Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Picadillo Navideno en Phyllo: Mexican Christmas Hash Wrapped in Phyllo

Picadillo is a rich, slightly sweet ground beef dish that is eaten in most Mexican homes at least once a week. Very versatile, it can be served alone with a side of rice or as a filling for tamales, empanadas, chiles rellenos, burritos, tacos, etc.

Sort of a Mexican version of hash, most recipes for picadillo include ground beef (or pork), raisins, green olives, potatoes, onion, peppers, carrots and a little brown sugar. At Christmas time beets are added for color and a slightly different flavor. It's delicious!

I've added a little twist by wrapping the picadillo in sheets of phyllo dough instead of the more traditional venues, making a kind of flaky "empanada". It's a little extra work, but it's worth it. Not having made this recently, I've pinched the accompanying photo from Wikipedia (credits below this post) so you can get an idea of what the finished product should look like. I like to brush the tops with an egg wash and sprinkle them with sesame seeds just before they go in the oven.

Because phyllo dough is used, a couple of adjustments have to be made in the picadillo. First: Dice the potatoes, onion, etc. instead of coarsely chopping them so that the mixture fits neatly inside the triangle wrapping. Second: Drain the picadillo well and cool it thoroughly before wrapping it; excess oil and heat will negatively affect the dough.

  • 1/2 pound medium beets, diced
  • 3 pounds ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 poblano chile, seeded and diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 to 4 small potatoes (any type), diced
  • 1 cup raisins (softened by soaking in warm water for 20 minutes)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 small cone of piloncillo or 1 tsp brown sugar mixed with 1 tsp molasses
  • 1 Tbsp cumin


Cook beets in water until tender. Drain well and set aside, reserving the liquid.

In heavy frying pan brown the meat, garlic, pepper and onion over medium high heat until meat is still slighly pink. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook over low heat until the beef is well browned and crumbly, and potatoes are soft. Add beets, raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and cumin and simmer for about 10 minutes more. Add some reserved beet liquid if mixture gets too dry. NOTE: You can leave out the sugar if you like it less sweet.

Drain mixture well and cool thoroughly in refrigerator.


NOTE: Look for phyllo dough in the freezer section of most well-stocked supermarkets, and allow at least 12 hours to defrost in the refrigerator. Keep unused dough covered with plastic wrap, with a damp towel on top of the plastic, until ready to use, as it dries out very quickly.

Place the phyllo dough on a large cutting board, and slice into 4-inch wide strips (you will have 3 strips per sheet). I find that a pizza cutter works well for this.

Place one strip of dough in front of you, keeping the others covered while you work. Brush it lightly with olive oil (or do it the easy way by coating it lightly with cooking spray), cover with another strip of dough, and brush that strip with oil as well.

Place 2 heaping tablespoons of picadillo along the bottom edge of the dough. To fold into a triangle, bring a corner over filling so the short edge lines up with the side edge. Continue folding the triangular shape along the strip until the end is reached, folding it up away from you as if you were folding a flag.

Seal with a little additional olive oil, place seam-side down on a parchment paper-lined 11 x 17-inch baking sheet.

Continue to roll triangles in this way, arranging them in a single layer on the baking sheet. When finished, brush the tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. (The triangles can be frozen on the baking sheet at this point; when they are solid, transfer to freezer-safe bags. Do not defrost before baking.)

Bake at 375°F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Serve right away with a dollop of sour cream for each "empanada" and a nice garden salad.

(You can see a 10-image pictorial on how to fold the dough into triangles at )

TIPS for using phyllo dough:
When ready to use the phyllo dough, unwrap it from its box and unfold it carefully. Take what you need and then some extra; do not separate the sheets when counting -- just estimate. Phyllo dough dries out quickly and can crack when exposed to air, which takes only a couple of minutes. Place immediately onto a large piece of plastic wrap on a smooth, clean surface. Cover right away with a large piece of plastic wrap. Place a damp kitchen towel (wet it, then wring it out) on top of the plastic. Rewrap the extra dough tightly in plastic wrap, set it aside until finished. When done, you will return it to its original box and place in the freezer or refrigerator for longer storage. See much more about how to use phyllo at Baking 911

Image of phyllo triangles licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. Author: DC Central Kitchen

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)