After last weekend’s Prather Ranch shopping spree, I’ve been thinking a lot about – and cooking lots of – meat and poultry. My freezer currently houses a bewildering assortment of bacon chops, pork scallopini, whole chickens (with heads and feet!), and several packs of ground beef. Eager to make a dent in the protein backlog, I defrosted a one-pound pack of ground beef to whip up a dish that’s fallen into heavy rotation in my kitchen: picadillo.
A Cuban dish of spiced ground beef with lots of sweet and salty components, picadillo is kind of like a grown-up version of the taco filling my mom used to make with scary VONS ground beef and a packet of Lawry’s taco seasoning (sorry, Mom!). Picadillo is great with corn or flour tortillas, or over potatoes, hominy, or rice.
I’m not sure where I first heard of this one-pot wonder, but I used this recipe from Food and Wine as a jumping-off point. And then I jumped way off into the deep end with the kind of recipe adaptations to which my regular dinner guests are well accustomed.
The original recipe calls for one pound of ground chuck and another of ground sirloin. Even with a freezer full of beef and pork, I’m conscious of our household’s collective meat consumption (and of a certain someone’s obsessive In-N-Out habit), and thus substitute a couple cups of brown lentils for one pound of meat. Be mindful of the type of lentil you use, as almost any except brown or French/du Puy will fall apart and make your picadillo exceedingly mushy. In keeping with the rather drab yet oddly appetizing brown hue of this dish, I opt for brown lentils.
Even after cooking, lentils and other legumes tend to suck up any surrounding liquid. To compensate, I add a ½ cup of my favorite pourable salsa. I sometimes sneak a spoonful of this stuff straight from the jar, so it’s not surprising that I’d find a way to work it into a respectable meal. A final note: several of the components in this dish are salty, including the capers, olives, Marcona almonds, and potentially the salsa. Err on the side of under-salting at the beginning until you taste the dish after all of the ingredients have had time to settle in together.