Cuban Picadillo

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Picadillo is a classic dish each Cuban holds dear to their heart. Everyone proudly proclaims that their mami’s, tia’s, or abuela’s picadillo is the very best, and they’re all right of course. Cuban picadillo has a multitude of delicious variations, and the one that follows is my mom’s. We grew up eating picadillo a whole lot. It was a weekly staple and a dish my mom could whip up in no time. Picadillo makes me nostalgic for the scents of my childhood- simmering ground beef with sofrito, cumin, and oregano that would fill the entire house and make my mouth water.

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My mom’s picadillo calls for plenty of sliced green olives and plump raisins- the combination of sweet and salty with savory sofrito is sinful. I always aim to make a “perfect bite” with each element present in every spoonful. Picadillo with rice (and platanos maduros!!) is comfort food at its finest- simple and traditional. Whether you’re Cuban or not, you will find yourself craving this Cuban classic time and time again.

Cuban Picadillo with Rice (Picadillo con Arroz Blanco)

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 lb lean ground beef (or ground turkey or a combination of beef and pork)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 minced garlic cloves
  • Generous splash Mojo Criollo or water
  • 2 Bay leaves (laurel)
  • ½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp sazón completa
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • ⅓ cup sliced green olives (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup raisins (or to taste)
  • White or Brown rice for 4 cooked as instructed (do not use jasmine rice)

Prep white or brown rice for four- it will be ready by the time you are done with the picadillo. Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Cook the onions first until soft and translucent. At this point add the minced garlic. Garlic cooks much faster than onions so add it when the onions are nearly finished.

picadillo-ingredients browned-beef

Next add the ground beef to the pan- I turn up the heat to 6-7 during this part to really brown the beef. I stir occasionally and ‘chop’ up the ground beef with my slotted spoon. Sprinkle the browned beef with the salt, pepper, cumin, and sazón completa and incorporate. Add the tomato sauce, bay leaves, and the oregano to taste. Turn the heat down to 2-3 and let the stew simmer for about 5 minutes. Now stir in the olives and raisins; add the generous splash of mojo criollo or water. I have also added more tomato sauce depending on my mood. Simmer for another 5 minutes or until the liquid has cooked off and a rich thick stew remains.

small-bowl-of-picadillo

Serve over white rice with fried sweet plantains (platanos maduros), fresh banana, or crumbled up mariquitas. Enjoy with iron beer, materva, or jupiña.

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Cuban Red Beans

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Cuban-style red beans or frijoles rojos is a traditional Cuban recipe that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and all-around comfort food. My good friend Maria is known for making fantastic Cuban red beans so I asked her to teach me how to make her tried and true recipe. It is important to me to learn and document the traditional Cuban recipes I grew up eating, so that these recipes can be passed on down to future generations. I never got to learn how to make my abuela’s red beans, but I know Maria’s mother taught her all the classics.

Cooking with friends is fun, but blogging with friends isn’t the easiest. Normally we would just cook and go with the flow, but blogging adds another dimension of patience and pictures- lots and lots of pictures. Maria was kind enough to be very patient through all my picture and note-taking, but I had to make sure I got her amazing Cuban red bean recipe just right!

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Like many classic Cuban dishes, the base of the red bean soup is a delicious sofrito made of green peppers, onion, and garlic with added tomato paste. Large chunks of pumpkin or Calabaza naturally sweeten the dish and add buttery creaminess while the sliced chorizo gives a little spice and fatty richness to the red beans.

We used a pressure cooker to make the red beans. I must admit I have always been intimidated of using this daunting kitchen device, scared off with stories of exploding pressure cookers and food blunders, but my friend Maria wielded the pressure cooker like a real pro. My abuela was fearless of the pressure cooker too, and she used hers daily. Like my abuela, Maria’s ear was attuned to the various hissing and whistles of the pressure cooker and needed no timer to get the Cuban red beans just right.

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The red beans served over Jasmine rice were amazing! The calabaza was incredibly soft and fork tender- even the skin was supple enough to eat and added lovely bite and texture. The red beans were creamy, gently spiced with the rich chorizo, and the whole apartment smelled of comforting Cuban flavors that remind me of home.

plated-dish  frijoles-rojos

 Maria’s Cuban Red Beans

3 cups of large red beans
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
1 green bell pepper
Olive Oil to sauté the sofrito
½ cooking pumpkin (calabaza) cut into large chunks, seeds removed, skin on
3-4 chorizo links, skin removed, sliced
1 onion diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
¾- 1 cup of water (to add to sofrito)
1 packet Goya Seasoning con Culantro y Achiote
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Put the red beans in the pressure cooker with 10 cups of water and half of the green pepper. Lock the pressure cooker and put the burner on high. Once you start to hear the pressure cooker hiss, cook for 10-15 minutes. This initial step will soften and begin to cook the beans. During this step prep all of your veggies, the pumpkin, and chorizo for the red beans.

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Remove the pressure cooker from the heat, and let out the steam or pressure slowly. The pressure cooker might have too much pressure so do this step cautiously. Maria placed the pressure cooker entirely in the sink during this step until it released enough pressure to be opened. The green pepper was totally softened and added to the savory aroma.

