There was a story in the paper a week or so ago about the "heart home.''
It is the place you think of as "home'' even if you haven't lived there in a long, long time.
I have lived in a handful of places, and this year marked my 17th in Nashville, which means I have lived here one year longer than I did my heart home, Miami, the city of my childhood and where I have spent more Christmases than anywhere else.
Tonight is Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena – the Good Night – and that means Latinos all over the world are having a feast. From my quiet kitchen in Tennessee, I can practically smell the lime, garlic, and caramel all the way from Miami as Cubans prepare the roast pork, the black beans, the creamy flan.
My family did not travel to South Florida this year. Instead, my parents drove up, loaded down with presents, plantains, and guava pastelitos (flaky pastries from the gods). So, while we will miss out on the loud and crowded family gathering, which makes my heart ache a little, I will chop garlic and squeeze limes and pour olive oil and roast a little bit of pork because for me it isn't Christmas Eve if my hands and home do not smell of the tropics.
So, my nostalgia leads me to share a few tried-and-true recipes that will give you a taste for Cuban Nochebuena and provide you with succulence and fiesta any time of the year.
Cuban Lechón Asado (Roast Pork) from the cookbook Three Guys From Miami Celebrate Cuban.
Frijoles Negros (Doctored-up, canned black beans that will trick anyone into thinking you cooked them.) Recipe by Marta Darby, my friend, and author of My Big, Fat Cuban Family Cookbook and the popular blog, My Big, Fat Cuban Family.Flan, also by Marta. While flan, a baked custard with caramel, appears intimidating, it is worth the attempt and the mastery.
These are the dishes I look forward to teaching my daughter to cook so she may prepare them during her own Nochebuenas. Perhaps these, too, will be the smells of her heart home.
From mi familia to yours, a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Thank you for allowing me to share a little bit of myself, and my people, with you.