the tomatoes), place in a bowl.  Shred and measure the leftover meat, set aside.  Beat the eggs, only until whites and yolks are lightly blended.  Rinse optional parsley well and chop fine.
  3. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a non-stick skillet.  Mix in meat, heating for 1 minute; add tomatoes; cook for 6 minutes, or until mixture is hot and tomatoes are somewhat softened, stirring occasionally (see above photo).
  4. Reduce heat to medium/low; sprinkle parsley over cooked tomatoes and meat; pour beaten eggs over this mixture, quickly distributing the meat and tomatoes evenly in eggs, using a spatula.
  5. finished product

    Salt and pepper generously before covering; cover and cook slowly, until eggs are set on top (see photo).

  6. When done, you may remove loose pieces of skin off tomato pieces, showing on top of omelette; fold it over; cut in half to serve two people.

Parmesan Dover Sole

pan of baked Dover sole

Over a month ago I was celebrating a belated Christmas get-together with Carol, a friend of 31 years.  Our time in each other’s company is always rich; my desire for our merrymaking was that my food would do the honors, blessing our long-term bond.  This delicious dish answered this ambition beyond my expectations.  I share it here for your use with those close to you.

Friendship and food are both treasured gifts.  When we mix the two together, life explodes.  I always endeavor to meet my guests’ particular needs, thus making each dinner engagement unique and exceptional.

For instance Carol doesn’t like hors d’ouvres, as they were never served in her family of origin; for her they take away from an acute appetite for the main meal.  Consequently, we just partake in tea and conversation for the first half hour of our gathering.

This sensible person has a heightened awareness of taste.  She knows good food and eats with purpose, maximally enjoying each bite.  This takes concentration; my friend allows herself this luxury; thus, we spend much of our repast in silence, focusing on gastronomic pleasures.

This discipline was first displayed to me when I was 20 years old, while waiting on table in my father’s restaurant.  (Joy unspeakable happened to me then, as I served the public with our exceptional ailments.)  My About Page on this website notes that which is true for each of us, for it details the unfolding of my destiny, which has been happening throughout my entire life; I was born a food historian.  An excellent example of this is what I learned about the gift of hospitality, while serving the public in my youth; during that instructive time, a young couple showed me what a treasure stillness brings to eating.

Tourists peopled my family’s eatery in Glacier National Park and this unique pair was probably there on their honeymoon.  I initially approached their table with rousing emotion, my usual display of a genuine heartfelt welcome; my spirit, however, was quickly corrected.  This excitable enthusiasm, which was normally highly pleasing to those on holiday, was not appropriate in their presence, for there was a holy reverence about them.  My sensitive response was an immediate change of demeanor.  Throughout their lengthy feast, I watched them with awe, as they indulged in each other’s company and our kitchen’s delights, in their unparalleled way.

I intuitively knew how to respect them with a quiet spirit.  However, this was so foreign to me that I felt like I was walking on egg shells, but oh the glory of it all!

Since then, God has given me a friend with whom I can practice what these two taught me, forty odd years ago.  Carol and I uphold veracity in all of life’s dealings; thus, even our eating is veracious.  Because of the honesty in our souls, we engage in veneration to God as we consume food; therefore, you can see my need for a dish that would rise to our integrity, which I knew would be present at this gathering.

My heart’s desire was met in this Parmesan Dover Sole recipe; how facile and pleasing it is beyond words.

sauce cooking

Parmesan Dover Sole   Total prep time: 1 1/3 hr/  active prep time: 50 min/  baking time: 30 min.  Yields: 3-4 servings.

Note: you may double this recipe, leftovers are great, however fish only keeps for 3 days.

1/2 tsp oil  (Coconut oil is best here for flavor and quality; you may also use avocado oil; olive oil is carcinogenic, when heated to high temperatures.)

1 medium yellow onion, halved at the root and cut in even 1/8 inch slices

5 medium cloves garlic, or to taste, minced  (May substitute 2 cubes frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s for easy prep.)

1 lb Roma tomatoes, chopped small  (Organic is best; the organic Roma variety is not that much more expensive than regular tomatoes.)

1/2 tsp sugar, optional  (This brings out the flavor in the tomatoes.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is so important for your body’s optimum health; this product is available in the health section at most leading grocery stores.)

1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

1/2 tsp Better Than Bouillon  (Either this chicken or vegetable flavored base will do; this product is available at most grocery stores.)

3/4 cup boiling water

Spray oil  (Pam coconut spray oil is ideal, available more reasonably in our local Winco brand.)

1 lb Dover sole fillets, or other type of whitefish, such as flounder  (Dover sole is a type of sole that has very thin fillets, which is ideal for absorbing sauces; see Thai Coconut/Lime Flounder, 2016/12/05.)

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved

Rice, steamed according to directions on package

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  (If you prepare dish ahead of time, do steps 2 through 9 before hand; then, begin preheating oven 1 hour before serving.)
  2. beginning stages of caramelization

    Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium/low heat; add onions and caramelize, by stirring every several minutes until color starts to form (see photo); then, stir every minute until dark brown (see photo below).  Do not crowd onions in pan, or they will sweat, taking much longer to cook.

