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OP: Cocina al Minuto

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by Nitza Villapol

Nitza Villapol (1923–1998), a cooking teacher, food writer, and television chef, was at one time as well known in Cuba as Julia Child was in America. She was born in New York, but when she was nine her Cuban parents moved their family back to Havana. Interested in food from childhood, she went to London while still in her teens to study nutrition. When she returned to Cuba, she began working in restaurants and teaching cooking classes. 

Her background in nutrition proved to be an invaluable asset during WWII and the Cuban embargos, and she became a champion of making do when scarcity prevailed. Eventually, Villapol went on to host a cooking show called Cocina al Minuto, which concerned itself with time- and money-saving techniques, furthering her status as a resourceful—and patriotic— cook. 

Although Villapol’s first book, Cocina Criolla (1954), quite scarce, is still one of the most sought and treasured Cuban cookbooks; her second book, Cocina al Minuto (1958), an offshoot of the television show, was immensely popular in its day. It was a best-seller and venerated among Cuban nationals and the diaspora. 

Here you will find some of the expected—picadillo, of course, ropa vieja, arroz moros y cristianos—but you will also discover evidence of Villapol’s multicultural background and interests with recipes for chop suey, various spaghetti dishes, and chicken breast “a la Hawaiana.”

The popularity of Cocina al Minuto led to a fair number of reprints, many of them without Villapol’s permission and without acknowledgement of her contribution. It is one such that we offer here, a paperback published in 1970 by Ediciones Cubamerica without Villapol’s name attached. It is in Spanish and still in very good condition, clean and soundly bound. Any printing preceding a 2019 reissue is extremely scarce on the secondary market. The book, combined with flavors from home and Villapol’s star power, is a precious keepsake for many.

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