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plate showing picadillo and rice

What is a picadillo? Exploring the mouthwatering Latino dish

There are (almost) as many variations of this traditional dish as there are cocineros in Latin America.

For me, there’s nothing more comforting than a plate of homemade picadillo.

Whenever I have this dish, I’m suddenly transported to Sundays at my abuelita’s house, eating picadillo and rice along with handmade tortillas. Or to those days when my parents would take me to eat tostadas de picadillo and tinga at the Mercado de Coyoacán. That distinctive blend of savory and tangy sure lives long in the memory.

For those who grew up with it, picadillo is a classic comfort food that works just as well in fresh flour tortillas as it does in fried-corn tortillas. Or, if you prefer, served over some cilantro lime rice.

But exactly what is picadillo? In short, it is a traditional Latin American dish. The Mexican version is made with ground meat – typically beef – and a variety of vegetables and spices, but in Costa Rica, most are vegetarian.

The ingredients are usually cooked in a tomato-based sauce, before being served with rice, beans, or other side dishes.

The name comes from the Spanish “picar”, which means “to mince” and it is believed to have been inspired by traditional Andalusian hors d'oeuvres or entremeses. These were made by combining meat, minced veggies, garlic, sweet chile, and coriander. However, the exact origin of the dish is unclear.

Its popularity, like tamales, stems from its convenience, delicious flavors, and versatility. However, (also like tamales), this means it has been adapted over the years to suit the palates of different countries.

Indeed, pretty much everyone in Latin America has their own way of making it and, for that reason, no two kinds of picadillo are the same.

Although they all use similar ingredients, (such as ground meat, raisins, olives, potatoes, and chayote), each country has its distinctive version of this dish. Here are some of the mouthwatering variations you will find in Latino households.

The picadillo mexicano

Bursting with depth and flavor, the Mexican picadillo is comida mexicana at its authentic best.

It is typically made with ground beef or pork, carrots, potatoes, and peas and cooked for hours on end with a sauce consisting of tomatoes, garlic, and onion and seasoned with salt, pepper, and cumin.

Some home cooks like to incorporate chile powder and green chiles, making the Mexican picadillo somewhat spicier and richer in flavor.

In Mexico, picadillo is a traditional dish that can be enjoyed on its own or with some Mexican red rice. It’s also common to find this dish on countless other antojitos, such as tacos, tostadas preparadas, and chiles en nogada.

picadillo de chayote

The picadillo de chayote

Picadillo de chayote is a traditional Tico recipe that combines chayotes – one of the healthiest foods in the world – with traditional Costa Rican sofrito, spices, and cream. It is often served as a side dish to the Costa Rican casado.

Chayotes are a pale green member of the squash family that are rich in vitamin C and folate. However, as well as being super healthy, their beauty lies in their ability to take on the flavors of the spices used to make picadillo. (It’s also used as a popular ingredient in Costa Rica’s national soup!)

Chayotes can be found year-round in local grocery stores and fruit markets, and they really make the picadillo dish stand out.

The carne molida picadillo

Dominicans like to pay homage to picadillo by giving it a simple, respectful, and no-nonsense name: carne molida.

Like other types of picadillo, it has (as the name suggests) a ground meat base, which Dominicans also use in other dishes, such as lasagnas, kipes (meatballs that are reminiscent of the Lebanese kibbeh), and empanadas.

The picadillo dominicano is typically made with peppers, onion, ground beef, cilantro, garlic, and tomato paste and can also include capers, raisins, and hard-boiled eggs. And it sure evokes some memories.

“I love, love, love this dish and it’s one that I grew up eating,” says popular Latina food blogger, Chef Zee. “I grew up in a house where money was tight and having carne molida was a special treat.

“It meant that my grandmother splurged to feed the family and trust me when I tell you that this dish never went to waste! It’s funny to think of ground beef as a family treat but you don’t have much, meats like ground beef are special.”

The picadillo de papaya verde

Green papaya picadillo is another traditional Costa Rican dish. It is usually made with green or unripe papaya, onion, celery, achiote, hot peppers, salt, thyme, and – of course – ground meat, either beef or pork.

The papaya is peeled, diced, and placed in a mixture of water, baking soda, and salt. Then, it is smashed and added to a pot with all the other ingredients. The picadillo is left to simmer for a couple of hours. It’s best enjoyed warm, with rice and tortillas.

Picadillos can be made in a variety of ways. But while its ingredients may vary depending on the region or cultural background of those preparing it, eating picadillos with family and friends is almost always a time to relax, unwind, and enjoy great food.

Enjoying home-cooked meals with loved ones are among the most cherished memories for all Latinos.

But it’s also important that the ingredients we put into those meals don’t cause harm to those who grow them.

At Mayorga Coffee, we work directly with organic coffee farmers to ensure that the beans we buy are not only good for the farmers’ land, but also good for our bodies.

Check out our range of organic coffees today.

Astrid Longi

Astrid is a freelance writer based in Mexico. She has written for a number of high-profile publications, including El Heraldo de México, and began writing for Orgullo Latino in 2022. Her areas of expertise include Latino food and culture.

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