Easy espresso-rubbed Ropa Vieja with smoky sweet potatoes

Yes. I said EASY espresso-rubbed Ropa Vieja with smoky sweet potatoes.
Here’s why it’s easy: because I figured out the secret to being a kitchen genius.
It’s called a Pressure Cooker.
(The second secret to being a kitchen genius is having a tiny Nom Nom Paleo doll cheering you on.)

Go Glen Coco.jpg

But seriously. Pressure cooker.
At first, I was afraid to use it. I read the instruction manual about six times when I could’ve been watching Shahs of Sunset because I was just that concerned about using the thing correctly.
It’s actually incredibly easy to use. And it makes even the leanest, toughest cuts of meat tender and totally shreddable in forty-five minutes-ish. Which means it’s PERFECTLY OKAY that I forgot to turn on the crockpot that morning. (Who’s thinking about dinner in the morning? If you’re thinking about dinner in the morning, it just means your breakfast isn’t good enough.)
Infomercial script would say: “Better results in less time with this 6-quart miracle!”
I’ll be honest: this meal was a total accident. It was what I call a “throw n’ pray” meal. I threw a bunch of spices together. I threw in some espresso and some lime juice. I consulted the internet, which told me I was throwing together a thing called Ropa Vieja, which is foreign language for Old Clothes, not because of what it tastes like but because of what it looks like.
Cool, I thought. Lessens the likelihood that I was making something abominable. I prayed that THIS TIME everything wouldn’t end in tears and tantrums, as it usually does.
Miracles. And I even managed a nice lil’ side dish.
Here’s what I did and how I did it. Thanks be to the Pressure Cooker gods for smiling upon me.

Serves 2. (For several days.)
Time to table: 1 hour, or more if you’re unreasonably slow like me

What you’ll need
(All ingredients are available at Whole Foods or Natural Grocers/health sections; internet sources listed where applicable.)
For the spice blend (used for 3lb. flank steak. Adjust accordingly.)
Combine the following and set aside:

  • 1 Tbs. Chili Powder
  • 1/2 Tbs smoked paprika
  • 1/2 Tbs. cumin
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbs. sea salt, or more to taste (I use Redmond)
  • 1/2 Tbs. black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. ground espresso (I use instant espresso, because it’s convenient and I’m lazy)

For the sweet potatoes:

  • one large sweet potato, peeled & cut into large chunks (large enough to yield 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk or heavy whipping cream (other “milks” will not work, as they are too runny)
  • reserve 1/2 Tbs. of the spice blend for the sweet potatoes

For the Ropa Vieja:

  • 1 whole yellow onion, sliced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • One (1) 3-lb flank steak (adjust recipe accordingly if your flank steak is smaller or larger)
  • 26-ish ounces chopped tomatoes in liquid (I use Pomi brand)
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 Tbs. coconut oil (or other stable cooking fat) for searing

What to do

  1. Coat the steak in the lime juice.
  2. Coat the steak in the spice blend, reserving 1/2 Tbs. for the sweet potatoes.
  3. Heat (medium-high heat) 2 Tbs. coconut oil in a heavy cast-iron skillet or dutch oven. Sear the flank steak on all sides, about 1 minute per side, then set aside (there will be some spice blend left in the skillet – to loosen, you can add a dash of water to help scrape them up.)
  4. Add 1 Tbs. coconut oil to skillet to saute the onions. Saute the onion until browned.
  5. Add 2 cups water to skillet. This will “deglaze” the skillet, allowing you to scrape up any leftover spices and onion bits. Pour this liquid into the pressure cooker or crock pot.
  6. Add tomatoes to pressure cooker or crock pot.
  7. Place flank steak in the pressure cooker or crock pot, in the liquid.
  8. Cook according to manufacturer’s instructions (mine said 45 minutes in the pressure cooker). For a crock pot, this would take 8 – 12 hours on low.

Meat is done when it can be easily shredded with a fork.
Right before meat is done cooking, steam sweet potato chunks for approximately 15 minutes. (It will probably take that long for pressure cooker to cool, so plan accordingly.) Remove, add coconut milk and spice blend, then mash or whip (I used this trusty thingy).
You’ll have a lot of cooking liquid left over, which you can either reduce into a “gravy” by boiling (or adding 1 Tbs. arrowroot flour (I have this brand) dissolved in 1/2 cup water and simmering until thick).
Pat self on back, smirk, do a superiority dance, and devour!
Be sure to let me know in the comments what you would have done differently, or how this recipe could be better!
Thanks for reading!

Liz Wolfe, NTP
Author of Eat the Yolks

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26 Responses

  1. Sounds delicious! Love the ropa vieja from our local Cuban restaurant with their grilled plantains…mmmm…

  2. Liz, this looks AWESOME! I’m new to pressure cooking as well, and the only thing I’ve used it so far is Zenbelly’s recipe for bone broth. I’m going to grab a flank steak this weekend and try this out!
    P.S. When listed in recipe format, your “one 3-lb. flank steak” actually looks like 13-lb. flank steak. I did a double take!

  3. At what point are you supposed to put the flank steak in the pressure cooker? (Recipe doesn’t say.) Thanks!

  4. This looks delicious! Is there a way to adapt it for a slow cooker? I won’t have the kitchen space for a pressure cooker for a few more years…

  5. As expected, it turned out to be delicious. I used a brisket instead of a flank steak (better price!) and served with spinach and steamed-then-fried-in-coconut-oil yams. I’m planning to make this again for dinner with friends, although next time I’m upping the ante on the espresso. Thanks again, Liz!

  6. So tasty! I made it in the crock pot, and it came out great! I was a little worried because I used regular coffee grounds (as that’s what I had) and was afraid we’d end up chomping on them after cooking, but they worked just fine. Also used just a pinch of the seasoning in the sweet potatoes, and thought it was perfect. So glad I boiled the liquid into a gravy…it was soooo good! Thanks!!!

  7. Hi there! I’m in the kitchen making this recipe and I noticed that the recipe calls for 1.2Tbs of cumin? Is that a typo? I already added 1.2 TBS and now I’m thinking maybe you meant 1/2 Tbs…
    Thank you for the recipe! I’m excited to try it!

    1. Danielle, you’re right – it was supposed to be 1/2 Tbs! Thank you so much for letting me know about the error. However, I’m sure you noticed that it’s still good, even with more cumin – I’ve made it several times with more than double the cumin and it was still great! I LOVE cumin and I think it’s one of those spices that you really can’t over-do. I hope everything turned out!

  8. So, I’m wondering if you should use the full 2c. water if you you were to do it in a slow-cooker? I’ve always heard that when adapting recipes to the slow-cooker, you should reduce the water by about 1/2…

    1. I linked to the one I use in the post at the very beginning! Click on “pressure cooker.” That one is pretty affordable and it works well, but it’s wearing out a bit quicker than I’d like. I may go looking for a great electric one soon!

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