Picadillo may have Latin origins, but throughout the years, the versions of this dish have grown and have varied from country to country, region to region, and even from one family recipe to another.
Nowadays, Picadillo’s popularity has spread so widely that Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, Costa Ricans and Mexicans have developed their own, distinct ways of preparing it. In fact, the Philippines, a country in Southeast Asia also has its own version of the dish.
The traditional Mexican Picadillo recipe is quite easy to do, even for beginners. The basic recipe only requires a few ingredients: ground beef, vegetables (potatoes, peas, and carrots are the most common choices), spices (salt, pepper, onions, garlic -- and chile for those who like it spicy), and tomato sauce (either canned or prepared from scratch by pureeing tomatoes with seasonings).
From there, you can add some other spices like cilantro or cumin – or even fruits, like raisins and olives – to suit your taste.
When done right, picadillo can be very flavorful, and perfect for dinner with family and friends. It can also be transformed into various dishes once you get tired of having it the same way.
Personally, I think this is why this dish is a hit for many people: it’s very easy to tweak to accommodate your personal preferences, and it’s versatile enough to “recycle”.
Here Are Some Ways How:
Recipe 1- Vegetable Substitutions
The rich, meaty taste of picadillo makes it a perfect vessel to “smuggle” vegetables for picky kids. My aunt tried substituting potatoes with butternut squash on her Mexican picadillo recipe, and it was a hit with my 8-year old nephew! The key is to find a mild-tasting vegetable that’s starchy enough to absorb the flavor of the sauce.
To give you some inspiration, here’s Juliann Esquivel’s Mexican Picadillo with Zucchini. In this recipe, she substituted potatoes and carrots with zucchini, and used ground sausages in place of beef, making it an excellent breakfast dish the kids can enjoy.
Recipe 2- Low Fat Meat Picadillo
To those who are watching their weight, beef may not be on top your list of healthy foods to eat. It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your picadillo, though.
Instead of beef, you can use leaner meats such as pork or turkey, and just adjust the seasoning or add stocks or wine to enhance the flavor of the dish. In some coastal areas of Mexico, they even use seafood such as shellfish or tuna in place of beef.
For a sample recipe, check out All Recipe’s version of Turkey Picadillo. It used ground turkey meat and added capers into the mix to make the dish more savory.
Recipe 3- Vegan Picadillo
What’s picadillo without meat, you say? Well, it may not taste or “feel” as authentic to the palate, but it is possible to make.
If you are planning to entertain some vegan guests soon, here are several plant-based protein substitutes that you use instead of beef: tempeh, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils.
Just like when using milder-tasting meats, be sure to adjust the seasoning or add more herbs and spices to your vegan picadillo in order to retain its full flavor without the calories.
Many vegan picadillo recipes are available all over the internet, but this Vegetarian Picadillo from Slender Kitchen is the best I’ve tried so far. They used vegetarian crumbles as a meat substitute, and it was well-loved by my vegan friends when I cooked it for them.
Recipe 4- Picadillo Leftovers As Toppings Or Stuffing
As I mentioned earlier, one of the things I really love about this dish is the fact that you can use the leftovers for many different dishes.
Whenever we have picadillo leftovers at home, I make it a point to cook picadillo omelet the next day for breakfast or serve it with tacos, tortillas, nachos or polenta.
One thing I didn’t think of though was to use picadillo with pasta. I chanced upon this Pasta Picadillo recipe and mixed the previous night’s picadillo with some leftover shell pasta, and the results were great!
Another good use for picadillo leftover is as stuffing for turkey. Want to add some Latin flair to your holiday bird? Kraft has a recipe for Picadillo-Stuffed Turkey with Orange-Tamarind Sauce that will impress your family and friends on Thanks giving.
Poblano peppers can be stuffed with picadillo to make Chile Relleno if you’re tired of the usual cheese, tuna or chicken stuffing. If you want to use potatoes instead, you can cook Papas Rellenas (Stuffed Potatoes) instead.
Recipe 5- Picadillo-Filled Pastries
Picadillo can be used as a substitute for meat filling when making pastries. For a quick snack, you can use store-bought puff pastry and fill it with your leftover picadillo and bake it for 20 minutes at 425 ⁰F.
Alternatively, you can use your picadillo as filling for pot pies or empanadas.
If you are planning to serve a savory pastry dish to your next party, it’s a good idea to try this Pastelitos de Carne recipe from Cooking Channel TV. It’s a Mexican picadillo-stuffed pastry that’s lightly brushed with simple syrup and is a snack that both kids and adults will surely enjoy eating.
I’ve been browsing a lot of cooking websites, and I notice that many people argue about the “right” way to cook picadillo.
I have tried many of the recipe variations because I wanted to explore the versatility of this dish, and at the end of the day, I realized that cooking is all about putting together something that will suit your taste and being creative enough to accommodate the considerations you have to make for those who will eat the food you’re making.
Having said that, I hope you enjoyed my recipe suggestions and that you give them a try. Let me know what you think of them in the comments. I’d also love to hear if you have a version of your own that you want to share!