Back when I lived in New York and was craving the tastes of my childhood in Puerto Rico, I scoured the streets of Manhattan to find good Latin food. Unfortunately, the choices were quite limited – pretty ironic when you consider the enormity of the Hispanic population in New York City…
On the other hand, here in Downtown Miami there seem to be an unlimited number of small restaurants/cafeterias serving Latin food. In addition to the ubiquitous Rice & Beans, you will find dishes such as:
- Picadillo – With different versions found in Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, this ground beef dish is heartily seasoned with aromatics and spices and is served as either a main dish with rice or as a filling for empanadas and other fried specialties.
- Ropa Vieja – The Spanish term for “Old Clothes”, this dish consists of slow cooked and shredded beef that has been simmered in a tomato-based sauce. After the long cooking, the beef might resemble “Old Clothes” but it sure tastes good!
- Tostones/Patacones and Amarillos/Maduros – Two variations on plantains, one of these is always served with your meal. Tostones/Patacones are twice-fried patties seasoned with salt while Amarillos/Maduros are slices that have been fried until golden brown and sweet.
Delicious and easy to prepare, Latin food uses exciting spices to create very compelling and satisfying flavors.
Try your hand at making my Picadillo recipe below. Perfect with rice or as the filling for mini-bowls made from Tostones/Patacones (as displayed in the picture).
MAKE YOUR OWN RECIPE
Using the recipe as background on the ingredients and techniques, how might you make your own recipe? How about you:
Vary the meat?
- Beans, potatoes, butternut squash, plantain chunks, raisins, hardboiled eggs and capers would be nice additions.
Diversify the flavors?
- For Vietnamese flavors, use pork and play with ginger, scallions, lime juice, fish sauce, cilantro and mint.
- For an Italian take, replace the spices with basil and oregano and serve with pasta.
- For a Mexican version, load up on poblano peppers and cilantro.
You get the idea… Now please share your recipes!
• 2 tbsp – Olive oil
• ½ lb. – Ground beef
• Salt and pepper to taste
• ½ – Onion
• 1 – Small jalapeno or fresno chile (deseeded and deveined)
• 5 – Garlic cloves
• ½ – Carrot
• ½ – Celery stalk
• 1 tbsp – Cumin
• 1 tbsp – Paprika
• 1 tsp – Coriander
• 1 tsp – Oregano
• 2 tbsp – Fresh culantro, chopped (substitute cilantro if your market doesn’t carry)
• 3 tbsp – Tomato paste
• 3 tbsp – Apple cider vinegar
• 1 cup – Water
• 1 tsp – Sugar
• 3 tbsp – Olives stuffed with pimento, chopped
1. In a blender or food processor, pulse the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and jalapeno until minced but not pureed or liquefied
2. Add 1 tbsp of the oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat
3. Add the ground beef and a pinch of salt and pepper – cook until browned and then move the cooked meat onto a plate and set aside
4. Add another 1 tbsp of the oil to the skillet over medium-high heat
5. Add the minced vegetables with a dash of salt and pepper and the cumin, oregano, paprika, coriander and culantro – cook until softened, reduced in volume and beginning to brown
6. Add tomato paste and sugar, mix it well into the mixture and cook it through until you see more browning and then immediately add apple cider vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any caramelized bits
7. Once the majority of the vinegar has evaporated, add the water
8. Reintroduce the cooked meat to the pan along with the olives
9. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer – cook until most of the liquid evaporates and the sauce has thickened
10. Adjust seasoning to taste
11. This dish tastes even better the next day after the flavors have had time to come together so make a big batch and store portions in the refrigerator and freezer for later use.