Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gloria's Cuban Picadillo

Cuban picadillo
Picadillo is a savory ground meat dish found in virtually all Latin American cultures, usually made from ground beef, ground pork or a combination of both, and seasoned with onions, garlic, peppers and a mixture of herbs and spices that vary by culture. It's not unusual to find different versions of picadillo within the same country, and each cook usually will make her or his own tweaks to personalize the basic dish.

In Cuba, picadillo traditionally is made with a mixture of beef and pork, but my Mom used only ground beef. As is the case with the vast majority of Cuban dishes, picadillo isn't spicy but instead relies on garlic, onions, oregano and bay leaf to add savory flavors, along with a few unexpected ingredients like olives, capers and raisins to add pleasingly contrasting and complementary tang and sweetness. The traditional way to serve Cuban picadillo is over white rice with a side of fried sweet plantains ("maduros").

Below is my version of my Mom's traditional picadillo, which serves 4. The recipe below calls for ground beef, but you can use your choice of ground meat or meat substitute and still end up with a tasty dish. Because we usually have ground venison in our freezer, I frequently use it instead of beef to make picadillo. I've also used ground turkey in the past, as well as "ground meatless" soy-based meat substitute for a vegetarian version of picadillo.

1 lb ground beef
Salt & pepper to taste
1 Tbs olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1 small green pepper, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small carrot, peeled & sliced
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 tsp Kosher salt (to taste)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (you can substitute regular paprika)
Black pepper to taste (I use a few twists from my pepper mill)
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup small pimento-stuffed green olives
2 tsp small capers (rinse off excess salt if using capers packed in salt)

Place ground beef in a large, deep skillet or saucepan, season lightly with salt & pepper, and cook until just browned but not fully cooked.  Drain off excess fat, transfer the browned meat to a bowl and set aside.

Add the olive oil and bay leaf to the skillet or saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions & saute for a few minutes until they begin to soften.  Add green pepper, garlic & carrot, saute until just softened.  Stir in the tomatoes, Kosher salt, oregano, cumin, paprika and black pepper.  Cover and cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have broken down.  Add the browned meat, raisins, olives and capers, stir well, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked through (about 10 to 15 minutes).  Most of the liquid should have cooked off - if dish is still too "wet," simply raise the heat to medium-high and cook for a few more minutes, stirring from time to time, until excess liquid evaporates.

Serve hot over white rice, and refrigerate any leftovers. Picadillo tastes even better the next day because the flavors will continue to develop overnight in the refrigerator. In fact, I sometimes make picadillo the day before I plan on serving it, and then reheat just before dinner.

Zestfully yours,

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