Picadillo: A Family Favorite

By Lee Lowry

Picadillo (or “Armadillo” as it is jokingly referred to in my household) has long been a favorite of my family. As a transplant to Tampa in the early ‘90s, I had never had picadillo until my husband’s grandmother’s served it one weekend. I loved it! It was such a strange but delicious combination of flavors: sweet and savory, salty and tomato-y. Only a town with the strong Cuban heritage that Tampa has would embrace such a seemingly odd mix.

Before I made the new version of Picadillo that appears in Capture the Coast, I couldn’t resist doing a little research on the history of the dish. The name comes from the Spanish word “picar,” meaning “to chop” or “to mince,” and it seems that many Latin American countries have their own twist on the basic ground beef recipe. In Mexico, it’s sweetened with honey, giving it a teriyaki-like taste. In Puerto Rico, it is used as the filling for empanadas and can include cheese, ham and rum-soaked raisins. In the Dominican Republic, picadillo can include hard-boiled egg and a bouillon cube.

Our family has been devotees of the Tampa Treasures version of the recipe for years. It’s rich and includes the traditional Cuban ingredients like capers, olives and raisins, as well as red wine and two ground meats: beef and pork. It also must simmer for at least an hour and serves a crowd of 8 to 10. It’s a great beach recipe when you are having guests, as it is even better the next day, and never suffers from a little extra simmering.

PicadilloThis spring, however, I was excited to try the new Capture the Coast version. I found it to be a much more streamlined and quicker recipe, but yet retained all the same flavors. It made the perfect amount for dinner for my husband, me, my ten-year-old daughter and six-year-old son.

My children actually felt this version was even better than the original, with a lighter, more sloppy joe-like taste, and without the unusual addition of capers, one of my favorite parts of the dish, but a tough sell for my son. I served it as a Tampa transplant might, in true sloppy-joe style on buns, instead of over rice with Cuban bread as suggested in the cookbook. I did present the traditional side of black beans, and added some fresh roasted asparagus for a veggie.

Delicious! A great weeknight dinner that doesn’t require much prep or simmering, but one that can instantly connect us to the rich history of our town.


  • ¾ cup chopped yellow onion
  • ¾ cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 (8-ounc) can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ tablespoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 Spanish green olives, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons raisins (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Hot cooked white rice

Sauté the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the ground beef. Cook until the ground beef is brown, stirring until crumbly. Drain the ground beef mixture and return to the skillet. Reduce the mix well. Stir in the vinegar. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Serve over hot white rice. This recipe can also be wrapped in a pastry and fried to make empanadas.

Yield: 4 servings

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