Eric Akis: Kiss of Caribbean in ribs and rice

Eric Akis

If you want to flavour grilled pork back ribs, Caribbean-style, get your mojo going. I’m not talking about boosting your charisma. I’m talking about mixing up a Cuban-style sauce whose bright-tasting flavours work wonderfully with charred pork.

Mojo is a Spanish word for a style of sauce that originated in the Canary Islands. There, in Spain and other nearby places, its main varieties are mojo rojo, a red-hued sauce, and mojo verde, a green-hued one. The sauces are made with such ingredients as peppers, garlic, olive oil, herbs and spices.

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Immigrants brought mojo to the Caribbean. In Cuba, it refers to a garlicky sauce made with citrus juice and olive oil or pork lard. Other flavourings, such as herbs and spices, are also added.

That mojo is often used as marinade or a dip. But in my recipe, I decided to use it as one might a barbecue sauce:by brushing it on grilled pork ribs near the end of cooking. I also served some of the sauce alongside the ribs once plated, to drizzle on them.

I served the ribs with another Caribbean-style dish, beans and rice, and have included a recipe for it. You could also serve the ribs with sides such as green salad, coleslaw, corn bread or corn on the cob.

Baked and Grilled Pork Ribs with Mojo Sauce

After being baked until tender, these succulent ribs are grilled until nicely charred, then brushed and drizzled with mojo sauce, giving them a satisfying, Cuban-style flavour.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 2 hours and 15 minutes

Makes: Four servings

2 large, whole racks, pork back ribs, each cut into two-rib pieces

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 cup water

• Cuban-style mojo sauce (see recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a large sided baking sheet with parchment paper. Set in the ribs in a single layer, meaty side up.

Combine chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle and rub this mixture on the ribs. Pour juice and water into the bottom of the pan. Cover the ribs and bake two hours or until tender, and then remove from the oven (see Eric’s options).

Preheat barbeque to medium-high. Grill the ribs three to five minutes on either side, until nicely charred.

Lower the heat to medium-low. Brush the top of the ribs with some of the mojo sauce and cook two minutes more. Turn ribs over, brush that side of the ribs with mojo sauce and cook two minutes more. Turn ribs over again, brush them with a bit more mojo sauce, and cook one minute more.

Arrange ribs on a platter or board. Serve remaining mojo sauce alongside, for drizzling on the ribs.

Eric’s options: You can cook the ribs in the oven many hours before finishing them off on the grill. To do so, once baked, cool ribs to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to grill. When almost ready to grill them, let the ribs warm at room temperature an hour or so, so they are not icy cold when you set them over the flame. If desired, as you see in the photo, just before serving the ribs, garnish them with lime slices and fresh parsley or cilantro sprigs.

Mojo Sauce

This palate-pleasing sauce features tangy, citrusy, garlicky, herbaceous and sweet flavours, tastes that work very well with the rich and juicy grilled pork ribs.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: A few minutes

Makes: One and a quarter cups

1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest

1/2 cup fresh lime juice (see Note)

1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest

1/3 cup fresh orange juice (see Note)

3 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

2 Tbsp agave syrup or brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cumin

3 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh oregano

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the zest and juices, garlic, cornstarch, syrup (or brown sugar) and cumin in small pot. Set over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, simmer one minute, until lightly thickened, then remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

When juice mixture has cooled, mix in the olive oil, cilantro, parsley and oregano. Use an immersion (hand) blender to blend the herbs and oil into the juice mixture (this could also be done in a blender). Season sauce with salt and pepper, as needed.

Transfer the sauce to a jar or bowl, cover and keep refrigerated until needed for the ribs. The sauce can be made a day before needed.

Note: The juice from four or five large limes, and one very large orange, should yield the amounts needed here.

Black Beans and Rice

Here is a complementary Caribbean-style side dish to serve with the ribs. I drained the canned beans before cooking them with the rice. I did not mix in the liquid from the can, as many other recipes ask you to do. That, in turn, made this a lighter version of the dish.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: About 25 minutes

Makes: Six servings

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup diced onion (see Note)

1/2 cup diced green bell pepper

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 cup long white grain rice

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 2/3 cups water

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can black beans, drained well, rinsed and drained again

• salt and pepper to taste

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Place the oil in a medium pot set over medium to medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook and stir two to three minutes. Add the rice, cumin and paprika, then cook and stir two more minutes.

Add the water and beans to the pot; season with salt and pepper. Bring the water to a rapid boil. Once there, cover the rice and beans, turn the heat to its lowest setting, and cook 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

Remove pot from the heat, let rice stand a few minutes, and then fluff with a fork. Mix in the green onions and serve.

Note: Diced in this recipe means to cut into 1/4-inch cubes.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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