  3. If using fresh garlic, chop and set aside.  Spray tomatoes with an inexpensive, effective vegetable spray, a mixture of 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide; let sit for 3 minutes; rinse well.  Go to next step.
  4. Meantime dissolve Better Than Bouillon in the hot water, set aside.
  5. Chop tomatoes in small pieces and place in another frying pan; add garlic, bouillon mixture, sugar, salt, and pepper, stirring well.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; then, turn heat down to medium/low; simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until a sauce is formed, with the tomatoes somewhat chunky (see above photo).  Adjust seasoning when sauce is complete. (I encourage you to read tips about cooking properly with garlic in Tomato/Feta Chicken, 2016/07/25.)
  6. finished caramelized onions

    Begin steaming the  rice while tomatoes are cooking.  (If you are preparing this ahead of time, start this starch when you put cold fish dish in preheated oven, 50 minutes before serving.)

  7. For a single recipe, spray with oil a 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 3 inch pan, or 2 ½ quart baking dish; for a double recipe, use a 9 ½ x 13 x 2 inch pan.  Place fish fillets in bottom of pan.  Note: it is not necessary to wash pieces of fish or meat; only poultry carcasses, where blood is captured inside, need washing.
  8. Pour prepared sauce over raw fish and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, see top photo.  (Refrigerate fish dish, if making it ahead.)
  9. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 50 minutes-time varies if fish is cold from the refrigerator.  Fish is done when its center is opaque and it flakes with a fork.
  10. Enjoy this incredibly good dish!  Leftovers are also delicious.

1950’s Sweet and Sour Meatloaf

My siblings and I chose our meals for holidays and birthdays, when we were young.  We always picked sweet and sour meatloaf; how we loved it!  There was never a Christmas Eve that our home didn’t boast of its tantalizing smells, for they arose from the roasting of beef, with its contrast of vinegar and brown sugar, mustard and tomato sauce.  The aroma was remarkable.

My memory of festivities back then was that of heightened anxiety, with my troubled soul.  Celebrations  made me deeply aware of the void in my being, as I suffered greatly from lifelong mental illness.

But no more!  The powerful word of God has completely healed me; it removed all wreckage from my mind and body, just as it promises to do.

I asked Jesus into my life on December 16, 1994, but my healing didn’t begin to materialize with clarity until Mother’s Day of 2013; this marked the start of my attendance at Abundant Life Family Church, where the word is taught in all its pure simplicity.

Prior to this, I spoke out my revivification every possible chance; I did everything in my power to effect my healing.  This included suddenly taking myself off medication; that misguided effort was a disaster, as it landed me in the psyche ward on the 28th of December, the year before the Lord directed my steps to ALFC.

Indeed, our good Father honored my heart, which was bent on his truth that promises wholeness; surely my life improved by small degrees as I pressed in with my passionate perseverance.  In actuality, the stage needed to be set for his complete blessing to come: hence, my declarations of health and thanksgiving brought forth only small advancements; his gift, however, potently began when the Spirit of God led me to my present church at the end of May, 2013.  Then, I became a barnacle to the clear, unshackling truth taught there; this unswerving reality cut away all pain.

The payoff has astounded both me and those watching.  Revolution happened in my being, for peaceful, lasting order emerged in my mind at ALFC:  here I learned to take authority, at the time anything tries to disrupt my harmony; directly, all disturbances are stopped in their tracks.

I am indeed set free!  Now I thoroughly enjoy gala affairs; moreover everyday is a glorious party.  Know that heaven is here on earth-you may access these helpful teachings, just as they unfolded for me, at alfc.net.

My family still holds fast to our traditional repast of sweet and sour meatloaf; it is ever-present on holidays and blesses on my every trip home.  (Always I envision this mouth-watering dish when I think of family and food; it’s an inseparable part of our clan.)  It is extremely easy to prepare; I guarantee you will be wowed by it.

1950's sweet and sour meatloaf

1950’s sweet and sour meatloaf

Sweet and Sour Meatloaf Yields: 4 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr & 50 min/ active prep time: 20 min/ cooking time: 2 hr.  Note: You may double this for superb sandwiches from leftovers.)

4 medium russet or baker potatoes, cleaned and wrapped in tin foil

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 1/3 cup tomato sauce

3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper  (Real Salt is best; available in health section of local supermarket.)

1 lb ground beef  (Beef fat must be 15% /85%; natural is best; available frequently at our local Grocery Outlet, at a very good price.)

2 tbsp brown sugar, packed down in spoon  (Organic is best, available at Trader Joe’s.)

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar  (Raw is best; most economical at Trader’s.)

2 tbsp yellow mustard  (Only use yellow mustard, such as Frenchies)

1 cup water

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees 2 hours before serving.
  2. Place potatoes in oven when hot.  Bake for nearly 2 hours, for medium-size potatoes.
  3. In a large bowl, mix egg, bread crumbs, onion, 1/3 cup tomato sauce, salt, and pepper; then, thoroughly blend the hamburger into the sauce (it works best to use your hand to do this.)
  4. Form a loaf in a 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 3 inch Pyrex baking dish.  (Use a 13 x 9 1/2 inch pan if doubling.)  Make a deep indentation in the center of the loaf, so it looks like a boat-this will hold the sauce in meatloaf-therefore basting isn’t necessary.  Place meat in oven.
  5. Using the same bowl, mix all the remaining ingredients: 1 cup tomato sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, and water.
  6. Remove loaf from oven, pour the sauce over the meat, and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Serve with unwrapped, split baked potatoes, on which lots of sauce is poured.  SO GOOD!