In college, one of my sorority sisters worked in a restaurant on campus and I'd often visit her at work between classes. She served me my very first Cuban sandwich, as well as my first (of many) servings of sweet potato fries. This dish is an homage to those college-era lunches.
To start, I made a big ol' batch of pickles. Here's what I used:
6 Kirby cucumbers, sliced into rounds
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoon horseradish
1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
Garlic clove, minced
I combined the vinegar, water, the horseradish, and salt and brought to a boil. While that heated, I covered the sliced cucumbers with the mustard seeds, peppercorns, and garlic. Once the liquid was boiling, I poured it over the top of the cucumbers.
I let the pickles sit out and cool down before putting into the refrigerator; I actually let them sit overnight before using them for the pork chops. That rest day allowed them to marinate more and the flavors came together so perfectly. The pickles weren't too salty and the bold flavors of the pepper and mustard shone through. My favorite part was the unexpected zing from the horseradish. I am a pretty huge fan of horseradish and would add more next time to really make them spicier, but the measurement for this batch certainly got the point across. I honestly can't believe I haven't made homemade pickles before - it was way easier than I thought!
For the main meal, I took the sandwich part out of of the mix. What remains from that classic is shredded pork or ham (often both), cheese, pickles, and mustard. Since there was a very present mustard flavor in the pickles already, I skipped adding any more. I densely layered pickles on top of boneless pork chops.
And then I added cheese. And got so excited about melting cheese over the top of a pickle-heavy pork chop I forgot to take a photo that was properly focused. I could have taken more, but my mouth was watering (I'd already snacked on some of the pickles) and I forged ahead.
Traditionally, Cuban sandwiches use Swiss cheese, which would have been perfection here, but I had provolone in my fridge. I figured they were both on the mild end of the spectrum and both melted well, so it worked in my mind.
My hat tip to the sweet potato fries was a simple side of roasted sweet potatoes. I cut a potato into quarters length-wise and then sliced those quarters thinly. Tossed with some oil and Herbs de Provence, they cooked up alongside the pork chops in a 375° oven (about 30 - 40 minutes for the pork since the chops were on the thick side - a meat thermometer can help you determine when it's truly done).
100% winner. You got the briny tender bite of the pickles, the creamy cheese with the crusty brown top, and the juicy pork chop. It's the bread-free version of one of my favorite sandwiches. The crispy roasted sweet potato only intensified the nostalgia factor of the whole plate for me. I'd start daydreaming up reinventions of other beloved college foods, but Hangover Five Guys is pretty perfect on it's own, don't you think?