Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja (Cuban Beef)
Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja (Cuban Beef Recipe) Cuba’s National Dish is fabulous on sandwiches or served with traditional rice, beans, and plantains. However, as-is it’s low carb, paleo, gluten free and keto!
Simple Cuban Recipes
My daughter Ava went on a school trip to Cuba a few months ago.
Because she has to eat gluten-free to stay healthy, we were a little concerned about what she would eat in Cuba.
When other people are preparing your food, and they don’t fully understand just how sick an ingredient can make you, and there’s a language barrier… You get a little worried.
However, her teacher told me not to fret, that the food in Cuba is very simply prepared (meaning no filler ingredients with hidden gluten) and they would mainly be eating rice, beans, and a little meat.
I said a prayer (or a bunch of prayers) and sent her off.
Ava did, in fact, stay healthy through her entire time in Cuba. And when she had internet access she would text me photos of her food.
Most often the plates were filled with rice, black beans, fried plantains, and shredded beef.
When she returned home, she insisted we learn to make this Cuban beef… Ropa Vieja.
Cuba’s National Dish
The stated national dish of Cuba usually depends on who you ask. There are several very popular Cuban recipes that are considered the national dish.
However, Arroz con Pollo and Ropa Vieja are always at the top of the list.
A traditional Ropa Vieja recipe is essentially beef flank steak slow-cooked with wine, herbs, and spices.
Most “authentic” Ropa Vieja recipes in cookbooks and online include bell peppers and olives.
However, according to Ava, these are ingredients that are not always available to most of the Cuban population and therefore left out.
She said they never once had Ropa Vieja with peppers and olives.
We decided to make the fancy when-you’ve-got-everything-at-your-finger-tips version today, because it offers more flavor and visual appeal.
Yet just know, you can skip the wine, peppers, and olives, substituting broth for the wine.
Without them, you will end up with more of what you would be served in a casual Cuban restaurant or in a home.
Authentic Ropa Vieja Recipe
After making and taste-testing Ropa Vieja several times, Ava also mentioned that no matter how I changed the recipe, the Cuban version they ate was always more intense in flavor, and a little bit dry or crispy.
We decided this is because they usually make it ahead, so the beef has (potentially) several days to soak up the spices.
They also, warm up the Ropa Vieja on a hot griddle before serving, so the sauce dries up and the beef shreds get a little crispy around the edges, similar to traditional carnitas.
When we tried this method, our recipe tasted even more authentic.
However, we feel it’s just as delicious fresh and saucy. So you can enjoy it immediately after cooking. Or you can let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days then reheat it in a skillet.
You really can’t go wrong.
Low Carb Cuban Beef Recipe?
Although Ropa Vieja is usually paired with rice and beans, on its own it’s very low in carbs.
You can make it even lower in carbs by removing the wine.
Ropa Vieja is also a fabulous Meal Prep Recipe because the flavor intensifies over time!
Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja Ingredients
- Olive oil – To brown the beef and onions.
- Flank steak – Some recipes call for beef chuck roast, but flank steak is more traditional.
- Sweet onion – Softened in a skillet before adding to the crockpot.
- Garlic – The more the merrier!
- Bay leaves – For a deep herby note.
- Cumin – To offer a smoky peppery flavor.
- Oregano – For sweet herby essence.
- Smoked paprika – To bring in a stronger smoky taste and add color.
- Allspice – For island appeal.
- Crushed tomatoes – To add tang and color.
- White wine – For more tang and depth of flavor.
- Carrots – To add a touch of natural sweetness. Optional for low carb variations
- Bell peppers – Buy three colors. Optional for a more casual version.
- Spanish green olives – Pitted. Optional.
Get the Full (Printable) Slow Cooker Ropa Veija Cuban Beef Recipe Below
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Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja (Cuban Beef)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 pounds flank steak
- 1 large sweet onion, peeled and sliced
- 5-7 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 28 ounce crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 cup sliced carrots
- 3 whole bell peppers (three colors)
- 7 ounce spanish green olives, pitted
- Salt and pepper
- Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil to the skillet. Cut the flank steaks in half so they fit in the skillet. Then salt and pepper them generously on both sides.
- Place the flank steaks in the skillet and brown on both sides. You may need to do this in batches if your skillet is not huge. Once the flank steaks are browned, move them to a large crockpot.
- Add the sliced onions to the skillet. Stir and saute to soften the onions. Then add them to the crockpot as well. Turn off the burner.
- Add the garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, paprika, and allspice to the slow cooker. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Then stir in the tomatoes, wine, and sliced carrots.
- Cover the crockpot. Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours, or on HIGH for 4-6 hours. Once the meat can be easily shredded with a fork it’s done cooking. Remove the bay leaves and shred the meat, leaving it in the sauce.
- At some point before the meat is fully cooked, char the bell peppers. You can do this by placing them directly on a gas burner, turning them with tongs as the skin blackens. You can also do this on a hot grill or under the broiler. They just need to be blistered on all sides.
- Once the peppers are blistered, place them in a large zip bag and let them steam for 15 minutes. Then peel off the waxy skins, remove the stems and seeds, and slices them into thin slivers.
- Drain the olives and cut them in half. Then stir the olives and pepper strips into the beef. Serve warm.