If you’re looking for a cuisine that’s easily customized to fit your Paleo diet, as well as gluten and dairy free diets, Puerto Rican food is a great place to start. The cuisine traditionally relies mostly on meat, healthy fats, some vegetables, white rice (if you can tolerate it) and a generous helping of starchy tubers, vegetables and fruits such as plantain, yucca (cassava), breadfruit, yams, and taro that provide “base carbohydrates” for those of you who are avoiding grains and/or gluten. It’s hearty comfort food for sure! Admittedly, my favorite Puerto Rican dishes are time intensive, so I’m on a quest to add easier dishes to my repertoire and find simpler ways to infuse Puerto Rican flavor into my diet. But if you want to impress your guests or bring a soulful, slap-your-Abuela-twice dish to an event or holiday dinner, I recommend finding some solid recipes for the following!
-Mofongo (what I consider to be the national Puerto Rican dish)–fried and mashed plantains with garlic, olive oil, chicken broth and pork rinds, generally topped with some kind of delicious meat or seafood.
-Pastelon–a lasagna made with sweet plantains instead of pasta.
-Arroz con pollo–chicken and yellow rice cooked that my grandmother cooked with all the love her heart could muster.
-Pernil–pork shoulder that should be marinated to the high heavens and roasted
Those are fantastic places to start. I know that the Domestic Man, has posted a recipe for mofongo on his site and Paleo Mom has a recipe for pastelon. I haven’t tried either of their recipes, but if you’re curious to try out paleo-friendly recipes, I’d start there! If you want a legit, classic Puerto Rican cookbook with recipes for the aforementioned dishes, I recommend ordering this one. Anyhow, here’s my recipe for an easy dish that I consider to be my take on Puerto Rican carne molida (or picadillo, as it’s more popularly known). I’ve adapted it from a Puerto Rican beef recipe from Sarah Fragosa’s Everyday Paleo cookbook and combined it with elements from a dish I once watched my roommate cook up in our kitchen. Coincidentally, the Domestic Man posted a recipe for Cuban-style picadillo earlier today, which I’m sure is delicious if you want to check it out, too! My “Puerto Rican beef”, as I usually call it, has become a staple dish in our home the past few years, and it’s my go-to dish when I want to bring a family a meal right after they’ve had a baby and need a helping hand. It’s always been a hit! And having leftovers is highly recommended, because it’s one of those dishes that only gets better the following day.
Puerto Rican-style Picadillo
(Serves 6 people)
-2 lbs. ground beef (I wouldn’t go too lean with this. The fat gives it flavor!)
-1 large onion, chopped
-2 green peppers, chopped
-6 tablespoons of tomato paste (about a 5 oz. can)
-1/3 cup of water
-1.5 teaspoons of oregano
-At least 2 teaspoons of cumin. Add some more toward the end of cooking to taste. I like this dish to be bursting with flavor.
-1/2 cup of pimento olives
-4 tablespoons of capers
-3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
-2 tablespoons of lard or olive oil
-Chopped cilantro for garnish
-Optional: roasted red peppers for garnish
-Celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink salt and pepper, to taste (but I suggest being generous here!)
- Briefly heat pastured lard, olive oil or other healthy fat in a large saute pan over medium heat.
- Saute onions for several minutes, then add peppers and herbs/spices and saute for a few minutes.
- Add olives, garlic and capers and saute for another couple of minutes.
- Add tomato paste and water and cover.
- Meanwhile, in a separate pan, saute beef and break the meat into small chunks until browned. Once it’s cooked to your desired level, add the beef to the vegetable sauce, mix, and serve over white rice, cauliflower rice, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes.