(Mostly) Meatless Monday: A Cuban-Themed Picnic

When preparing for a picnic to go with the NC Symphony’s outdoor concert entitled Havana Nights, I knew just what would be perfect: classic Cuban Sandwiches. While these sandwiches do not come from Cuba itself, but were instead developed by Cuban immigrants transplanted to Southern Florida, they are much more picnic-friendly than typical Cuban dishes like Cuban black beans and rice or Ropa Viejo (a shredded beef dish) or Mojo Pork Roast.

Only one problem, due to our desire for a more plant-based diet: Cubano Sandwiches are pretty meat-intensive, even for devoted carnivores. While recipes vary, the typical Cubano Sandwich starts with a top of a Cuban bread loaf (a white bread similar to Italian bread) sliced in half and spread with mustard, some sliced Swiss Cheese, a thick layer of shredded Mojo Roast Pork, a layer of pickles, a layer of ham, some more sliced Swiss Cheese, and the bottom of the Cuban break loaf also slathered with mustard. The entire loaf is grilled on top and bottom, causing the cheese to melt and the layers to condense into a cheesy, mustardy, and MEATY whole between the bread.

There are now vegetarian versions of sliced meats such as ham (although I don’t really like using processed foods, plant-based or not), so I could use that if I wanted. The main issue was finding a vegetarian alternative to the Mojo-marinated roast pork. My solution? I made Mojo-marinated jackfruit instead.

If you are not familiar with it, jackfruit are the pods of the jack tree, which originated in India. The flesh of the jackfruit has a texture similar to meat. It is sweet when ripened, and in India is apparently used mostly for desserts or fruit salads. But we can get it brined in cans, which I guess is maybe not ripe because it doesn’t naturally taste that sweet to me. It absorbs flavors pretty well, although you need to drain and even press it to remove a lot of the natural liquid to keep things from getting too watery.

So I made a Mojo marinade, which is an orange-and-lime-juice marinade with typical spices from Latino cooking, such as cumin and chile powder. I drained and pressed the jackfruit and let it marinade overnight. Then I crisped it up in the oven and put it into my sandwich. You can see the final results above.

In the end, I skipped the vegetarian ham. However, I did make two versions of the sandwich. For the complete vegetarians, I compiled the sandwich as stated above except skipping the ham layer. For the not-totally-vegetarians, I replaced the ham layer with some lovely thick organic-ish bacon from humanely-raised free-ranging pigs produced by Parker Farms at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market because…well, why have ham (which I personally don’t care for that much) when you can have BACON? If I’m going to fall off the vegetarian wagon…well, bacon is a tempting option. There was less than one slice of bacon per sandwich serving, so it was much more jackfruit than bacon. And the jackfruit alone with the pickles, mustard, and cheese made quite a satisfying dish.

So I leave the choice up to you. I’m just being real about trying to reduce our carbon footprint by eating a more plant-based diet but also being a family in which not everyone wants to give up meat completely. If we all just ate LESS meat, it could make a huge difference in global warming.

I accompanied the sandwiches with a traditional Cuban black bean salad (completely VEGAN). It included some raw organish-ish Farmers Market produce–corn, cherry tomatoes, and spring onions–along with black beans, tossed with a lime-infused vinegrette. I topped it off with some organic-ish edible flowers from The Well Fed Community Garden at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market. Served at room…well, outdoor temperature, the salad was beautiful, healthy, and delicious (if I do say so myself).

(Note: If you are new to his blog, I use the word organic-ish because most of the small farmers at the Farmers Market follow organic practices but can’t afford to jump through the regulatory hoops designed for large-scale farming in order to be certified as USDA-approved “organic.”)

We were also celebrating my friend’s birthday, so that meant we had to end with birthday cake. To stay on topic, I made a moist coconut cake that used three types of coconut products: coconut milk, coconut oil, and toasted coconut. I didn’t frost it, but I did decorate it with some more of Well Fed Community Garden’s edible flowers. It was a hit among our picnicing crew.

We had a lovely evening, with the food and the music enhancing each other. But I think it could be an enjoyable meal even without the addition of the beautiful playing of the North Carolina Symphony, accompanied in the second half by the Mambo Kings. It was a wonderful show.

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