Easy Ropa Vieja, the Star of the González Thanksgiving

Ropa Vieja

Ropa vieja is the big-deal dish at Emily Gonzalez’s Thanksgiving Day family feast every year in Chicago. A college senior majoring in healthcare marketing, Emily reports they decided to ditch the turkey more than 20 years ago and reimagine the day around traditional dishes steeped in their Cuban and Mexican heritage. Emily’s mom’s family is from Havana and her father‘s people are from Guanajuato.

Instead of the expected turkey, the star of their Turkey Day mesa is Cuba’s national dish. Made with shredded beef braised in a tomato sauce with onions, bell peppers, garlic, and lots of spices, “ropa vieja is associated with family gatherings and special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays,” says Emily. “It brings us together in the kitchen because of its multistep process, such as shredding the meat. Ropa vieja is an enjoyable experience that strengthens connections and bonds between my family.”

For their sides, Emily, who is 22, and her sisters make more of their favorite Cuban recipes: stewed black beans, congrí rice, boiled yuca with garlic and lemon, a fresh green salad with lots of avocado and tomato slices, and sweet pastelitos de guayaba for dessert. Their go-to appetizer, shrimp empanadas, is the day’s sole nod to their Mexican roots. That side of the family’s comida culture takes the lead every Christmas, when the Gonzalezes make tamales, arroz con leche, pozole, and other Mexican favorites for their Noche Buena dinner.

Watch Emily Gonzalez of Chicago make her easy family-famous ropa vieja, step by step.

But on Thanksgiving, it’s all about “ropa vieja, which is deeply rooted in our culture and history,” says Emily Gonzalez, with mucho pride. “According to my grandfather, the dish traces its roots back to the Spanish influence on Cuban cuisine. Its name, which means ‘old clothes‘ in Spanish, always surprises my friends when I tell them it is one of my favorite Cuban dishes, derives from the shredded texture of the beef, which looks like worn-out clothing. It has been passed down through generations, contributing to the cultural identity of Cuba, and can be found in Cuban American restaurants around the world.”

How to Cook Ropa Vieja

The trick to making truly great ropa vieja is to let the beef braise over low heat for hours. The recipe calls for flank steak, which can be a tough cut. But let it simmer long and slow, and the meat turns tender and starts to breaks down, releasing layers of flavor. Add tomato sauce, bell peppers, onions and garlic, and the dish becomes one of her all-time mouthwatering favorites, says Emily. “Ropa vieja is a testament to the Cuban kitchen’s resourcefulness. It is traditionally made from leftover meat. This showcases our ability to create delicious meals with minimal ingredients.”

Emily Thanksgiving includes ropa vieja, black beans and rice, congri, yuca, and pastelillos de guayaba.
Emily Gonzalez’s Thanksgiving Day family feast is a celebration of their Cuban-Mexican heritage. Every year they make ropa vieja, shrimp empanadas, black beans-and-rice congrí, yuca with garlic and lemon, a fresh salad with lots of avocados, and sweet pastelillos de guayaba for dessert.

Best of all, it’s easy, Emily adds. People think it’s ”a time-consuming dish, but it’s one of the simplest one-pot meals you can make. In our family, we even use an instant pot to make preparing it even simpler. The ropa vieja love continues into the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend. ”We savor any leftovers by making tacos de ropa vieja the next day, as the delicious flavors remain!

“Ropa vieja is more than just food. It’s a family affair that takes me back home, no matter where I am.”

Ready to Make Emily’s Thanksgiving Ropa Vieja?

Ropa Vieja the Easy Way, the Star of the González Thanksgiving

Recipe by Emily Gonzalez
5.0 from 1 vote
Cuisine: Cuban

8 to 10

Prep time


Cooking time




  • 2 1/2 lbs flank steak

  • 8 to 10 cups water, as needed

  • 1 onion, large, chopped into quarters

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 2 tsp adobo

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, plus more if needed.

  • 2 bell peppers (any mix of red, yellow, and/or green bell), diced

  • 1 yellow onion, medium, diced

  • 1/4 cup jarred red pimientos, sliced thinly

  • 8 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

  • 2 Tbsp tomato sauce

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 1 tsp dried or whole oregano

  • 1 tsp paprika

  • 1 packet sazón

  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste

  • 2 oz Manzanilla olives


  • In a large pot, add the flank steak, water, quartered onion, bay leaves, and adobo.
  • Bring to a simmer on medium-low and cook until the meat is tender, about 4 hours.
  • Transfer to a plate. Shred the meat and set aside.
  • In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the bell peppers, yellow onion, and red pimentos. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add the minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Add the cooking wine, tomato sauce, ground cumin, oregano, paprika, sazon and salt. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the shredded meat and stir to combine well in the sauce. Stir in the olives.
  • Cover and cook on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, without letting it dry out.
  • It’s ready. Serve with a side of freshly made white rice and stewed black beans. Enjoy!


  • When short on time, Emily’s family makes this ropa vieja recipe using a pressure cooker. The cooking time is reduced from 4 hours to about 40 minutes.

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