Mystery House

Moroccan Cubanos

I’m not making that up.  No, the making-up was performed by two of the contestants on Top Chef (Season 1).  The M.E. and I are addicted to Top Chef, so I was beside myself to receive Top Chef:  The Cookbook as a hostess gift last summer.

The book is almost as much fun as the show, being full of gossip, bios, behind-the-scenes tidbits, a bazillion photos and some first class foodstyling.  Oh, and recipes, too.  Lots of them, both winning and non-winning.  There are oodles that I’d like to try, but why not start with a winner? And with a recipe that doesn’t involve tracking down truffles or black chicken or something?  I promise, no geoduck — this will be a nice, safe recipe that won’t make anybody scream.

Tiffani and Dave won the Episode 5 Elimination Challenge with this one.  They were supposed to concoct a dish that fused two traditional San Francisco food cultures into a new street food.  If that makes any sense.  And truly, nothing makes sense about the notion of a Moroccan Cubano.  But it certainly looked good, and since we’ve started a new tradition of having interesting sandwiches for dinner on Sunday nights, well, it sounded perfect.

So, in the spirit of messing with things — because what is a Moroccan Cubano but messed with other things? — I immediately changed the recipe.  The recipe in the book (the original is even more complicated; I love seeing how the recipe changed for publication) starts with roasting a five-pound pork butt for five hours.  Not for two sandwiches, noooooo.  I figured that any spices that taste good on a pork butt would taste good on a tenderloin, too.  Pork tenderloin is quicker and cheaper to deal with, and if Dave and Tiffani and the entire team of fussy judges turned out to be wrong about how good this was, I wouldn’t be stuck with a big honking chunk of leftover blechy pork.  Tenderloin it was.  Here’s what we did:

Pickled vegetables first.  Gotta have something pickled, because a real Cubano is made with dill pickles.  Again, I cut the recipe down quite a bit.  The original calls for three cups of red wine vinegar!  For six sandwiches!  You can do silly things like that if a TV production company is buying your supplies.  But for a couple of sandwiches, this is all you need.  Honestly, I think this might be enough pickling liquid for more than that, too:

1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/6 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. fennel seed

Bring that mixture to a boil, and pour it over:

1 carrot, julienned
1/3 of a red onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced

MRC MCubano 3

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it hang out for about 20 minutes while you work on the pork.

The M.E., who is in charge of all things meat in our kitchen, mixed up a batch of Ras Al-Hanout.  Which is not as complicated as it sounds, but it sure does smell good.

Ras Al-Hanout

2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne (or, in our case, 1/8 tsp., since we use triple-strength cayenne–it was the right amount)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

MRC MCubano 1

Coat the tenderloin with oh, maybe a third of the mixture.  A one-pound tenderloin will be enough for two big sandwiches and a third leftover one to fight over.

MRC MCubano 2

You’ll have Ras Al-Hanout left, but there are worse problems to have.  It smells amazing.  Hours after you’re done cooking, your kitchen will still smell amazing.  I mean, you’ll want to lick the walls.

But before the wall-licking, you have to cook the tenderloin.  Put it under the broiler, seven minutes a side, then take it out and let it rest.

In the meantime, warm some pita.  Not the pocket kind, the Greek kind.  Why not throw a touch of Greece in there, along with Morocco?  Might make up for the fact that this Cubano doesn’t have a trace of cheese in it.

Once the pork has had its little rest, all that’s left is assembly, which goes quickly.  Slice the pork, pile it on the pita, and top with pickled vegetables.


MRC MCubano 4

What’s that extra pita for?  Very sensible of you to ask.  All it took was the word “Moroccan” for me to decide that I should give a nod to the rest of the Middle East, too.  So I picked up some Holyland hummus.

MRC MCubano 5

Because I’ve never had better hummus — theirs is so perfect, it’s silly to even try to make it.  And that’s me talking.

Was this good?  Did Tiffani and Dave deserve their victory?  Yes, and yes.  (Although, good they both got eliminated later, I say, because Dave didn’t quite have the chops, and Tiffani was irritating.)  The sandwiches were scrumptious.  Really nice, complex flavors, with a perfect pickley touch from the vegetables.  And I must say, I was right about the tenderloin.  Worked very well, and was actually less labor intensive than the original version.  But no, the M.E. and I are not going to try out for the next season of Top Chef.  We’re quite content to sit on the sofa and eat sandwiches and watch the show.  We’re rooting for Carla!  And we can’t stand Stefan and Fabio!


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  1. * Chris says:

    Mmmm…. Holyland Hummus is delish!

    Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  2. * Guinifer says:

    Puck and I think Carla’s a little “coo-coo crazypants”, especially after the other night – I really liked Rhadka – a lot – and we think they’ve kept Leah on way after her “throw-by date”. I’ll chew nails if Stefan or Fabio win, although I think Stefan’s getting the winner’s edit. I can’t remember the little blond girl’s name, but I like her too.
    Hmm, I have a tenderloin AND a pork butt in my freezer.

    Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  3. * Carrie K says:

    That looks delicious but Morocco and Cuba are traditional San Francisco food cultures? Suuuure.

    Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  4. * del says:

    Mmmmm, that looks REALLY good. I’ve never had that particular hummus. I love hummus, though, so I’m sure I’d love it.

    Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  5. * lydee says:

    mmm, delish!
    love that phrase, “you’ll want to lick the walls.” LOL!

    Posted 9 years, 5 months ago

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