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NPR Holiday Leftovers Presents: Lulu Garcia-Navarro's Monteria


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. The last few weeks, we've been asking our colleagues here at NPR for their favorite holiday dishes. We've covered stuffing, mofongo and my favorite way to use Thanksgiving leftovers. And we have a recipe now from Lulu Garcia-Navarro. You'll be hearing a lot from her very soon. She's joining us as the host of WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY starting next month.

But today, she's at her sister's home in Miami and she's going to tell us about monteria. Hello, Lulu.


WERTHEIMER: So you have company with you for this conversation?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I do have company. My sister Caroline (ph) is here. She was a professional chef, and so this is her recipe. You know, I had my own recipe but when she took a look at it, as you can imagine, she thought she could improve on it, which she could. And so that's the recipe you'll see online.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sibling rivalry.

WERTHEIMER: Before we talk about the dish, today is Nochebuena, right? Explain that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, Nochebuena is Christmas Eve. And that is really when Cuban-Americans and actually many people from Hispanic or Latino origin celebrate Christmas. It's the big night when everyone gets together, they eat, they open the presents and then they go to midnight mass. And that is generally how it's done. And for Cuban-Americans as well, it is the big moment.

And we generally celebrate with roasted pork. That is the main dish along with black beans and rice and yuca with mojo, which is a kind of garlic sauce, so all these kind of very traditional Caribbean foods.

WERTHEIMER: So I'm guessing you end up with a lot of leftovers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You end up with a lot of leftovers, and that is where you get monteria. Basically, the next day on the 25, everyone gathers for lunch and you use these leftovers in this specific dish. And everyone sort of sits and gathers again together. And for Cuban Americans, you know, this is a dish that comes from the island, obviously. And many people fled after Castro's regime came to power.

And so, you know, the recipes that Cubans use have sort of been frozen in time in many ways. And so they've become very important - a way of binding Cuban identity at a time when, obviously, they no longer have that direct connection to Cuba under the Castros.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Caroline, I understand this is your recipe, sister Caroline. How do you make this dish?

CAROLINE: Well, it's a very special dish. It really goes to the frugal core of Cubans, which is taking, you know, the worst of everything and making something delicious out of it. So you take your Cuban pork from the night before and you make a sofrito. A sofrito is basically peppers and onions and garlic that you saute in olive oil with a little oregano and cumin.

And then you fold in your leftover pork and some tomato sauce or tomatoes and some white wine or some cooking sherry, or whatever you have on hand, and a little bit of naranja agria, which is the best part of any Cuban meal. It's usually Seville oranges, but when you can't find them, you can sort of take half of orange juice and half of lime juice and mix it together and you get something very similar.

And then you just let that cook for about 45 minutes until everything melts together. Now, every single place has its own variant. And some people put olives in, some people put raisins in it. But the core of the recipe is basically just that. And it is delicious.

WERTHEIMER: And how do you serve it? Are we to spoon this sort of stewy (ph) pork thing?

CAROLINE: Exactly, it's a stewy (ph) pork thing. And you basically put it in a bowl with a little chopped parsley. As I told my sister, foodies will use Italian parsley, but Cubans use good, old curly. And then you serve it with yuca, black beans and rice, of course, and the fried sweet plantains - can't have a Cuban meal without that.

WERTHEIMER: Have you made any changes in this dish from, say, your mama's recipe?

CAROLINE: You know, not really. The traditional pimento stuff, you know, olives and the traditional cooking sherry that, you know, Grandma used, honestly, that is as good as it gets. It doesn't need much else. Honestly, it doesn't. I think that's, like, the heart of the Cuban Christmas because this is a sort of echo of what our parents and grandparents did when they were living in Cuba.

People want to preserve it pretty much as close to the original as they can because it's a time of not only eating and celebrating Christmas but also of memories.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro and her sister Caroline. Thank you both. And everybody, if you go to WEEKEND EDITION's Facebook page, you can see a more detailed recipe for monteria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.