The Elena Ruz: A Sweet And Salty Turkey Sandwich Invented By A Cuban Socialite

If you've ever been a regular customer at your favorite restaurant, bar, or specialty food store, odds are the staff may know your name, and perhaps even your order. These familiar and comforting gestures are a hard-earned perk for loyal customers. The height of customer appreciation, however, is having a menu item named after you. Such is the case with the Cuban sandwich known as The Elena Ruz.

While the Cuban and Medianoche are the most popular Cuban sandwiches, the Elena Ruz has as unique a taste as it does a backstory. The sandwich dates back to the late '20s and early '30s when a young socialite named Elena Ruz Valdés-Fauli frequented a restaurant called El Carmelo in the famous Havana neighborhood of El Vedado. Whether it was her status as a regular, her charming personality, or her fussy assertiveness, Valdés-Fauli would make a special order for a sweet and savory turkey sandwich that wasn't on the menu.

She ordered the sandwich so frequently that she eventually suggested they make it a permanent menu item to save her the trouble of explaining how to make it to every new waiter and cook. El Carmelo took her suggestion to heart and named the sandwich in her honor. It turns out that Valdés-Fauli wasn't the only person to enjoy her namesake sandwich, as it is now an iconic Cuban dish enjoyed in restaurants and home kitchens around Cuba and in Cuban-owned bakeries and restaurants in the U.S.

What's on the Elena Ruz sandwich?

The Elena Ruz sandwich is a sweet and savory turkey sandwich consisting of roast turkey, cream cheese, and strawberry jam sandwiched between lightly toasted medianoche bread. Medianoche bread is a slightly sweet egg-based sandwich roll that is soft and fluffy with a deep brown, egg-washed crust. Toasted medianoches flatten into a panini-like thinness, offering the perfect crunchy, airy contrast to the creamy cheese and jelly garnishes and the roast turkey.

The Elena Ruz sandwich provides an outside-the-box way to make use of Thanksgiving leftovers. The white meat turkey combined with cream cheese and jam gives the same sweet and savory complement as cranberry sauce and gravy. You could even use cranberry sauce instead of strawberry jam for a tangy twist.

Since they're a Cuban specialty, medianoche rolls may be hard to obtain from your local grocery store or bakery. Brioche, challah, or a plain Kaiser roll would all be great substitutes to supply similar flavor and texture profiles.

You can use strawberry jam or jelly depending on your texture preferences; jam will likely have chunks of fresh fruit or crunchy seeds while jelly has a uniformly soft, smooth consistency. In a pinch, you could even use strawberry-flavored cream cheese. If strawberry jam isn't your favorite, you can swap strawberry jam for another fruity Cuban specialty like guava jelly.

Just as Elena Ruz Valdés-Fauli insisted on crafting a sandwich that spoke to her palate, diners can put their own twist on her classic: swapping in strawberry cream cheese, using the Cuban specialty guava jelly, or loading on cranberry sauce to help eliminate Thanksgiving leftovers.