Paleo Picadillo

My grad school roommate introduced me to picadillo – a savory Tex-Mex dish of ground beef, spices, tomatoes, and potatoes. It’s delicious wrapped in a tortilla or stuffed in a chile relleno. When I bought The Joy of Cooking, I happened upon its version of the recipe, which includes raisins – what the what? We were baffled.

Now that I’m a sophisticate with access to the Wikipedia entry for picadillo, I know that the raisin-based version is native to Cuba and coastal Mexico. And I’m sure it’s delicious, but last week I had a craving for the salty goodness of the version that got me through my first years of teaching.

So I gathered the ingredients:

About a pound of ground beef, onion (I only used half), zucchini, oregano, basil, random mint because I’m trying to use up the mint taking over my herb garden, kosher salt, tomatoes, olives, and capers. (Not pictured: garlic, olive oil, tomato paste.)

Start by frazzling up the herbs and salt in the olive oil.

Paleo picadillo seasonings

Add the onion, garlic, and ground beef, and brown the beef until it’s pinkish brown.

Paleo picadillo ground beef

I substituted zucchini for the potato to make it more paleo-ish. I actually still eat potatoes once or twice a week but I figure the dish didn’t really need them as the main thing is to have something to soak up the juices from the meat, herbs, and tomatoes. I cubed the zucchini so it would give the dish a nice, chunky texture.


Then I added the zucchini, diced tomatoes, a heap of olives, a tablespoon of capers, and a can of tomato paste – because I wanted a thicker sauce. It would have been fine without the tomato paste. I also added a decent-sized splash of the brine from the capers, because I LOVE capers and I was really craving salt. But if you’re not into capers, just leave them out, and certainly don’t include the brine – it really became the dominant flavor of the dish. Which, again, was fine by me. (I also must note that this was a severe deviation from my roommate’s original recipe. But I still didn’t use raisins.)

Let it simmer for 20-30 minutes:

Paleo picadillo simmering on stovetop

And then serve. I just served it as a one-dish meal, but next time I’ll warm up some tortillas for my non-paleo family if they’d rather eat it taco-style. I put out a bowl of shredded cheese but nobody took me up on it, as the flavor of the dish was sufficiently…flavoriffic…as to preclude the need for cheese. Even my most selective little food critic consented to eat a few bites. “It’s good, but you don’t need to make it all the time,” she informed me. Which, for this child, is five stars.

I feel like if I’m going to keep up this Paleo thing, I’ve gotta get a better camera. (Also, I’m not clear on if this recipe actually qualifies as “paleo” or not, due to the salt.) But I hope you’ll try this and enjoy it! It’s a nice alternative to traditional chili, and it would freeze well. Salud!

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  1. says

    I have that recipe in Joy Of Cooking, and the raisins have always put me off. Maybe I’ll make it sometime with your recipe.

    If you’re looking for a potato substitute to soak up juices, try eggplant. It cubes up nice and firmly, and just absorbs any flavor with which it comes in contact. The kids are always skeptical, but sometimes they eat it. I love eggplant, and I never had it until I had been married several years. It’s the perfect vegetable for stretching a meal.

    • says

      Maybe it’s time for me to go up against eggplant again. I went many, many rounds with eggplant as a child due to my parents’ affection for it, but it knocked me out every time with its squishy, slimy consistency. Perhaps my palate has matured now, though. I do like baba ganoush – although I never have it – so perhaps there is hope. Stretching a meal is always a big plus.