Cuban Ground Meat
Picadillo is how Cubans do ground meat. It’s a healthier, better-for-you comfort food comprised of a complex combination of savory, piquant and sweet flavors like no other. Growing up in a Cuban/Spanish and Argentine/Italian home, I didn’t even realize there was any other kind of ground meat until I got college, and to this day I’ve never had a sloppy joe. Something tells me I’m not missing out on anything. I promise, once you taste Cuban Picadillo, there’s no going back!
Many countries in Latin America use Picadillo as a base for traditional dishes and add their own twist to this versatile recipe. For instance, some countries add raisins and potatoes to basic Picadillo. If my mom were making Argentine Empanadas she would not only add raisins, but also a slice of hard boiled egg. I vividly remember picking all the raisins out of my empanadas as a child. As a seasoned cook I now understand the value of adding a sweet element to an otherwise savory dish, but I still prefer to leave the raisins out of my Picadillo and Bread Pudding, for that matter. If you have raisin issues like me you should check out my amazing reduced-fat raisin-free butterscotch bread pudding.
The great thing about making Picadillo (besides its amazing taste and versatility) is that it freezes well, so you can make a large batch and always have it on hand for a quick and healthy gourmet meal. When I first moved away from home, my mom used to bring me a container full of her homemade Picadillo as a housewarming gift whenever she’d come for a visit. To get you started on your Cuban culinary adventure I am sharing my mom’s special recipe for her version of Cuban Picadillo, as well as, our top 10 ways to use it.
Ten Delicious Dishes
Did I pique your interest? I promise once you make Cuban Picadillo you won’t go back to your regular ground beef. Now that you have this amazing tasting Picadillo, here’s ten creative dish ideas for you to try.
Need I say more? This is one of the quickest and tastiest meals (not to mention one of my husband’s favorites) that I can get on the table on a busy day. I simply defrost my Picadillo, grate some cheese (which also came from my freezer) and put taco shells in the oven for a few minutes. Dinner is done with plenty of time to spare to make my delicious Strawberry Jalapeno Margaritas!
A slight twist on taco night that’s just as delicious. I like to add any veggies that I might have on hand, like spanish onions, corn or green onions. When it comes to making the most delicious quesadilla at home, I say skip the oven. Yes, it’s healthier to bake them but, in my opinion, it’s so much more delicious to saute the quesadillas over a little butter so that the flour tortilla forms a delicious, caramelized crust. While you wait for the cheese to melt you have just enough time to make a blender full of those margaritas!
Empanadillas are what Cubans call meat pies. You can make your own pastry crust or buy it pre-made at the store. My mom loves to fry these up for us when we visit them in New Orleans (we call them Natchitoches meat pies in those parts), but I’m just as happy to bake them in the oven if the crust is right.
Nachos are an easy and delicious way to kick start your fiesta. Spoon some Picadillo, cheese and other usual nacho suspects on your tortilla chips and heat them up in the microwave to melt the cheese. We have a hard time ordering nachos at a restaurant because we will always be disappointed, and it’s just too simple to whip these up at home.
Frijoles Negros con Arroz y Picadillo
Black beans with rice and Picadillo is your typical Cuban comfort food. A little different than any black beans and rice that you might be accustomed to, Frijoles Negros are a creamy, stick-to-your-ribs type of meal that leave your tummy feeling warm and satisfied, but in a healthy way.
Picadillo con Platanos Borrachos
Platanos Borrachos or Drunken Plantains is another Cuban favorite. You will need two very ripe platanos or plantains for this easy recipe. First, cut your plantain in half and peel it like you would a banana. Cut each half in half lengthwise. Place your plantain halves cut side down in a large saute pan and cover them with about 3/4 cup of hot water. Add a cinnamon stick, 2 Tbs of granulated sugar and 1/2 tsp Salt. Saute them for five minutes over medium heat. Pour out most of the cooking liquid leaving just a little bit in the pan. Add 1/2 cup of white wine, 8 Tbs of brown sugar, 4 Tbs of Unsalted Butter and 1/2 tsp Cinnamon powder. Cook the plantains over low heat and turn them when they are brown on the cut side. Finish cooking the second side until they are brown and sauce is caramelized. Serve with warm Picadillo.
Shepherd’s Pie is an Irish meat pie that is often made with a ground lamb topped with a crust of mashed potatoes. You can elevate this simple dish and make it in no time by using Picadillo as your base in place of lamb or regular ground meat.
Papa Rellena or stuffed potato is the Cuban version of Shepherd’s Pie. Homemade mashed potatoes are wrapped around a 1/3 cup of Picadillo and rolled it into a ball. The Picadillo is in the center. The ball of potato is then dipped in egg and battered with fine bread crumbs. The Papa Rellena is then fried and served warm. This is not your grandma’s meat and potatoes!
Ajies Rellenos or stuffed green peppers is another Cuban favorite in my family. Cuban rice (sticky Jasmine rice cooked in olive oil) is combined with the Picadillo and the mixture is stuffed into the peppers. These are topped with a little bread crumb and dots of butter and baked in the oven. The stuffed peppers make for a simple yet impressive presentation.
Calabaza rellena is Spanish for stuffed pumpkin. So by now you get the picture; it seems Cubans like to stuff their vegetables with Picadillo. And why not? It’s a perfectly delicious, healthy and fast solution for dinner. For this ground meat-stuffed pumpkin, I roast Acorn Squash in the oven by cutting them in half, brushing with olive oil and roasting cut-side down for about 45 minutes or until the flesh is soft. I then scoop out the flesh and mix it with Picadillo and sour cream. The stuffed acorn squash go back in the oven for a second bake until the tops are golden brown delicious!
El Sabor de Cuba
As you can see the possibilities are endless with your basic Picadillo. Bring the Sabor of Cuban cuisine home today and discover your own favorite combinations.
Suggested Wine Pairings
There are a lot of wonderful flavors going on in Picadillo, so you need a wine with juicy, lively fruit and acidity to match. A dry red with earthy notes of fruit and vanilla, like a Tempranillo, would nicely balance the savory picadillo. I also enjoy flavorful Picadillo dishes with big reds from Spain made with Grenache or Mourvedre. If you prefer white wines, look for a full bodied one to stand up to the variety of flavors, like a rich Chardonnay or aromatic Viognier.