Don't Serve Picadillo Without These Side Dishes

While picadillo may be, as The New York Times calls it, the "ultimate Cuban comfort food," it's actually found throughout Latin America and even in the Philippines. California-based food blog Carslbad Cravings notes that the word picadillo is Spanish for "all chopped up," so basically it equates to the English term hash.

Picadillo recipes differ just a bit from country to country, though most are based around ground or chopped meat and veggies simmered in tomato sauce. Most versions also seem to contain an ingredient that many of us might find rather off-putting: raisins. Unlike raisins in cookies and breads, however, the raisins in picadillo are an important, yet unobtrusive, part of the dish, adding a little sweetness that nicely offsets all that umami from the meat. Plus, with all that other stuff in there, they're pretty hard to notice, therefore safe to eat (kind of like the "safe trayf" concept that allows some Orthodox Jews to wink at pork in an egg roll). If you just can't stomach the thought of raisins, however, or simply don't have any on hand, Carslbad Cravings suggests using a dab of honey instead. Once you've taken the trouble (and it's really not all that much trouble) to cook up a pot of picadillo, now comes that all-important question: Which side dishes should I serve with it?

Cuban sides for picadillo

The short answer is: just about anything. A more in-depth investigation, however, reveals that typical side dishes, as with the recipes, vary from region to region and cook to cook.

If you are sticking with a traditional Cuban-style picadillo recipe, one that the Times says should include olives (they recommend the pimiento-stuffed green kind) and maybe even capers, you may want to keep to traditional Cuban side dishes, as well. Rice is the most typical side to accompany picadillo, although many Cuban cooks (and Puerto Rican cooks, as well) also prefer to fry up some chopped potatoes and sprinkle them on top as a kind of garnish/side dish combo. The potatoes, however, do not replace the rice, but rather make for a second helping of starch.

Moving beyond plain old rice and potatoes, Cuban Recipes suggests a dish of fresh corn fritters makes the perfect meal accompaniment, as might the classically Cuban fufú de plátano, or mashed plantains. Platanos en tentación is another plantain-based dish (the name translates to temptation plantains), one that, while sweet, is eaten as a vegetable rather than a dessert. Beans and rice is also a popular Cuban veggie dish, one that can be made with either red or black beans. Okra and even yucca root round out our list of common Cuban side dishes.

Picadillo served Mexican-style

While some picadillo purists sneer at the idea of Mexican picadillo — one Chowhound user said "i object to [the] trend to "mexicanize" authentic cuisines from spain and other iberian-derived cultures" – Delicious History notes that a version of picadillo was served to the emperor of Mexico in 1821.

For a Mexican-style picadillo, rice on the side would be just fine, as would rice and beans, but you may also feel free to serve it alongside tortillas, either corn or flour. Corn is always a welcome side dish, and who would say no to elote, either on the cob or en vaso? Mexican-style picadillo can also be used as a filling for empanadas, enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, tortas, burritos, or burrito bowls, or you could even use it as a topping for nachos.

If you're not afraid to go a-wandering into uncharted foodways, your options open up exponentially. Picadillo on pasta: Why not?

Freestyle or fusion picadillo

In fact, Running to the Kitchen has a recipe for vegan picadillo which they suggest serving atop cauliflower rice or zoodles, though you could use those as sides for a meat-based version, too, if you're on a low-carb diet. Or you could serve your picadillo either alongside a nice salad or incorporated into one a la taco salad.

If you want to do a southwestern spin on picadillo, you could serve it with a side of cornbread, or go southern with black-eyed peas. Eggs are a nice accompaniment, as well –- maybe put some picadillo on a tortilla and top with a fried egg for picadillo huevos rancherosPotatoes USA (the nation's potato marketing and research organization) would like you to know that crispy potato wedges are their idea of the perfect picadillo accompaniment, though they probably wouldn't mind if you went with fries instead. The National Dairy Council, had they thought of it, might have pointed out that you can always sprinkle your picadillo with grated cheese, untraditional though it may be.

It's your picadillo; eat it any way you like. Our suggestions are merely a jumping-off point for your own imagination, after all. Though if what you come up with is picadillo-stuffed deep fried Twinkies on a stick, we're not entirely sure the world is ready for that.