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Picadillo is a savory meat hash served in most Spanish-speaking countries. Ground meat - usually beef - is simmered in a sofrito base, seasoned with regional spices, and enhanced with a salty and sweet combination of olives, raisins, and capers. Usually served over rice, you'll also find picadillo used as a filling for empanadas, tortillas or stuffed bell peppers.

There is no "authentic" recipe for picadillo; there are too many regional variations, and most cooks have their own special combination of seasonings. My favorite Picadillo recipe is a version of the Cuban style - just use this as a guide, and feel free to substitute oregano or chili powder for the ground cumin, and almost any meat or seafood for the beef. But please add both the olives and raisins; it sounds unusual, but I think you will enjoy the combination of flavors.

Cuban-Style Piccadillo

Serve over white rice with black beans and fried, ripe plantains, or bake in a casserole between two layers of mashed potatoes for a Latin American-style Shepherd's pie (Tambor de Picadillo). For a hearty brunch dish, top the meat mixture with a fried or poached egg and serve fried potatoes on the side.

Serves 6 with generous helpings of rice and beans (or enough filling for a Tambor de Picadillo casserole).

1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium onion (peeled), medium dice
1 large green bell pepper (cored and seeded), medium dice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup (190 ml) crushed tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 Bay leaf
1 tablespoon dry Sherry
1/2 cup (90 g) sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
1/3 cup (50 g) raisins
1 tablespoon capers

1. Heat up a large skillet over medium flame. Add the ground beef, and separate into very small pieces with a metal spatula. Season with a bit of sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

2. When the meat starts to release a bit of fat, add the onions and green pepper. Cook until the meat loses its pink color; do not brown. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Drain off any remaining fat, then return skillet to flame.

3. Stir in tomatoes, cumin, bay leaf, sherry, olives, raisins and capers. Reduce flame to low, cover the skillet, and simmer for about 15 minutes. The sauce should be thick, but be sure the mixture doesn't become dry. Be sure to remove the bay leaf before serving!

Enjoy with a glass of Spanish Garnacha, a Red Stripe beer or a nice tall glass of ice tea.

1. Josefa Lluria de O'Higgins, Mari: A Taste of Old Cuba. New York, HarperCollins 1994
2. Urrutia Randelman, Mary and Schwartz, Joan: Memories of a Cuban Kitchen. New York: Wiley Publishing, 1992
3. For additional seasoning suggestions, check out the Picadillo recipe endorsed by The Three Guys from Miami.

Hat-tip to VonCube for the Red Stripe beer recommendation.

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