Picadillo - What is it and how do you make it?

Food & Cuisine

Picadillo de papas in Costa RicaDo you know what Picadillo is? If you have been to Costa Rica, I am sure you may have had it and did not even know. I don’t know about you, but I am a fan of multiple-ingredient dishes. Therefore, I am a huge fan of a common Costa Rica dish called Picadillo

Picadillo de papas as part of a CasadoPicadillo comes from the verb picar or to chop. Adding the suffix -illo means small, so picadillo means something chopped into small pieces. Picadillo refers to several dishes that are prepared by chopping up a vegetable and sautéing it with things like garlic, onions, peppers, or cilantro. It is often served as a side dish with a Casado–the typical “Blue Plate Special” in Costa Rica consisting of a portion of meat, rice, beans, and ripe plantain. A portion of this tasty dish served on a tortilla is called a boca, which is a small snack or appetizer served in a bar-type restaurant.

PicadilloThere are many delicious picadillos you can order in a restaurant or prepare for yourself at home. To prepare the dish, always start with sautéing a bit of the aforementioned minced garlic, onion, sweet pepper, and achiote for color. Other spices such as cumin, oregano, or even curry, can vary the flavor, although that is up to the individual chef. The vegetables are usually boiled until al dente and then diced. Chopped cilantro can be added at the end of the cooking time for an added bright flavor.

Picadillo made from potatoes with a hot pepper and tortillasPicadillo de papa, or potato, is one the most most common. Potatoes are boiled and chopped up and then added to cooked ground beef or chorizo. It is similar to what you might know as “hash”, although it is often moister. Alternately, boiled yuca (cassava) can be used in place of the potatoes and added to chorizo. That combination is absolutely delicious!

Picadillo de Vainica, made from green beansA lighter version is prepared with chayote, a light-green, very mild vegetable. Often canned corn is added to this dish. This picadillo, and the one that follows, includes chopped raw vegetables added to saute. A little water may be needed if the mixture becomes too dry.

Picadillo de ayote en leche is similar to the picadillo de chayote except it is made with a squash with a bright yellow interior encased in a dark green skin called ayote tierno is used. Milk or cream is added to the finished product.

One of my favorites is picadillo de arracache. Arracache is a root vegetable, a bit like celery root or a white carrot. Its distinctive flavor has been described as “a delicate blend of celery, cabbage, and roast chestnuts.” The root is roughly ground, boiled for 10-15 minutes, and all the liquid squeezed out. It is then combined with cooked chorizo or shredded meat. Yum!

Boiled green plantains can also be made into picadillo, and a very delicious version has shredded meat and cream cheese or heavy cream. It sounds strange, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

Another tasty version is made with green papaya. Once again, the papaya is chopped small and parboiled before adding it to the frying pan with the other ingredients.

And finally, there is the ubiquitous picadillo de vainica, or green beans. Green beans are chopped up small with diced carrot and prepared as described above.

Picadillos do not have to be just a side dish–they can be a complete meal by themselves or with a serving of rice. It is a tasty and satisfying way to eat a variety of vegetables, and there are so many combinations you will find it a joy to consume your daily requirement of veggies. The chopping process may be a bit labor-intensive, but once the ingredients are in the pot, all you have to do is stir.

Which picadillo would you like to prepare for lunch today?

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