by Kate Heyhoe
Before I was born, my mother took my brother on a trip to Cuba, via banana boat. I have a picture of the two of them on the boat. My mother looked oh-so-chic in her black cat's eye glasses, hair pulled back into a tight ponytail with slender calves and ankles poking out of her tapered Capri pants. My brother, who was only three at the time, wore a white short-sleeved shirt buttoned to the collar and a pale blue cap, like the ones Huey, Dewey and Louie (Donald Duck's nephews) wore. Mom and Hank were connected by a long leash, attached to a harness around his waist; a necessary device to prevent him from falling overboard, I am told. Whatever the case, this is how my mother learned to make picadillo, Cuban-style. I once served this to my Cuban friends, who all agreed it is absolutely delicious, but it's certainly not the way their mothers make it. I'm sure that's true—their mothers probably never added soy sauce. Well, picadillo really means hash, and there must be a million ways to cook hash in this world, even in Cuba. So as far as I'm concerned, this is my family's version of true Cuban-style hash, and a recipe any Cubano should be proud of.
In a Dutch oven or flame-proof casserole set over high heat, brown the meat with the soy sauce until crumbly. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions become translucent. Stir in the tomato paste, raisins, green pepper, brown sugar, salt and pepper.
Cover the casserole and bake at least 45 minutes or as long as 1 and 1/4 hours. Increase the temperature to 400 degrees. Stir the olives and almonds into the casserole and bake another 15 minutes, uncovered. The picadillo should be lightly browned on top and moist inside. This dish profits from long cooking under low heat, so if desired, you may bake it in an even lower heated oven for a longer period, or even in a crockpot. The key to finishing the dish, though, is to bake it under high heat at the end, with the almonds and green olives, so the top surface becomes brown and crisp.
Black beans, white rice and a simple green salad make this into a perfect do-ahead party meal. As mentioned above, this dish tastes better the longer the flavors are allowed to blend. You can even prepare it the day before, baking it with the almonds and olives under high heta just before serving. You will know it's done when the flavors have all melded together into one smooth taste, but the olives and almonds (which should always be added near the end to keep them from becoming too soft) are still distinctive and crunchy.
©1996-2000, Katherine Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
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