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Once the pressure has decreased- after 15 minutes or so- it is safe to unlock the lid of the pressure cooker.  Place the pressure cooker back on the burner with the heat on high uncovered. We tossed in the chunks of calabaza and chorizo to the cooking red beans.

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While the red beans are cooking with the pumpkin and chorizo, heat the oil in the pan and add the garlic first. Yes I know, this seemed backwards to me, and I insisted that peppers and onions take longer to cook than garlic. Maria rolled her eyes at me and swore up and down that the garlic gets added first. I obliged her and the garlic turned golden and perfumed the air. We let it cook for only 30 seconds to a minute, lowered the heat, and added the peppers and onions. They softened right up and I have to admit- she was right. The sofrito was perfect.

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Next we added the tomato paste in large dollops and mixed with the softened peppers, garlic, and onions. This cooked for just a moment before adding around a cup of water to make a saucy sofrito base for the red beans. Stir in the packet of Goya seasoning. Once the sofiro was ready we poured it into the red bean soup, added the salt, red pepper flakes, and cracked black pepper, and then put the lid back on the pressure cooker and locked it shut.

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After the pressure cooker was howling for 15-20 minutes the red beans were nearly ready to pour over white Jasmine rice. Once again allow the pressure to decrease and let the steam out before unlocking and opening the lid. At this point, if you want a thicker dish you can put the pressure cooker back on the burner (lid off) to boil off some of the water, and add more salt if you like.

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Serve Cuban red beans as a side over white Jasmine rice with your choice of protein or as a soup with the rice. Buen provecho!

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Garbanzo Frito

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Garbanzo frito is delicious Cuban hash served as a side, over white rice, or for breakfast with fried eggs on top. As a die-hard fan of breakfast, I prefer to eat my garbanzo frito with fried eggs on top with a steaming up of café con leche. This is my abuela’s recipe and my abuelo loved his garbanzo frito. This is one of the many recipes I made with my abuela on the weekends at her house on Biscayne Boulevard.

ingredients peppers

I miss my abuelos deeply, and it makes me really happy to make my abuela’s recipes while listening to the Buena Vista Social Club station on Pandora. Classics like “Candela”, “El Cuarto de Tula”, “Chan Chan”, and “Vamanos Pa’l Monte” come on the station making me nostalgic as I dance in the kitchen chopping up veggies for the garbanzo frito.

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The base of this recipe is a Cuban sofrito (I like to say this is the Cuban mire poix). Sofrito is a sauté of green and red bell peppers with onion, garlic, and a little tomato sauce. This is a basis for lots of Cuban recipes besides garbanzo frito like fricassee de pollo and black beans. Garbanzo frito is a homey delicious hash that is my kinda soul food. Other versions are much saucier with considerably more tomato sauce or lots of oil. My abuela’s recipe for garbanzo frito is just right and a wonderful Cuban classic to have in your arsenal!

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Garbanzo Frito

 2-3 tbs olive oil
1 med onion diced
1 med green pepper diced
1 small red pepper diced
3 cloves garlic minced
2 chorizo links, casing removed, and diced
1 cup ham diced
4 ounces no-salt added tomato sauce (optional)
2 cans garbanzo beans (or 1 large can)

The first thing you should do is rinse and drain the garbanzo beans so they can dry. You don’t want to add wet garbanzo beans to the pan which would cause the whole recipe to steam instead of sauté. Set the garbanzos aside and chop your sofrito base of red and green bell peppers, onion, and garlic. Smash the garlic with the flat side of your knife to easily pop the cloves out of their peel.

horizontal-drained-garbanzo Remove-chroizo-casing

Prepping and doing your chopping in advance is best to make this recipe go by quickly. Heat oil in pan on medium heat and add the onions and peppers. Cook till onions are translucent and a bit golden. I allowed the sofrito to cook for 10 minutes or so before adding the garlic. I like to make a little space between the veggies for the garlic and allow it to cook for 1-2 minutes before mixing in. The kitchen will start to smell like a Cuban household filled with the aroma of sofrito in the air.

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While these are cooking you should peel the 2 chorizo links and dice. I bought pre-diced ham to save a step. Do NOT buy smoked ham; it will totally alter the flavor of the dish. Add the chorizo and ham, stir well and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the drained garbanzo beans. Let this cook for 8-10 minutes so the garbanzo beans can brown and mix nicely with the other ingredients.

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I might’ve let this go a little longer, stirring every few minutes to get all of the garbanzos a little browned. When nearly done add 4 ounces of tomato sauce (this step is optional, some prefer no sauce while others make this with lots of sauce). I used no-salt added tomato sauce since the ham and chorizo are naturally salty. Do not add any salt or pepper to this recipe, it doesn’t need it and you will risk over salting the dish.

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Mix well and allow to cook and brown a little, mixing every couple of minutes. Cook around 5 more minutes until everything the garbanzo frito deliciously blended and it starts sticking a bit to the bottom of the pan. Throughout the whole cooking process I had the burner between on half way at ‘5’. Serve the garbanzo frito over white rice, as a side dish, or with a fried egg on top for breakfast.

vertical-dish toasty-garbanzos

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