“Mmm, picadillo…mm mm mmm picadillo! Pica-pica-pica, pica-pica-dillo!” I sang happily to myself (right before my husband joined in for a refrain), as I compared ingredients from different picadillo recipes online. It’s such a cheerful, comforting food; I felt instantly happy seeing all the pictures of the different versions of the dish.

I had only learned about picadillo through my husband, whose father is originally from Cuba. He dug up his family’s recipe when we were first dating so that we could make picadillo together, and trying it for the first time was incredible. It was a big, simmering pot of beef and tomatoes with olives and spices, served with rice. We also had it with black beans, fried eggs, and toast. This was how he remembered it being made at home, though, I now see this is not required by most recipes.

Between his Cuban-born father and uncle, their own Spanish-born mother (his Grandma Tita who passed away at the ripe old age of 104 this year!), and his mother who married into this picadillo-loving family, there are bound to be a few variations between even close relatives. I assumed fried eggs and black beans were part of the picadillo tradition, yet I haven’t seen another recipe include them. I was surprised, too, to see all the recipes using raisins; I hadn’t known that was a key part! And, a version of my mother-in-law’s picadillo replaces half of the ground beef with ground turkey for slightly more heart-healthiness.

With as much authority as I can muster, being of Chicago-Polish and -Lithuanian heritage, I recommend you try this recipe for Picadillo Cubano, which involves the bunch of spices, bay leaf, wine, and long simmering time I consider important when I’m making picadillo. Or try this recipe which simmers for a shorter time but uses adobo, part of my husband’s mother’s recipe. Amongst a dozen recipes, you’ll find many common factors like olives, tomatoes, peppers, and oftentimes raisins. Try out different spices, or even wines (I’ve made some good versions simmering in red wine), and see what you like best!

And if you’re not eating meat, then this is an excellent recipe for Vegan Picadillo, which substitutes lentils for ground beef, but still packs in all the aromatic spices of a traditional picadillo (and to my delight, uses TWO bay leaves!). Or, try this other vegan recipe, which uses chickpeas and sweet potatoes to carry picadillo flavorings. These versions, while forgoing the traditional beef base of picadillo, still pack the spicy, warming, and happy tastes of the Cuban dish.

With the seasons changing, there’s no better time to make a big pot of picadillo. And if you fall in love with it the way I did, then you might welcome this recipe to make it portable, in the form of handheld pies. Get our Savory Picadillo Meat Pies recipe.

Try making it once or twice, and you may find yourself murmuring contentedly about picadillo from time-to-time. Cozy, comfy picadillo is as great for leftovers as it is for overeating in a single night!

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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