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Beef Picadillo with Summer Squash

May 02 2013

For a quick and satisfying dinner, I have a go-to meal, a very loose adaptation of Spanish-style picadillo, improvised with foods I usually have in my kitchen. Using staple ingredients makes this recipe easy to pull together, but it’s also just pleasantly simple to prepare. I make this dish when an extra trip to the grocery store isn’t going to happen, or when I want a hearty dish but don’t feel like working too hard. Even just to peel and cut onions and garlic – there are times I’m not going to be bothered. We always keep ground grass-fed beef in the freezer for quick dishes. I omitted the tomatoes usually found in picadillo because they tend to cause some joint pain for me, but I find that the paprika and chili powder (although they are in nightshade family) are less aggravating and add a nice smokiness to the balance of flavors, including the light salt of the olives and sweetness of the raisins. Preparing the squash and the meat in one (albeit heavy) cast-iron skillet cuts back on time and energy and that only makes me love my cast-iron skillet even more.


And the key ingredient in the dish would have to be… garlic-stuffed green olives. Careful you don’t eat all of them before they make it to the skillet. Such salty goodness, perfect for Bloody Mary’s or martinis if that’s your thing. If you don’t have the garlic-stuffed green olives, slice up plain green olives and add 2 cloves of minced garlic to the skillet, or more if you love the stuff.

The summer squash is a nice seasonal accompaniment, but most any vegetable you have on hand can be prepared on the side for a complete meal. We enjoyed the picadillo over sprouted corn tortillas with a big dollop of sour cream but you can omit these to avoid any food sensitivities. You might also serve it with an even larger pile of vegetables, or for starch there’s also spouted and streamed rice, or organic blue corn chips. During my seasonal tomato binge, we paired this one-skillet meal with cool gazpacho for a Spanish-flavored supper and kept the oven off on a hot day. However you serve it, count on your trusty cast iron skillet to make it easy.


by Adrienne Lee
Skill Level Easy
Cook Time Quick < 30 min.
Serves 4
Beef Picadillo with Summer Squash

Beef Picadillo with Summer Squash

A quick and easy one-pot meal, with the Spanish flavors of smoked paprika and green olives, balanced with a tiny bit of sweetness from raisins. Most of the ingredients are easy to keep in a well-stocked kitchen. This recipe is easily adaptable to suit food-allergies and availability of ingredients.


Summer squash

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon grass-fed ghee or butter
  • 2 pounds yellow squash or zucchini, or mixture of both, roughly chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper, or to taste
  • ½ lime


  • 1 pound ground grass-fed beef
  • 6 garlic-stuffed green olives, sliced, or 6 green olives plus 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons raisins, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • ¾-1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Optional accompaniments

  • Sour cream, to dollop
  • Lime wedges
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Warm sprouted grain tortillas, blue corn chips, or rice


Heat a large cast-iron skillet with 2 tablespoons of ghee or butter over medium heat. Sauté the chopped summer squash, stirring frequently until the squash is very tender, about 8 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of ghee or butter, ¼ teaspoon of ground cumin and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl, squeeze in the juice of ½ lime and stir until well combined. Keep warm while you prepare the picadillo.

Wipe out of the skillet and turn it back on to medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the beef to the pan and break it up into small bits as you stir quickly. Mix in the remaining picadillo ingredients and cook the mixture until the beef is browned but not dry, about 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and spoon out any excess grease.

Along with the summer squash, serve the picadillo with the accompaniment of your choice.

Homeskillet Notes

  • A larger 12-inch cast iron skillet works the best, but a traditional 10-inch skillet is fine. An enameled or stainless-steel skillet will also do the job.
  • Ground grass-fed beef cooks faster than conventional, due to its lower fat content, so be careful not to overcook. If the beef does dry out, stir in a tablespoon or so of homemade chicken or beef broth and simmer gently for a 30 seconds to give some moisture back.
  • For a nightshade-free recipe, omit the paprika and chili powder, and add 1 teaspoon dried oregano.
  • Substitute summer squash with other vegetables in season at the time, such as cauliflower florets, chopped greens, or cubed butternut squash, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.


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