As many of you know, I am first generation Cuban woman. My parents, along with my paternal grandmother, migrated to the US in the 60s. I am very proud of my heritage for it plays a big role in my life today. For example, the primary language at home growing up was Spanish. When I was young, I was embarrassed that I was different. I was embarrassed that my parents “spoke funny” and heck, I spoke funny too. You would never know if you heard me speak today, but as a child I primarily learned English from the television in addition to the classroom. I was also embarrassed that I ate “weird food” or that I did not participate in many American traditions. There was never a meal that was served in my home that did not get accompanied with rice and beans nor did we ever bake Christmas cookies or play sports. We were as Latin as it gets. And to think, during those years, I felt I was so underprivileged. Boy was I ever wrong. I look back and realize how lucky I was to live with both my parents and grandmother. I was lucky that I fluently speak not one but TWO languages. I know I look Caucasian, but when I get worked up you can quickly see my fiery Latin temper and mannerisms come out. Now as an adult, I went on to marry an [AMAZING] American man but it is so hard to teach my boys Spanish since English is our primary language spoken at home. It kills me that I cannot give them the gift that my parents gave me. After years of guilt and gripes from my immediate family, I have realized that if I can’t give them the gift of language, the least I can do is give them the gift of knowing and eating authentic Latin food.
When I first started reading about the benefits of living a Paleo lifestyle, I thought I could never do it. I could never survive. You want to see HANGER (Hungry + Anger= Hanger) then take away my rice and beans and you would have seen HANGER. But fast forward two years later and not only do I love being Paleo, but I have learned to convert some of my staple Cuban meals my mother and grandmother cooked for me as a child with a Paleo flare. I no longer feel deprived and I can still share these meals with my sons. My Grandmother has passed and my mother is not doing so well either. It breaks my heart especially during this holiday season that I can’t share the gift of food with these two woman who were such great cooks and such an inspiration to me in the kitchen. I wish I asked them more questions growing up about their cooking, like why they used bay leaves in stews or how they made their plantain chips so crispy without burning them. As the saying goes, “could have, should have, would have.” Today, I no longer regret. I am moving forward and helping document all their recipes and traditions so they can live on from one generation to the other because I know that is what they would want.
Having that said, over the last two years I have taken my favorite Cuban meals that both my Grandmother and Mother cooked and I have so many fond memories and adapted them to the Paleo lifestyle. My favorite Cuban meal is the “Pernil” which is a slow roasted pork shoulder or butt cooked in a Cuban Citrus Garlic Marinade, known as a “mojo.” You can find a Pernil on every Cuban Christmas table, birthday party or family get together. Usually you cook the pernil in the oven low and slow, but people these days (present company included) do not have time for that. Thus, I took a spin on the traditional Cuban staple and made a Crock Pot version. I called it my Paleo Crock Pot Pork Shoulder Pernil Carnitas Style and it is hands down one of my most popular recipes. I have another similar Crock Pot pork pernil recipe using pork tenderloin instead of the traditional pork shoulder and it is my Paleo Crock Pot Cuban Pernil. They are both delicious and instantly remind me of my childhood. Two other personal favorite Cuban staples are “Ropa Vieja” which translates to “old clothes” and the traditional Cuban Picadillo that is ground beef seared in unique and delicious spices. If I do not say so myself, my Paleo Crock Pot Ropa Vieja, is “almost” as good as my Moms because no dish can compare, no matter how hard you try. For the picadillo, I wanted to give it a twist and I made a Cuban version of shepard’s pie. I took the traditional Cuban picadillo and served it with a butternut squash topping and viola, my Paleo Cuban Picadillo. Again, both meals remind me so much of the great times I had as a child and it brings me joy that I can cook similar meals (with a minor facelift) and continue the tradition for my family. Bottomline, you don’t have to be raised Cuban or be Paleo to enjoy my favorite meals. I hope you enjoy these meals as much as my family and I do.
