Abuela's Counter

Abuela’s Counter: Celebrating Mother’s Day with Traditional Cuban Flavors

Cristina Bustamante and Ani Mezerhane of Abuela’s Counter know a thing or two about carrying on traditions in the kitchen. Food is their love language, and it’s a love they share with their Abuelas, children, mothers, friends, and followers, especially on Mother’s Day.

Because what would a family holiday be without traditional dishes and family favorites? 

Preparing and enjoying these foods with multiple generations of women and relatives makes Mother’s Day a real celebration of love. 

It’s not only an excuse to indulge in the flavors and recipes that feel like home and make your taste buds sing; it is also an opportunity to share those dishes with the women who taught you and pass on the traditions to the next generation. 

And that’s what Abuela’s Counter aims to do — take the Cuban dishes your Abuela used to prepare and teach you how to make them with a bit of modern flair to bring these traditional flavors to life for a new generation. 

Ani and Cristy built their online community, YouTube channel, and Instagram page so that you can learn to cook and learn the techniques and recipes that will make your kitchen come to life and bring your family together. 

Home is where the heart is, and Cristina and Ani’s hearts were always in the kitchen, sitting at their Abuela’s kitchen counters, watching them cook. 

We sat down to chat with Cristy and Ani to see how the Latinas behind Abuela’s Counter are celebrating Mother’s Day and to learn about their favorite Mother’s Day memories, must-make recipes for special occasions, and the greatest lessons they learned from the female forces of nature in their lives.

Happy Mother’s Day, and happy cooking!

What’s your must-make recipe that absolutely has to be a part of your Mother’s Day menu? Who does this recipe make you think of, or who does it honor?  

Ani: A roast pork has to be part of the Mother’s Day menu. It’s something the dads can handle, and for most Cubans, it’s not a celebration once there is a mojo-marinated roasted pork shoulder in the center of the table. My grandmother Marta always made fruit salad, which inspired the recipe on our site, and my grandmother Oliva always brought a runny and potato-filled Spanish tortilla for every celebration.  

Cristy: A recipe that absolutely has to be part of my Mother’s Day Menu is Arroz Con Pollo. It’s just the classic recipe that makes me think of my Abuela and all our Sunday gatherings. It’s quintessential for her. It’s easy yet full of power—a one-pot dish made with simple, humble ingredients that come together into something so delicious. Every time I make it, I think of her. My girls now help me by chopping all the peppers and onions, and it fills me with such pride and joy to think that they one day will make this for my grandkids.

What advice did your Abuela (Madre, Tia, or any matriarch) give you in the kitchen? 

Ani: My grandmother Lily always told me not to take recipes too seriously. She would always say – follow the steps, but you can change things as you go.  One of the most beautiful things about the kitchen is creativity and imagination. When you stop being so rigid, you can actually enjoy the process. Some of our followers recreate our recipes to the T, or it sparks them to make something the way they remember it.

Cristy: I loved staying at my Abuela’s house. I could sit at the counter and watch her make meal after meal without a sweat. She wasn’t one to follow a written recipe. She always came straight from the heart. The best advice she ever gave me was just to keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate it.  

What is your favorite culinary tradition to share with your kids that you hope they pass on to the next generation? 

Cristy: We love Thanksgiving in our house. We get up early and get the turkey ready to go in the oven. It’s our holiday. We watch the parade while we get all the sides prepared. I hope to pass them the fun of making a meal to gather people, whether on a holiday or a regular Sunday. 

Ani: My kids love making croquetas and our guava cookies. Making croquetas is a labor of love and time, so a team of little hands is strongly encouraged! It’s a perfect recipe to pass down using a classic French sauce (bechamel) and simple ingredients. If they can learn to make croquetas, they can make anything. 

Mother’s Day is all about pampering mothers. What dish is the ultimate comfort food that fills your soul and makes you feel loved? 

Ani: Nothing says I love you like dessert. One of the best memories of my mom was sitting on top of the kitchen counter and helping her make arroz con leche. I would dip fresh strawberries into the bubbly hot rice pudding when she was almost done. It’s still my favorite way to eat it. 

Cristy: Any time I stopped in at Abuela’s house, she would make me a bistec palomilla with white rice and fresh papitas fritas. I don’t know how she did it. I’m not sure if the butcher had a special deal for her because no matter the day or time, if you stopped in, there was a bistec waiting for you. It’s a warm hug for your tummy.

Share a moment you are most proud of as a mom. And what’s a dish you are most proud of as a chef?

Cristy: Something that I am so proud of as a mom is raising our kids to love spending time around a table eating delicious food and talking about life. We have family dinners as often as possible, and it’s one of the few times throughout the week that we are all together and able to talk and laugh about whatever is going on in their lives. Life gets so busy with activities, and finding the time to gather is good.

As a Chef, if we can call me a chef, it is how we have used food to pass on our heritage to our kids. We are both children of immigrants. Our parents came of age here, and we don’t have the same connection to Cuba. These recipes and the community we are creating here at Abuela’s Counter are a way for us to connect to something bigger than us. 

Ani: As a mom, I’m so proud that my kids eat everything. They are adventurous eaters and will try anything. So much of what we do at Abuela’s Counter is inspired by what we remember loving to eat as kids and what our kids are into these days. My 6-year-old has been asking me to post a recipe for pulpo because that’s one of his favorite things.

As a chef, I am proudest of dishes like boliche, roasted chicken, and natilla. Although simple, they each take a specific technique. Capturing nostalgic flavors takes work, and improving them is even more difficult. But I can honestly say my grandmothers would say these recipes are better than the originals. At least, I like to think so!

Best Mother’s Day gift you’re hoping to receive, go!

Ani: If my boys make me my favorite morning smoothie and a card, I will be so happy. If they let me sleep in an extra 30 minutes, it will be the best gift ever! 

Cristy: The best Mother’s Day gift I hope to receive is a bit extra sleep in the morning and a hot coffee in bed with some hugs. Anything else would be gravy.

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Erica Nahmad

Erica Nahmad is a writer and blogger based in Miami, Florida. A native New Yorker, she previously worked at Fitness Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, and wrote web content for saludmovil.com, LatinaMoms.com, and Mamiverse.com. She is a full-time mom to two young children, a self-proclaimed foodie, a dog-lover, and a wine enthusiast. When not writing about all things health, fitness, pop culture, relationships, food, and personal growth, she is spending time with her family, breaking a sweat (she is a former fitness instructor and 5-time marathon runner), or learning everything she can about the latest trends in the wellness world.

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