A few years ago I travelled to Cuba with my son and I picked up some interesting cooking ideas from that trip.
What an amazing place, stunningly beautiful countryside, architecture, and then the cars….
The doctor, in whose house we were staying, had an absolute stunner of a motor and he made my son’s eyes shine by offering to take him for a spin in it. I was allowed to go too, but I had to hide under a blanket in case I was seen and a snooping policeman got it into his head that the doctor was setting up an (illegal) side-line business offering tourists rides.
I found, as I was experimenting with this particular recipe, that I was thinking about the word ‘mojo’. What a wonderful word… it sounds fun, rhythmic, it makes me think of joyful dancing… naughtiness. The sound tasted good. Was it really Cuban? I felt I should investigate.
I found the following definitions:
- magic (voodoo) charm
- sex appeal
- a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy
If eating mojo gave you all the above, I considered, I might be making an awful lot more of it! But I still didn’t know its definition from a culinary point of view or if, indeed, it was Cuban.
Wikipedia, as it so often does, solved the problem. The word itself comes from the Portuguese molho which means sauce. The idea of the mojo spread to the Canary Islands where it became a main culinary event – a sauce based on olive oil, citrus, paprika, salt, garlic and with two variants – green using green peppers and red using red ones, in both cases the heat taken out of the peppers by means of soaking in water. The sauce was poured over everything, potatoes in particular.
Later many Canary Islanders emigrated to Cuba and they took the idea of the mojo with them. There the citrus element used was usually bitter or Seville orange juice, and whereas the European versions use coriander or cumin, the Cuban mojo uses oregano.
Instead of the potatoes, in Cuba it’s used over cassava, or with pork. But I think it goes well with both chicken and fish. Of course the music to listen to while you prepare this has got to be something Cuban – I love Ruben Gonzalez from the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club – so that is the choice, listen to him (below) while you cook this.
Recipe for Cuban tomato mojo
- 3 tomatoes
- 1 tbsp shredded lettuce
- olive oil – a couple of tbsp
- juice of half a lime and its zest – or a Seville orange or a Bergamot if you, weirdly, have one to hand…..
- 1 fat clove garlic, crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
- 2 or 3 spring onions, finely sliced and including about an inch of the green
- 1 tsp Spanish sweet smoked paprika
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Make the mojo by mixing all the ingredients in a small saucepan.
- Just before you want to serve it, warm it through.
Cuban music to play as you make this
Ruben Gonzalez at Ronnie Scotts playing Cumbanchero