Last Friday night, I ate at one of my favorite restaurants in KC, El Porton Cafe. I wrote a review of the restaurant in my Gluten Free Restaurant guide. They serve South American and Caribbean food. There are even some pretty authentic Cuban items on the menu, which I was very excited to discover. I haven’t had decent Cuban food since I left Florida when I was 13.
My grandma’s next door neighbors and close friends were from Cuba, and I loved spending time in their home. They were always cooking something that smelled and tasted amazing. One thing I loved watching them cook was tostones. They are plantains that cooked when underripe, when the peel is still very green. They are sliced, fried, then smooshed and fried again until crisp. Mmm! My favorite thing! I haven’t had tostones since leaving Miami until I went to El Porton. Talk about nostalgia!
But I digress. On my last visit to El Porton, I ordered a dish called “picadillo”. I had never had this dish before, but the description sold me. It is a ground beef dish made with capers, olives, and tomato sauce. It sounded heavenly, and it tasted even better than I’d imagined. I could still taste it when I left the restaurant, and I craved it all the next day. I vowed to learn how to make it for myself.
Fast forward to Sunday. I was doing my usual dig through the pantry to figure out what I’d be making for dinner. I did it early this time, ’cause I knew I wanted to use my slow cooker. I saw the jar of That Pickle Guy Olive Muffalata that I had bought from Costco a month or so ago, having no idea how or when I was going to use it, and it hit me. I could totally cheat, and make a version of picadillo with the muffalata. And so I did.
I knew I wanted to use the crock pot, so I didn’t bother to look up a recipe. Besides, I had the flavors so fresh in my mind that I felt like I didn’t need to. I was determined to bring it straight from my imagination to the table, and that’s exactly what I did. And it was fabulous. I love it when that happens! Jeff said he liked it better than the one we had at the restaurant, and the kids, who do not like olives, ate every last bit!
The Cheater’s Picadillo
1 lb lean ground beef (you won’t be draining it, so lean is important!)
1 cup store bought (or homemade) olive muffalata, mostly drained
6 oz can (or tube) of tomato paste
1.5 cups of water
1 med-large onion
3 large cloves of garlic
2 tsp capers (optional–I didn’t have any, but if I did, I would have added them)
******Update 6/16: I just made it again with the capers. Omg, so good. I can’t recommend it more!******
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder (my absolute favorite is the Penzey’s Chili 3,000)
A pinch (about a 1/4 tsp) dried oregano (optional)
1. Into a food processor, combine the ground beef, muffalata, tomato paste, and water. Process until smooth and fully combined. Yes, it will look like slop, but that’s okay! It’s what we’re going for. It’s how you get that soft, finely crumbled texture.
2. Dice onion and garlic. Add to food processor along with capers (if using). Pulse until combined.
3. Dump the contents of the food processor into your slow cooker.** Cook on high for 3-3.5 hours.
4. Add ground cumin and chili powder to the slow cooker, mix well, and cook on low for another 30 minutes while you get the table and sides prepared.
Serve over rice. Black beans complement it fabulously (both in the restaurant and at home), so I highly recommend serving them on the side.
**Note: If you’ve read my other recipes, you already know that I use different sizes of slow cookers to fit the job. For this recipe, I used a 4 qt slow cooker. If you use a bigger slow cooker, you will either need to double the recipe, or adjust the cook time. It will cook faster in a bigger crock. You may also cook it on the stove. I’d bring it to a light boil, then let it simmer on low to med-low for about an hour to an hour and a half.
I plan to make this all the time from now on. It was so satisfying! I’ll probably double or even triple it, and freeze some next time I make it. I think it will freeze beautifully.
If you make it, you’ve got to let me know how it turned out for you. And if you grew up eating an authentic picadillo, please don’t be mad at me!