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As I am half Cuban (on my Mom's side) I grew up enjoying traditional Cuban food. Ropa Vieja (pulled/stewed beef with vegetables), Bistec Empanizado (breaded & fried steak), Picadillo (ground beef with olives and vegetables), Emapandas (pockets of goodness), Tostones (double fried plantains), Flan (a sweet custard), Arroz con Frijoles (rice & beans) and much more were just a few of my favorites! While my mom would make these at home my Uncle Nobel actually owns an authentic Cuban restaurant, El Oriental de Cuba, in Jamaica Plain, MA. This was such a treat to visit as we got to taste just about everything on the menu. When I transitioned to a plant based lifestyle I missed out on many of the classic dishes I once enjoyed. While we still eat "arroz con frijoles" (rice & beans) very often, along with sweet plantains and cuban salads, I missed out on the flavor packed meat based dishes. After attending a session with The Culinary Nutrition Collaborative and Lourdes Castro talking about Cuban Cuisine I realized it was about time I get back to my roots and make some authentic (but plant-based) Cuban food. So I called up my mom for my favorite recipe.

My Uncle's Restaurant! *Only open for take out currently due to COVID :(

The Authentic Cuban Picadillo Recipe...

Me: Hey Mom, can you send me your traditional Picadillo recipe? I want to try and make it vegan...

Mom: Well I don't have a recipe but I can tell you how to make it if you grab a pen!

Me: Ok go


First get some ground beef...

Season with salt & pepper, garlic powder & cumin

Add some lemon juice, I don't know why by just do it.

Add some olive oil to the skillet and brown the meat...

Drain the fat then add the chopped onion (a big one), 1/2 of a red & 1/2 of a green bell pepper, diced small, oh and like 6 cloves of garlic.

Saute a little bit.

Splash of white wine if you want...

Throw in a bay leaf if you have it...

Add some quartered green olives that come in the jar with sweet red peppers (I think they are Italian or Cuban)... oh yes, “Spanish Manzanilla olives” is what they are called!

Add a handful of raisins- but plump them up in boiling water first, then drain them and add.

Season with Sazon packet or homemade mix if you have it...

Small can of tomato sauce! Not diced!

1 medium potato, chopped small. Don't add too early because then it will get mushy...

Keep it covered while its cooking to keep it juicy, you don't want to dry it out.

Let it cook down a little bit then add cilantro- 1 bunch chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

*Serve over rice

*No actual measurements were included in the call

Now she has actually made me a vegan version of this dish by using Gardein "beefless ground" a popular meat substitute and it was delicious! It taste just like I remember and the texture was perfect. However, while this is a great way to make it vegan I wanted to try my own version of a more whole food based recipe with more minimally processed ingredients. To achieve this I used a combination of tempeh and mushrooms to get that meaty base I needed. I hope you enjoy my plant-based take on a Cuban Classic!



Time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings


For the meat base:

12 oz tempeh

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp vegan Worcestershire

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 lb of Crimini mushrooms

For the rest of the recipe:

1 large onion

6 cloves of garlic

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 green bell pepper

*1/2 cup Spanish Manzanilla Olives, quartered

1/2 cup raisins

1 15oz can of tomato sauce

1 medium or 2 small potatoes

1/2 cup of white wine

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup vegetable broth or stock

1/2 lemon's juice

*1 packet of Sazon

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tbsp of maple syrup

1 small handful of cilantro, chopped + some for garnish

*These ingredients can most likely be found at a hispanic foods store.

*If you cannot find the olives listed here regular green pitted olives will work for this recipe, just add a sweet roasted pepper to recipe as well as that would be inside of the olives.

*If you cannot find the Sazon seasoning packets then you can make your own by following a recipe like this.


Start by adding the mushrooms to a food processor and pulse till you achieve a minced texture. Don't pulse too much otherwise you will just get mush! Next add those to a large pan and begin to saute on medium heat until most of the liquid is released using a tbsp of vegetable broth to deglaze the pan when necessary.

Add the tempeh to the food processor and pulse till you get uniform crumbles (or you can do this by hand). Add these crumbles to a bowl with the other ingredients for the "meat base" minus the mushrooms, stir to combine and let marinate for 5-10 minutes. Then add to the pan with the mushrooms. This is now your meat base!

Season with salt & pepper, garlic powder, cumin, and lemon juice.

In a separate bowl add 1 cup of boiling water to cover your raisins so that they plump up. Leave for about 15 minutes then drain.

Add the onion and bell peppers, using vegetable broth to deglaze the pan when necessary. Then add the garlic, bay leaf, and white wine. Stirring every few minutes. Cook till onion and peppers are lightly softened

Add the olives, potato, and Sazon, stir till everything is well combined. 2 minutes.

Add the tomato sauce and let simmer on low heat for 15 minutes, covered to keep the juices. Add the raisins, cilantro, and maple syrup. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.

Salt to taste.

Serve with rice and sweet plantains or tostones!

Enjoy :)


To make the Tostones take a green or lightly yellow plantain and cut into 1 inch pieces. Fry in about 1/8 inch of oil, flip after a minute or remove from oil when both sides are golden brown. Pat dry with a paper towel. Let cook for a minute, then place between two sheets of parchement paper and squish flat with the bottom of a cup or pan until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Then place back in the hot oil, fry on both sides again until golden, pat dry with a paper towel, salt immediately, enjoy!


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A food and nutrition expert who can work in a wide variety of employment settings, including health care, business and industry, community/public health, education, research, government agencies and private practice. RDNs are accredited health professionals that must meet state and government regulations to maintain their credential in addition to completing continuing education. RDNs can practice something called Medical Nutrition Therapy to improve the health of those who suffer from chronic diseases. 

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