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Appetites: 6 (firsthand) morsels about Cuban food

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Soup, vendors and farm scene
Clockwise from upper left are: Black bean soup, vendors at a farmers market and an urban farm -- all in Havana.
Courtesy of Beth Dooley

Minnesotan Beth Dooley had her airline ticket to Cuba in hand well before the U.S. move toward normalizing relations with the island nation made headlines in December. 

Dooley, author of "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook," recently returned from a weeklong trip to Cuba. Her adventure was part of a group outing for urban farmers, officials and others interested in learning more about food independence — also called food sovereignty. 

She joined MPR News' Tom Crann to talk about her adventure, observations and Cuban food. She also shares a recipe for black bean soup.

1) The Cuban government provides heaps of resources to farmers — technical knowledge, tools, and on-the-ground expertise. It also supports research into crops that grow well on the island and are best adapted to the local climate and soil condition.

2) It is very common for farmers to work together by sharing information and knowledge through co-op networks and conferences. 

3) An astounding amount of food is grown on the island for residents. The innovations in agroecology were inspiring. For example, the city of Havana grows between 60 and 90 percent of its own produce on small community plots. Many of these plots are located in backyards or larger organoponicos without using chemicals. Keep in mind that 97 percent of the island's entire population lives within the city limits of Havana.

4) The cuisine is quite fresh with a number of Cuban chefs cooking foods that are indigenous and grow easily in the area — taro, yucca, sweet potatoes, pineapple, citrus, peppers and beans. Other common ingredients include: eggplant, cabbage and dark greens as well as beef, pork, chicken and some fish and shrimp. 

5) In terms of spices, cumin, turmeric and ginger play a large role on the plate and in sauces. That said, not all dishes are super spicy. 

6) Vegetarian cuisine is catching on, though most places feature meat and chicken dishes. 

Recipe: Cuban Black Bean Soup with Cumin and Lime

Serves 4

The black bean soups in Cuba are a sturdy blend of pureed and whole beans. Sometimes they include chunks of squash or sweet potatoes. They're fragrant with cumin and sparked with fresh lime juice — and sometimes a splash of rum.

• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• 1-1/2 tablespoons ground cumin, or more to taste

• 2 tablespoons dark rum, optional

• 3 cups cooked or canned black beans, drained

• 4 cups vegetable stock or water

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• Couple of dashes Tabasco or hot sauce, to taste

• 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, or more to taste

• Minced cilantro for garnish

In a large deep skillet set over medium-high, heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin and cook an additional minute. Stir in the rum, beans, stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes. Working in batches, puree about half of the beans in a blender and return to the pot. Season to taste with salt, pepper, Tabasco, and lime juice. Serve garnished with the cilantro.