Ok now that I walked you down memory lane and introduced to you a few of my Cuban’s favorites, let’s talk about the recipe you came to see, my Cuban inspired Thanksgiving Turkey marinated in a traditional Garlic Mojo.
Mojo (pronounced mo-ho) is the quintessential Cuban condiment and it is the primary marinade used in Cuban cooking. There are many variations of mojo, but each recipe contains the essential combination of citrus juice and garlic and all are well seasoned with oregano. My version of mojo does not have citrus, but I make up for it with lots and lots of garlic!!!! My mojo is a wet rub and smells divine. The best part about this rub is it will last up to 5- 6 days in the refrigerator, so I always make extra and serve it on any protein I plan to make during the week from fish to chicken to pork and steaks. You can say that my mojo is a Cuban’s version of the Argentinian’s Chimichurri Sauce.
For this particular recipe, the secret to my Cuban turkey is marinating the turkey the day prior and adding the rub UNDERNEATH the skin so when you cut into it the flavor is infused throughout the meat making it moist and very flavorful. Again you can take this recipe for my mojo and put it on anything. I also do this when I am roasting an entire chicken.
- 12-15 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1½ tablespoons of kosher coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons of dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
- First and foremost you must pound out the garlic and salt to create a paste using a mortar and pestle. Prepare to get a workout on because this is intense. This is why I do CrossFit. Ha! The reason why I say to mash the garlic and salt first is because the salt keeps the garlic from flying all over the place when pounding it out. I like to use a deep bowl to pound it out and not your typical shallow mortar and pestle set.
- Once you have a garlicy paste, add the peppercorn and pound it out again mixing the pepper throughout your paste. Does your right bicep feel HUGE or what?
- Add your oregano and stir.
- Finally add the olive oil and white wine vinegar and stir. Be ready to be wowed with the sensational aromatic smell this rub has.
- Once your mojo is complete, it is time to marinate the turkey. This is where I say you get very “personal” with the turkey; you violate the turkey; or you become one with the turkey. Which ever way you refer to it, the secret to a delicious and flavored bird is adding the rub underneath the skin. This is very tricky because you don’t want to break the skin so do not rush this step. You must slowly put two fingers under the skin slowly separating the skin from the meat. Once you have done that throughout the bird, add your rub. Any leftover can be added on top and the bottom of the bird, but the majority should be placed inside the turkey.
- Truss the turkey and if you have never done that look at this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auQB7D_xB0I) for step by step directions.
- I marinate the turkey overnight in the refrigerator. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
- Roast the turkey covered at 400°F, breast side down, for the first 45 minutes and then turn the turkey breast side up and roast at 325°F until done. I covered the turkey the entire time while roasting until the last 5 minutes and I broil the top to crisp the skin. Cooking the turkey breast down for the first 45 minutes is very crucial because when you cook it breast side down, the juices leak down into the breasts, which will help your white meat from drying out. For a 12lb turkey I cooked the turkey for about 4 hours or until the temperature was 160 degrees between the breast and leg.
- After taking the turkey out of the oven, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. This allows time for some of the juices to be absorbed back into the meat, which makes it easier to carve and makes it much more moist.
- After dinner, remove any remaining meat from the bones and refrigerate the leftovers and whatever you do; do NOT throw away the bones. Save the bones and throw it in your slow cooker with carrots, onions, celery, garlic, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and water for 24 hours and you have homemade broth. I then take the broth and divide it in 2-3 cup serving sizes and freeze them in ziplock bags and take them out when I need it for future recipes.
So there you have it, my Cuban Inspired Turkey made with a Garlic Mojo Marinade. Now you don’t have to be mad that you were not raised in a Cuban home to enjoy the delicious flavors of an authentic mojo. Make this mojo for Thanksgiving or any holiday like Christmas or Easter. Although I will admit, it is too good to just save for special occasions so I usually use this rub when I am roasting a chicken on Sundays. The sky is the limit.
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