1. Picadillo


    I confess we cheated on our kitchen the other day, and went to Malai Marke, a new Indian place on Sixth Street. Ana had an okra thing that was spicy and good. Which was a relief because okra can be terrible. It turns mushy or slimy, or is really fibrous when it’s picked too late. But this was nearly perfect. I don’t know how okra ever got called okra. in Spanish it’s quimbombó which I like to say over and over just for fun. And in French it’s gumbo, which kinda sounds related.

    I had keema pudinewala, a minced lamb dish that was pretty good, too. It reminded me of picadillo. Which when I mix with hot sauce and put over bread reminds me of Sloppy Joes. I guess everybody’s got a version of saucy meat. In fact I started adding a secret ingredient to my recipe after I’d had a North African dish that reminded me a little of picadillo. Okay. It’s cinnamon. You guessed it. The combination makes cultural and culinary sense, since picadillo probably came to Cuba via Spain, and a lot of Spanish cooking was influenced by a stint under North African mozárabes.They have a tradition of combining meat with something sweet, like raisins or apricots. And underlining it with cinnamon and sweet spices.


    Cuban Picadillo

    This is one of those things that’s best the day after, but is perfectly good the same day if you take your time.

     Start by sautéing

    •  ground beef, 1 lb.

    Drain the fat off, and set aside. This is especially important if you’re doing the low-sodium thing, because recipes usually use salt to balance out fat. If you leave all that fat there, and try to skip the salt it will taste kind of greasy.

    Now for the sofrito, the most important part of the dish, and the foundation of a lot of Cuban cooking. In the same skillet, sauté until nice and soft, but not brown:

    • olive oil, 1 Tablespoon
    • ½ red bell pepper (chopped fine)
    • 1 medium yellow onion (chopped fine)
    • 2 cloves minced garlic

    If I’m pressed for time, I chop the red pepper first, and get it started while I chop the onion, and while those two cook, I mince the garlic.

    Again, cook this sofrito as long as it needs. This is where the flavor is extracted. (And why my Cuban food is better than my mother-in-law’s.) When it’s absolutely melting, add

    • 1 teaspoon oregano
    • 1 teaspoon cumin
    • ¼  cup no salt tomato sauce like Hunt’s
    • ¼ cup water or red wine, (use real wine or water. Don’t use “cooking” wine which is full of all kinds of crap, including sodium)

    Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 or 15 minutes. If it seems a little too dry, add more liquid.

    Add the rest of the ingredients and cook uncovered 10 minutes or until the liquid is fully evaporated, but the meat is still moist.

    • 10 green olives (pitted) chopped, seriously. Count them.
    • 1 Tablespoon of capers
    • handful of raisins
    • black pepper
    • tiny pinch of cinnamon

    This is usually served with white rice, and a squeeze of

    • lemon

    For veg in the summer I do a tomato salad with a garlic vinaigrette. In the winter I do a spicy pumpkin (calabaza) that pretty much amounts to 1-inch cubes of pumpkin sauteed with an onion, some cumin seed, and hot pepper flakes.


    This picadillo has about 253 mg/Na per serving, which isn’t too bad considering it has both capers and olives.



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