As you probably know if you've spent much time on my blog, I am a big fan of Cuban food. My husband and I have lived in Miami Beach, FL for over 2 years. South Florida isn't nicknamed "North Cuba" for no reason -- there are many Cubans here and many delicious Cuban restaurants!
I've been introduced to many wonderful dishes and traditions since living here and have recreated many recipes to be paleo-friendly: Vaca Frita, Picadillo, and Ropa Vieja to name a few! This recipe is for a traditional citrus marinade and dressing called mojo criollo, and it is quite versatile! Here is my recipe for a coleslaw made using mojo criollo as the dressing: zesty red cabbage coleslaw.
Mojo simply means "sauce" and is pronouced like "MOH-hoh", not "moe-joe" (we're not in an Austin Powers movie here) and criollo, pronounced "kree-OH-yoh", is a term that means "of Spanish descent" (i.e. Spain) and is usually applied to things (or people!) from Central or South America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
Recipes for Cuban mojo criollo vary depending on who you ask, but in general you will find agreement on a few basic ingredients: sour orange juice, fresh garlic, and salt. Optional herbs and spices include (but are not limited to) oregano, paprika, cumin, and black pepper. Mojo criollo can also be made with or without olive oil. If you are using it for a dressing, of course you will want the olive oil. But for marinating meat, you don't really need it.
Never heard of a sour orange? I hadn't, either, before moving here. They are also known as bitter oranges, marmalade oranges, Seville oranges, or bigarade oranges and, as the name implies, they are quite sour and bitter tasting. They're not sweet at all and aren't suitable for eating raw the way you do navel or other sweet oranges.
Sour oranges can be found in every major grocery store and even small corner markets throughout Miami and Miami Beach. They tend to be a little uglier than their sweet counterparts, with more wrinkles/dimples on the surface.
You may be able to find sour oranges at your local Hispanic or Caribbean grocery store or international market. They may be labeled as "naranja agria". But, if you can't find them, you can substitute a mixture of other citrus juices instead. The flavor won't be exactly the same, but it will still be tasty.
I've had sour orange + garlic mojo criollo sauce at a number of establishments locally and this recipe mimics the flavor. Feel free to experiment with adding in additional optional seasonings according to your tastes. But, I find that this simple recipe is quite flavorful enough. Plus, it is autoimmune paleo compliant!
Whatever you do, please don't buy the mojo criollo sold in bottles at the store. I haven't come across a single brand that didn't use some sort of gross ingredient, like canola oil, MSG, thickening gums, stabilizers, and preservatives. Plus, they're pasteurized. It's so easy and quick to make this yourself. You can make a big batch and freeze it in portions, too! I recommend leaving the oil out if you choose to make ahead and freeze -- it's easy to add the oil in upon thawing.
You can use your fresh mojo criollo as a marinade for beef, pork, chicken, turkey, or fish OR as a condiment to serve with your favorite meat dish (I like to put it on top of Vaca Frita), as a dipping sauce for tostones or yuca fries, as a dressing in you favorite slaw, or with your favorite roasted or sauteed vegetables. I'll be sharing more of my favorite recipes that use Mojo Criollo soon! One of the traditional uses for Mojo Criollo is for roasted pork, known as lechon asado. I've got a great recipe for a slow-cooker or Instant Pot version of that right here.
Cuban-Style Mojo Criollo (sour orange and garlic marinade/dressing)
Mojo Criollo is a traditional Cuban sauce that can be used as a marinade for meats and fish, vegetables, and as a dressing for slaw. It is highly versatile and quite delicious and flavorful!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: n/a
Total time: 10 minutes
- 1 cup sour orange juice (aka bitter, Seville, marmalade, or bigarade oranges. May be labeled "naranja agria" at Hispanic markets)
- 2 Tbsp garlic, minced or pressed (about 6 large cloves)**see note in directions -- OR for lechon asado marinade, use an entire head of garlic
- 1 tsp unrefined salt
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper (if you choose to avoid this on AIP, omit)
- optional: 1/4 - 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (recommended if using as a dressing)
- optional spices to taste: cumin, paprika, granulated onion, granulated garlic
- Squeeze sour oranges. I use a glass manual juicer like this one.
- If you can't find sour oranges, you can substitute 1/2 cup lime juice and 1/2 cup regular (sweet) orange juice. Or, you can use 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup grapefruit juice, and 1 Tbsp lime juice.
- If making mojo WITH oil, place juice, peeled garlic (not minced or pressed), oregano, salt, black pepper, and other optional spices you are using into blender or food processor and pulse until garlic is pulverized and you have a sauce with a creamy consistency.
- If making mojo WITHOUT the oil, I recommend mincing/pressing the garlic and simply stirring it, along with the other seasonings, into the citrus juice.
- Use immediately as a marinade or dressing. Store in fridge a few days only. Freeze unused portions for use later. I recommend freezing it WITHOUT the oil and adding it after thawing.
- **NOTE: if you are planning to use this RAW (like for coleslaw dressing) I recommend adjusting the amount of garlic to suit your taste. I am a garlic fiend and enjoy the spicy hot, very garlicky flavor of this recipe as written, but since I know everyone isn't like me, I would suggest adding garlic 1 clove at a time until it reaches a flavor that you enjoy :-) For marinade and veggie roasting purposes, keep the garlic as written.
Recommended Tools and Ingredients
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Tim Ferriss recommends this garlic press and I LOVE mine. It saves so much time not to need to peel garlic anymore!
My favorite olive oil EVER.