The 10 Best Cuban Cookbooks of 2020

These books are as steeped in color and nostalgia as the island of Cuba itself

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Our Top Picks

Best Overall: "The Cuban Table" at Amazon

"Plenty of authentic recipes and beautiful photographs to please just about anyone."

Best for Beginners: "Sabor: A Passion for Cuban Cuisine" at Amazon

"Easy-to-follow recipes for anyone who is new to Cuban cuisine."

Best Value: "Memories of a Cuban Kitchen" at Amazon

"You'll find 352 pages with over 200 authentic Cuban recipes accompanied by beautiful halftone photographs."

Best Traditional: "Cocina al Minutoo" at Amazon

“What Cuban cook or family doesn’t have a worn Nitza Villapol cookbook in their kitchen?”

Best New Cuban Cuisine: "Paladares: Recipes Inspired by the Private Restaurants of Cuba" at Amazon

“Modern and new Cuban cuisine is being created in the private restaurants of the island.”

Best Restaurant-Based: "The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook" at Amazon

"If you’re looking to recreate some of your favorites from the restaurant, get this book."

Best for Cocktails: "Cuban Cocktails: 100 Classic and Modern Drinks" at Amazon

"Expand your drinks library and get a history of Cuban cocktails."

Best History: "A Taste of Old Cuba" at Amazon

"The author of this cookbook, Maria Josefa Lluria de O'Higgins, grew up in Cuba during the 1920s and 1930s."

Best Chef’s Compilation: "A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine" at Amazon 

Learn Cuban cuisine from the recipes of the island’s top chefs.”

Best Photography: "Cuban Flavor: Exploring the Island's Unique Places, People, and Cuisine" at Amazon

“Gorgeous, colorful photography transports you to the island of Cuba."

Cuba is an island rich in culture, art, history, and gastronomy. The migration of hundreds of Cubans to the United States led to a proliferation and the popularization of the cuisine, with people from all over experiencing and falling in love with Cuban classics, such as arroz con pollo, ropa vieja, plátanos de tentación, flan, and vaca frita. Nostalgia is an ever-present and requisite ingredient across every Cuban recipe, an edible reminder of those who fled the island and how politics shaped many of the dishes we know today.  

Traditional Cuban cuisine is beloved and held sacred, proudly served in the homes of many Cuban-American families. Recipes are carried down by generations of home cooks. Paladares, or private restaurants on the island, are shaping what “nuevo” or modern Cuban cuisine means today.  Ahead, cookbooks that present the best of Cuban cuisine, from traditional to modern.

Best Overall: "The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History"

The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History
 Courtesy of Amazon

Nominated for a James Beard Award in the international cookbook category, "The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History" is penned by Cuban-American food blogger Ana Sofia Peláez with accompanying photos by award-winning photographer Ellen Silverman. The duo traveled together to Cuba, Miami, and New York to learn about traditional Cuban cooking from home cooks, chefs, restaurateurs, and food writers. 

"The Cuban Table" highlights Spanish and African influences and provides historical context to its 110 recipes. It features recipes like the iconic Cuban sandwich, mariquitas con vinagreta de cilantro y limón (fried plantains with lime-cilantro vinaigrette), pastelitos de guayaba (guava pastries), and potaje de garbanzos (chickpea stew).

Best for Beginners: "Sabor: A Passion for Cuban Cuisine"

Sabor: A Passion for Cuban Cuisine
 Courtesy of Amazon

Author and Cuban-American Ana Quincoces was a cast member on the "Real Housewives of Miami" and founder of the popular Skinny Latina brand. The recipes from her cookbook "Sabor: A Passion for Cuban Cuisine" are easy to follow and approachable, like ropa vieja, plátanos maduros, and arroz con pollo. To make things foolproof for new-to-Cuban-cuisine cooks, Quincoces provides her favorite brand ingredient recommendations, tips, and tricks, plus a glossary of terms for those who may be unfamiliar with certain ingredients. Included are sample menus, conversion tables for measurements, and recommendations for which dishes complement each other well.

Best Value: "Memories of a Cuban Kitchen"

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The recipes from coauthors Joan Schwarz and Mary Urrutia Randelman are lauded time and time again. They unite the Spanish, Indian, African, Chinese, and Portuguese influences that make up Cuban cuisine across more than 200 traditional recipes against the storied backdrop of Randelman's childhood in pre-Castro Cuba. A history of pre-Castro Cuba precedes every section of recipes. As such, the recipes are also economical and utilize ingredients that can be readily found while remaining authentic. 

From “the best arroz blanco” (white rice) recipes to appetizers like green plantain chips, bistec de palomilla (Cuban fried steak), pargo relleno (stuffed red snapper), moros y cristianos (black beans and rice), ensalada de aguacate y mango (avocado and mango salad), ajiaco Criollo (Cuban Creole stew), tropical rum-based drinks, and desserts like flan de coco (coconut flan).

Best Traditional: "Cocina Al Minuto: Recetas Tradicionales Cubanas" / "Quick Cooking: Easy, Fast Recipes With a Cuban Flair"

Cocina Al Minuto / Quick Cooking: Easy, Fast Recipes with a Cuban Flair: Recetas Tradicionales Cubanas
 Courtesy of Amazon

Nitza Villapol is considered the Cuban Julia Child. She was born in New York but grew up in Havana. She was the host of the Cuban television program "Cocina al Minuto" ("Cooking in a Minute") during the late 1940s, which aired for more than 30 years and wrote several cookbooks inspired by the show: "Cocina al Minuto I" and "Cocina al Minuto II." Her cookbooks can be found on the shelves in most Cuban homes.

