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Lisa Parsley
April 23, 2013

If you have been reading my blog these past three years, you probably have learned that I’m a fan of ethnic food. Now, essentially, probably other than hamburgers or hotdogs, I guess you could claim most of the food we eat here in America is “ethnic”. We are a nation of immigrants after all. But when I think of international cuisine, I’m not talking about spaghetti with meat sauce, pizza or even bratwurst; each of which could be termed ethnic. I’m talking about something like an authentic Vietnamese Pho, a Indian Chana Masala or, as in the recipe posted below, Cuban picadillo.

I had actually never heard of picadillo until I read an article in the most recent “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine. In it, the author was raving about the care packages of food which were delivered to his college roommate by his Cuban immigrant mother. Like many mothers, she would cook enough to feed an army (or two 19 year olds), and one of their favorite dishes was the savory, spicy, sweet and sour picadillo.

Picadillo is essentially a dish made of ground beef and pork with spices, raisins and olives. Sounds dreadful on paper, doesn’t it? Olives and raisins? But I was intrigued. Often when you mix two very disparate foodstuffs, magic can happen. Peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches come to mind. Never tried them? I double dog dare you.

As I happened to have most of the listed ingredients of the picadillo recipe in my pantry (and those I didn’t have I fudged, such as substituting a red pepper for a green one and leaving out the capers, just because we don’t like them), I was able to whip it up for dinner with a side of steamed rice.

The recipe identified a technique that I’ve read about recently and always wanted to try—using a tiny amount of baking soda stirred into ground meat to keep it moist while cooking. This is particularly important when you braise ground meat in an acid bath such as tomatoes. It worked! The picadillo was really “beefy” and hearty and smelled fantastic. It tasted even better. I'm going to try this baking soda idea for the beef in my favorite chili recipe.

So here in the good ol’ melting pot (or is it salad bowl?) which makes up the USA, we need to feel free to toss in an international favorite every once in a while. You can consider the recipe below tested and approved. I know it seems complicated, but once you get going, it is a simple one pot meal. If you try it, let us know what you think.

What have you been cooking lately to flavor up your meals? Does your family like exotic/international fare? Please share.


Cuban-Style Picadillo

Moderately adapted from Cooks Illustrated, May-June 2013

1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef

1 pound ground pork

½ tsp baking soda

2 Tbsp water

1 red bell pepper, cut in chunks

1 medium onion, cut in chunks

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp Mexican oregano

1 Tbsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground cinnamon

6 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine

1- 14 oz can of Mexican tomatoes (tomatoes with jalepenos)

½ cup beef broth (or one bouillon cube with ½ cup very hot water)

½ cup raisins

3 bay leaves

½ cup pitted green olives, chopped coarse

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Salt and Pepper

  1. Gently mix the pork and beef together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix the baking soda with the water and then pour over the meat mixture. Toss to combine and set aside.

  2. Blend the pepper and onion in a food processor until chopped into very fine pieces. (If doing by hand, just cut to very small dice.) Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven and add the vegetable mixture. Stir to coat with oil and cook for a minute or so.

  3. Add the oregano, cumin and cinnamon, and continue to cook, stirring often until the vegetables are softened, 5-8 mins. It is ok if they brown a bit or stick to the bottom of the pan.

  4. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the vermouth and stir, scrapping up the browned bits which may have accumulated at the bottom of the pan. When much of the moisture has evaporated, add the tomatoes, broth, raisins and bay leaves and bring to a simmer.

  5. Reduce heat to medium and add meat mixture in 1 inch chunks. Bring up to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for about 10-12 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.

  6. Stir in the olives and cook until heated through. Add in the vinegar, stir and taste for seasonings. Remove bay leaves and served on steamed rice.



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