"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mama Pidal's picadillo

Picadillo! Not peccadillo mind you--pee-kah-DEE-yoh! It's a dish made with ground meat and vegetables and it was a Cubano kitchen staple for me growing up. In addition to Mama Pidal's lentil soup, this was one of the first things I ever cooked for myself. In fact, I can remember cooking these two recipes together on the first weekend I ever ventured into cooking non-pasta/stir-fry food for myself.

There are variations on picadillo, of course, but this is my mother's spin on it, and I have to say that it's delicious just as it is, and VERY easy to make, so I highly recommend it! The word "picadillo" comes from the Spanish word "picar," which means to finely chop. I remember that sometimes my mother would have leftover picadillo, not quite enough to make a filling dinner for the three of us, that she would mix with cooked white rice in a casserole dish and top with slices of cheese. Then she'd bake it so the cheese would melt. YUM. Best of leftovers! This is also good as a burrito or taco filling.

Last night while waiting for Jeremy to come home, I decided to throw together a pan of picadillor for dinner. Jeremy had bought the ingredients a few days earlier, because he is a love, and had somehow managed to find quite possibly the largest green bell pepper I've ever seen. I seriously need to get a digital camera to document things like this because the thing was the size of my head. After cutting it in half and removing the seeds, I started to dice up half of it. I swear I just kept chopping and chopping, and there was still more pepper to chop. I finally ended up putting half of the thing away in the fridge and out of my sight.

I also diced one sweet onion and then minced 3 small cloves of garlic. (You can use less, but I love garlic, so I use a little extra.) I poured some olive oil into a large fry pan (use one with a lid), enough to just coat the bottom of the pan, and turned the heat up to medium high, then added my veggies when it was nice and hot. You let those cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions start to get transparent and you're about to drool because your house smells so delicious. Then you add a pound of ground lean turkey or ground lean beef. I tend to always use turkey because it's less fatty, and Jeremy bought me the natural, non-antibiotic/growth hormone Wild Harvest brand from Shaw's, which actually just LOOKED like better quality poultry than other brands of ground turkey I've used in the past. (Kudos to you, Jeremy.) Use the leanest meat you can find to prevent your dish from getting greasy---our turkey was only 7% fat. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and use a wooden spoon to break it up into little chunks (this is the "picar" element of the dish), stirring to allow the meat to cook on all sides. This will take a few minutes.

After you've cooked the meat nearly all the way, add some other seasonings, like garlic and onion salt or some adobo powder. Then add about a quarter cup of ketchup. Turns out we were nearly out of ketchup last night and the amount in the bottle just didn't look like enough. Lucky for the Tridal household, I frugally save the little single-serve ketchup packets that come with our take-out let's-eat-unhealthy-crap meals so the four we had sitting in the fridge were enough to tide us over---I knew they'd come in handy one day. (As a side note: some people use diced tomatoes, but I find that this can make the dish watery, and sometimes the taste of cooked tomatoes just doesn't do it for me, so I just stick with ketchup. If it's good enough for Mama Pidal, it's good enough for me.) Stir the ketchup in thoroughly, then add a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce (one of my favorite things about Worcestershire sauce is hearing my Cuban mother try to pronounce "Worcestershire" and just ending up saying "Worchesshersher") and two tablespoons of capers. Or, if you're not into capers, add a couple of tablespoons of chopped olives. Or, if you're REALLY adventurous, add both.

After you've stirred everything into a glorious melange and tasted to adjust your seasonings, lower the heat to very low, put the cover on the pan and let everything cook and simmer together for at least 10 minutes, no more than 20. Make sure to stir every couple of minutes so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan or burns, and discard any water that accumulates on the inside of the pan lid to prevent your dish from getting soggy. It's so good! The dish I made last night was particularly good because the turkey was just so good. I really think it makes a significant difference when you use the highest-quality meat. Jeremy has been eating this dish since we moved in together and even he agreed that this was the best pan of it I'd cooked up. Huzzah!

I just love this dish. It's easy, it's relatively hassle-free, it's delicious and filling, and if you use turkey, it's pretty healthy. It's also so versatile: you can eat it as it is, you can use it as a filling for stuffed peppers, you can mix it with rice into a casserole, you can use it to fill tacos or burritos or empanadas or meat pies. Eating it takes me back home; it was one of my favorite dinners, I never got tired of it, and I didn't mind eating the leftovers. And it makes your house smell so good! I can't recommend it enough. If you do decide to try this one, let me know what you think and if you love it as much as I do!

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