When I heard that Versailles Restaurant, the de facto epicenter of Cuban Cuisine & Culture in South Florida was publishing a cookbook of its famous, home-style recipes, I admit that I became a little giddy. I live about 20 minutes away from Versailles. With traffic. In the 40+ years that I’ve lived in South Florida, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve indulged myself in, and dragged out of town visitors to Versailles. You want a taste of the real Miami? Skip South Beach – trek to Little Havana and Calle Ocho!
Versailles has been in Miami nearly as long as I have. The restaurant itself is a little like the Tardis – bigger on the inside than the outside. They don’t take reservations. Show up with a group of from 2 to 20, there’s always space for you. Not to mention the separate bakery area and the outside ventanita – the little window on the outside of the restaurant that serves Cuban coffee, pastries and other small bites. Everyone from pop stars to politicians goes to Versailles. Don’t even think about running for any political office from local commissioner to President of the United States, without stopping and stumping at Versailles!
Savory with a touch of sweet, a bit salty balanced by a hint of acid, and the melding of the sofrito – the Cuban mirepoix (onion, bell pepper, garlic) – as the flavor base of so many classic dishes such as picadillo (spiced ground beef), ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce), and arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), makes Cuban cuisine unique among many others.
Ana Quincoces, celebrity chef, guest cohost of ABC’s The View and former star of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami, has partnered with Nicole Valls of Valls Group, Inc. to release The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook. The Valls family began Versailles and grew it to include the equally delicious La Carreta chain of Cuban restaurants, as well as 5 kiosks scattered through Miami International Airport, so you’re never at a loss for a cafecíto fix! The cookbook is filled with a history of the Valls family and the evolution of the restaurant, mouthwatering photographs, and recipes for very nearly everything on their menu, including a selection of popular beverages, and a glossary of some Spanish/Cuban food terms.
So, yeah, I can not tell a lie. I contacted the publisher and requested a copy of The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook to review and to give away a copy to one of you. I don’t do that a lot. And when it comes to cookbooks purporting to represent famous restaurants, I’m usually disappointed. Not this time.
Which is not to say that I didn’t have one major bone to pick with the cookbook. While there are many classic and famous desserts represented, there is not a single pastry recipe in the entire book. In fact, whenever a pastry crust is required for something like an empanada, you are instructed to purchase refrigerated pie dough. The caption under the photograph for the Santiago-Style Chicken Pie on Page 37 explains it: “This recipe is a little different… in that it uses refrigerated pie crust. The pastry made at the bakery is too labor intensive to include here...” [emphasis added by me]. Personally, I find that statement to be a bit disingenuous and condescending. It assumes that the reader is either too lazy or incapable of making a pastry crust. Perhaps it’s a secret recipe. That’s fine, but my feeling is, either give us the complete recipe, or don’t include it in the book and insult the reader/cook simultaneously.
That logic extends to giving us the recipe for Picadillo (a Cuban-spiced ground beef dish), telling us that this is also the filling for the empanadas (beef hand pies or turnovers), then, under empanadas, giving us the exact same recipe for picadillo, but telling us to buy prepared refrigerated empanada discs! Why waste the space with the redundancy? Give us the pastry recipe, or skip the empanadas.
Overall, I prepared at least 6 or 7 recipes from the cookbook, and while (for my own personal taste) I might cut back a bit on the oil and salt, I was very happy with the results. I found the instructions clear and logical. Before long, I had a taste of Versailles coming out of my own kitchen!
The recipe I’m going to share with you is for the Mariquitas with Mojo Criollo – plantain chips with garlicky dipping sauce. This appetizer is positively addictive, whether you order it at the restaurant or make it at home, so make lots! And it’s very easy to make. Be sure to choose firm and very green plantains and slice them very thinly. I find a small, hand-held mandolin slicer to be the perfect tool for the job. Be sure to use the hand guard or cut-resistant glove, for safety! The Mojo Criollo is a great dipping sauce for so many other foods like veggie chips or chicken wings, and leftover mojo can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Mariquitas with Mojo Criollo
- 2 or 3 green plantains
- 3 cups vegetable oil for frying
- salt to season
Heat the oil to 375º F in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.
Once the oil is hot, peel a plantain and cut into paper-thin slices, no more than 1/16 of an inch thick. Immediately place the slices into the hot oil and fry the plantains for 3 to 4 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they are crisp but not brown. Transfer the fried plantains to drain on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle them generously with salt.
Let the oil return to 375º F before cutting more slices and frying each consecutive batch.
Mojo Criollo for Mariquitas
- 10 – 12 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. white pepper
- 1/4 cup grapefruit juice
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 Tbs. white vinegar
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 Tbs. of water or more to reduce acidity
Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Taste, adding more salt and water as necessary. Allow to sit for 30 minutes to an hour before serving alongside hot mariquitas.
Note: This mojo is uncooked and is generally used for fried vegetables. It will keep for up to a week, covered and refrigerated.
This serves 4 – 6. I won’t lie. My husband and I polished off the entire batch, watching a baseball game!
I also made the Maduros (a fried sweet plantain that’s nearly always a side dish to any Cuban meal and pictured at the top), the Picadillo (pictured below), as well as the Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice) and Black Bean Soup (not pictured), and a couple of the desserts. Each and every one turned out – and tasted – like the Versailles version.
Drooling yet? Enter below to win your own copy of The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook, sent to you directly from the publisher! This giveaway is open to anyone, Worldwide, so go for it!
I received a copy of The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook for review. Another copy will be shipped to the winner of this giveaway, directly from the publisher. I have received no compensation or anything else as an inducement to write this review, which represents my honest opinion. I received permission from the publisher to reproduce the recipe included here, as well as the photograph of the book. All other photos and text are original to me and is copyrighted material, not to be reproduced without express permission from RJ Flamingo and her real-life alter-ego. Links contained in this post may be affiliate links to my Amazon store. If you start here and buy anything on Amazon, I get a small commission. This does not increase your price, but does help me pay my web host. Thank you for your support!