Picadillo, a seasoned ground beef mixture with raisins and green olives, is a popular and versatile Cuban dish. The recipe I made is adapted from the book “Memories of a Cuban Kitchen” by Randelman and Schwartz, which also includes diced potatoes. Since I don’t like olives, I substituted capers as a similar pickled/salty addition. I have also seen recipes that add green peas, for a little extra color.
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 c. cooking sherry or wine
1/2 c. tomato sauce
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce, to taste
1 potato, peeled and diced small
1/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. green olives or capers, drained
vegetable or olive oil for frying
Saute the onion, pepper and garlic over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the beef and cook on higher heat until nicely browned. Drain off any extra fat at this point. Add sherry, tomatoes, salt, Worchestershire sauce, and Tabasco. Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry up the diced potato until nicely golden brown. Add potato, raisins, and olives or capers to the meat mixture and continue simmering for another 10-15 minutes. Because it is cooked uncovered through the whole process, the liquid will all be absorbed or evaporated at this point, and the picadillo is ready to serve or use in other dishes.
Unfortunately, the first batch of picadillo I made ended up too salty, so I had to make a second salt-less batch to mix in with the first. The recipe shared here is adjusted from 1 Tbsp. to 1 tsp. salt – I think there was a typo in the original recipe. This left me with a huge batch of picadillo from 2 lbs. of ground sirloin. Luckily, picadillo can be served alone over rice, pasta or potatoes, and can also be used as a filling for many other dishes. So I tried three variations on the theme, and shared them with friends!
This recipe for Cuban empanadas involved something similar to a sweetened biscuit dough (as opposed to the pie crust-like dough that I used for Argentinian empanadas). That may have just been a choice of the particular cookbook author, but I found it to be very tasty with the picadillo filling. The dough was a lot more difficult to work with though, it had some issues with tearing and also staining from the filling. Luckily, food doesn’t have to look good to taste good! :)
Option 2: Picadillo and Potato Casserole (Tambor de Picadillo)
Make mashed potatoes with Yukon Golds or other potatoes (with the skin on, if you want the extra fiber) plus a little milk and butter. Layer potatoes with a picadillo layer in the middle, top with a little cheese and baked for about 30 minutes, covered.
Sweet (mid-ripe to very ripe) plantains are sliced and fried to a golden brown, then layered in a casserole dish above and below a layer of picadillo. The plantains on the bottom of the dish actually soak up some of the meat juices during cooking and get soft and flavorful, while the ones on the top retain their crispy-ness from frying. It’s a nice contrast, making this my favorite of the three dishes!