Cuban Picadillo

This flavor-packed sauté of ground beef, olives, capers, and spices is on the table in 30 minutes.

  • Serves


  • Cook

    30 minutes


By Sandra A. Gutierrez

Published on February 29, 2024

This is a Cuban-inspired picadillo that features the grassy flavor of cumin, brininess from salty olives, and a touch of piquancy from capers. Picadillo literally means “minced,” and ever since the Spanish colonizers arrived with recipes for ground beef dishes, Latin Americans have been adapting them to suit each country’s culinary traditions. There are so many versions of picadillos in Latin America that it’s hard to keep them straight. In Chile and in Argentina, they include hard-boiled eggs; in Guatemala, they include carrots; in Costa Rica, you’ll find them with potatoes, chayotes, and green beans. I developed this recipe (which tastes even better the next day) for my daughter Nikki so she could make it for her Cuban husband, who especially loves it ladled over fufú de plátano (banana fufu). I based it on several traditional Cuban recipes I inherited from my grandmother’s old recipe collections.


  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • ½ cup finely chopped red or green bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1½ lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, finely chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. drained capers
  • 1½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. fine salt, or to taste
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 20–25 pitted manzanilla olives (regular or pimento-stuffed)


Step 1

To a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add the oil. When it’s hot and shimmering, add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3–5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds. Add the beef and cook, stirring to break up any large chunks, until it’s no longer pink, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, capers, cumin, salt, black pepper, and olives. Cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have melded, 10–12 minutes. Serve hot or warm.   

Variation: To make Cuban empanadas, place 1–2 tablespoons of chilled picadillo in the center of a store-bought empanada wrapper (find them in the frozen section of any Latin grocery store), then bake or fry them according to the directions on the package. 

Excerpted from LATINÍSIMO: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries in Latin America. Copyright © 2023 by Sandra A. Gutierrez. Photography Copyright © 2023 by Keven Miyazaki. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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