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Picadillo Is the Champion of Grain Bowls (& Weeknight Dinners)

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Picadillo is a jazzed up ground meat mixture common in many Latin American cuisines. In Mexico, where half of me is from, it’s made from beef or pork and often includes nuts and raisins in the mix. I make mine with ground turkey, which makes it light and not greasy; the picadillo has enough flavor to compensate for flavor-challenged turkey. It is my most often requested recipe from friends and family, so evidently I did something right. Plus, who doesn’t love ground meat?

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In Bowls of Plenty, I use the picadillo on a Chiles en Nogada Bowl, which means it’s served over poblano-infused rice topped with walnut crema (which is dairy-free and delicious, by the way) and pomegranate seeds. The picadillo takes about an hour to make

Chile en Nogada Bowl with Turkey Picadillo and Walnut Crema
Chile en Nogada Bowl with Turkey Picadillo and Walnut Crema

To take your picadillo on the road to deliciousness for the week ahead, while you’re cooking the meat, make a pot of black beans, steam some rice or quinoa, bake some potatoes, chop a head of romaine or iceberg, and thinly slice a bunch of scallions or chop a quarter of a white onion and some cilantro.

Oh, and did I mention the picadillo freezes great? If you want to double this recipe and save some for a rainy day (or if you’re feeding crowd), make it in a Dutch oven or another, high-sided pot instead of a skillet.

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Make sure to have some of these things on hand:

  • Black beans (or pinto beans, canned or homemade)
  • Russet potatoes, for baking
  • Brown rice or quinoa
  • Iceberg or romaine lettuce
  • Scallions
  • White onion
  • Cilantro
  • Refried beans
  • Eggs
  • Corn tortillas, flour tortillas, and/or tostadas
  • Sour cream
  • Shredded Jack cheese
  • Salsa
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And turn them into these easy weeknight meals:

  • A top-notch bowl. Eat it in a bowl with brown rice or quinoa, black beans, thinly sliced scallions, and sour cream. You’ve now covered the four key textural points of a great grain bowl: hot, cold, crunchy, creamy.

  • Turn it into a taco. You’ll need corn tortilla, picadillo, chopped white onion, and chopped cilantro. The end.

  • Make a tostada salad. Start with a tostada (or bake a corn tortilla until it’s crisp. Slather on some refried beans, if you’re using them, sour cream if you’re not. Spoon the picadillo on top of the slather, which acts like a mortar for the ground meat, and pile it high with shredded lettuce, salsa, and sour cream.

  • A quesadilla (because why not?). And while we’re here, South of the Border, I’ll give you an even more decadent use for picadillo: Spoon it onto a tortilla (corn is fine, but flour is really great here) covered in shredded Jack cheese, put another tortilla on top, put the whole thing in a dry skillet, and cook over medium heat until the cheese is gooey and the tortilla is crisp. That, my friends, is the quesadilla of your sueños.

  • Breakfast for dinner. Scramble half a dozen eggs; just when you think they’re done, add a few spoons full of picadillo and fold it in. Serve with sliced scallions. And, yeah, sour cream if you’re so inclined. (I am!)

  • An easy, cheesy baked potato. Spoon the picadillo on a baked potato. Top with sour cream and thinly scallions or chives.

  • Throw it in a skillet. Make a “hash” by sautéing leftover rice or quinoa in olive oil. Add frozen corn or shredded kale, sauté until warmed through, and stir in the picadillo. Good and good for you.

How would you use picadillo? Let us know in the comments.

Carolynn Carreño is a James Beard award-winning food writer whose work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Saveur, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She has co-authored many acclaimed cookbooks, including Nancy Silverton’s Mozza at Home and Pat LaFrieda’s Meat: Everything There is to Know. Carreño lives in San Diego and New York City.


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