I grew up in a never-finished house. On the outside, it was your picture perfect image of an Irish stone cottage, going to seed a little, walls of brown and grey mottled granite, windows trimmed in brick. Two lazy ash trees drooped over a slate roof with occasional tile ajar, gutters groaning with sodden leaves. Inside it was all bare bulbs, concrete floors, piled boxes of possessions that had never quite found their place, rooms that had never quite become anything. For all its rough edges, and dangling wires, it was warm home, not always in temperature, but in spirit, and the kitchen was its nexus.
The kitchen was one of the few rooms privileged to be ‘finished’, though even it seemed to almost always have some issue - a leak in the roof, a broken hinge on the dishwasher, trim falling off the kitchen units. It was a busy room because we all gravitated to spending time there. Reading, chatting and, it being Ireland, tea-making were ever popular activities. The dining table played host to someone’s pet project of the day, everything from leatherwork to lawn mower maintenance.
There was always a giant pot of something simmering on the stovetop: Tomato sauce with meatballs, chicken soup, yellow curry… and sometimes my personal favourite, picadillo, a sweet fragrant Latin American stew of meat and tomatoes. By dinner time on picadillo nights, our home was infused with smells of cinnamon, cumin and garlic, and I was quaking with anticipation, half-full on stolen spoonfuls.
Time to eat! The picadillo pot took pride of place, surrounded by dishes of flavoured rice, spicy chicken, or refried beans speckled with sauteed red peppers and onions. Almost every other possible nook and cranny of our dining table was covered by the vast array of toppings and side dishes: guacamole, spinach, chopped tomatoes, pungent grated Irish cheddar and so much more. Hot flour tortillas emerged from the oven and we’d all dig in, piling so many things on our tortillas that they would burst at the seams when we tried to eat them, leaving our fingers sticky with the sweet umami taste of picadillo.
Adapted from Better Home and Gardens: Mexican Cook Book, published in 1977.
Picadillo is a Latin American meat dish. This version is a subtly sweet variation with nuts, apples and raisins. It's excellent as a tortilla or taco filling or served over plain or flavoured rice. I like to accompany it with a combination of toppings such as chopped tomatoes, grated cheese, spinach, lettuce, home-made guacamole, chopped red onion, hot sauce, yoghurt or sour cream.
- 1 pound (450 g) lean minced beef or pork
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 - 3 cloves garlic
- 500 g (18 oz) passata (tomato puree)
- 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and chopped
- ½ cup raisins
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- ¼ cup chopped parsley (optional)
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- ⅛ tsp ground pepper
- Olive oil
- In a medium-sized pot over a medium heat, fry the onions and garlic in a little olive oil. When the onions begin to turn translucent, add the beef and cook until brown. At this stage, if necessary, pour away any excess fat. Stir in all the remaining ingredients. Cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Serve over rice, or as a tortilla or taco filling.
For a delicious vegetarian (and vegan) version of this dish, simply replace the meat with 1 pound of cooked red kidney beans (or another bean of your choice).