Her “sacred texts” may be likened to the fundamental cookbooks for home chefs like "Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook" or the "Betty Crocker Cookbook," but with basic, traditional Cuban recipes like picadillo, vaca frita, and arroz con pollo—with twists on how to make up for ingredient deficiencies from food rations. Her early recipes called for a variety of both Cuban and American ingredients, as her cookbooks also included American exports like spaghetti and lobster Newburg, which were considered trendy at the time of publication given the U.S.-Cuban trading relationship in the 1950s.

Best New Cuban Cuisine: "Paladares: Recipes Inspired by the Private Restaurants of Cuba"

Paladares: Recipes from the Private Restaurants, Home Kitchens, and Streets of Cuba
 Courtesy of Amazon

While many Cuban cookbooks focus on traditional dishes, "Paladares: Recipes Inspired by the Private Restaurants of Cuba" by James Beard Award-winning writer Anya von Bremzen and photographer Megan Fawn Schlow. This cookbook shares the tightly knit secrets of paladares. It’s within these private restaurants that Cuban cuisine is experiencing a culinary modernization and progression. Von Bremzen gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at a “new Cuba” and the cultural secrets gleaned through Cuba’s chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, and food historians through 100-plus recipes and stories.

Recipes range from the traditional like picadillo, fritters, tamales, roast chicken stuffed with black beans and rice to pumpkin soup with blue cheese, ceviche with mango and black-eye peas, and coffee-rubbed pork.

Best Restaurant-Based: "The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook"

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The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook. University Press of Florida

Cuban-American author Ana Quincoces of "Sabor!: A Passion for Cuban Cuisine" makes another appearance; this time as the coauthor of the cookbook from the popular Versailles restaurant located in Miami. Versailles is an institution in Miami and an integral part of the fabric of the city’s vibrant Cuban restaurant scene since 1971.

Can’t make it to Miami to taste Versailles firsthand? Quincoces and coauthor Nicole Valls, operations manager and public relations director for Valls Group, Inc. (the parent company for the Versailles restaurant) teach home cooks how to recreate their favorite Versailles meals and dishes at home, such as frituras de malanga, churrasco con salsa chimichurri, and arroz imperial.

Best for Cocktails: "Cuban Cocktails: 100 Classic and Modern Drinks"

Cuban Cocktails: 100 Classic and Modern Drinks
 Courtesy of Amazon

Ravi DeRossi is the co-owner of one of New York City’s best cocktail spots, Cuban rum bar Cienfuegos, which marries the art of mixology and tropical drinks.

His cocktail book is a collection of 100 recipes that celebrate Cuba's colorful spirits history, culture, and famed cantineros. It features popular Cuban classics like the Cuba libre, el Floridita daiquiri, and mojito, updated versions of a rum old-fashioned, and new recipes, such as the imperial fizz and one hundred fires (cienfuegos).

Best History: "A Taste of Old Cuba: More Than 150 Recipes for Delicious, Authentic, and Traditional Dishes"

A Taste of Old Cuba: More Than 150 Recipes for Delicious, Authentic, and Traditional Dishes
 Courtesy of Amazon

This is as much of a memoir as it is a cookbook. Cuban expatriate and author Maria Josefa Lluria de O'Higgins grew up in Cuba during the 1920s and 1930s. A Taste of Old Cuba is a journal of her favorite childhood dishes on the island before the Castro revolution over 150 recipes. The recipes range from simple to complex, a reflection of Lluria De O’Higgins family’s fall from wealth to poverty. Many of the recipes give alternate ways of preparing the food, such as how to prepare recipes using a pressure cooker and a stovetop.

Best Chef’s Compilation: "A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine"

A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine, Includes 75 Authentic Recipes from the Country’s Top Chefs
 Courtesy of Amazon

"A Taste of Cuba" brings you inside the kitchens of paladares and introduces you to their chefs. The 75 recipes in authors Cynthia Carris Alonso, Valerie Feigen, and José Luis Alonso’s cookbook are sourced from Cuban chefs across the island. The recipes are translated from the Cuban chefs who cook intuitively by feeling rather than from precise written instructions, presented to American audiences using familiar ingredients and measurements. 

Recipes from paladar chefs, such as cuatro leches (four-milk cake), boniato and plantain chips, and la guarida coffee (espresso with whole and sweetened condensed milk, rum, lemon peel, and cinnamon) as well as ceviche, salmon roll with eggplant, almond pesto sauce, and arroz con pollo are paired with stunning visuals.

Best Photography: "Cuban Flavor: Exploring the Island's Unique Places, People, and Cuisine"

Cuban Flavor: Exploring the Island's Unique Places, People, and Cuisine
 Courtesy of Amazon

This dreamy, visually stunning ode to Cuba is a cookbook, art gallery, travel guide, and history book housed in 240 pages. Author and photographer Liza Gershman shares the story of Cuban cuisine in the post-revolutionary era. Recipes are accompanied by gorgeous photography. Think flan (served in a soda can), plátanos en tentación, chicken and rice, and bruschetta Cubano (a Cuban take on the Italian appetizer spiced with cumin). The shopping list at the beginning of the book makes it easy to gather and organize your Cuban culinary adventure.

Gershman shares a seven-day itinerary for visiting Cuba, which includes art and shopping destinations, restaurant and bar recommendations, and packing tips.

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Cuban-Panamanian food writer and recipe developer Marisel Salazar has grown up eating Cuban food at home with her family and at the best Cuban restaurants in the United States. She has cooked from the worn pages of the most traditional cookbooks, traveled firsthand to Cuba, and experienced home cooking on the island as well as at many paladares.

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