A few years ago I was invited to dinner at a restaurant in Midtown – Guantanamera. I’m generally pretty leery about restaurants in Midtown NYC. There are definitely some great ones, but they’re usually pretty pricey. There are also TONS of tourist traps that are also very pricey. I was just hoping this wouldn’t be the latter.
As the name implies, Guantanamera is a Cuban restaurant. And as far as a white guy from Brooklyn knows, this place is real Cuban. There’s an old man sitting at the front rolling cigars, a live Cuban band and surprisingly not-overpriced mojitos. But the real shocker, what has me coming back time and again, is the food. Everything I’ve tried there was muy sabroso, but I’ll always have a wistful, longing daydream for the dish I had there first – Picadillo a la Habanera.
Picadillo a la Habanera
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
- 1 cup pitted green olives, diced
- 1/2 cup raisins, roughly chopped
- 14-oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup white rice, uncooked
- Sunny side up eggs, one for each serving (optional, but please god don’t skip!)
- Cook time: 40 minutes
This recipe has some amazing flavor contrast, and it’s pretty much idiot-proof (good for me). When I first saw it on the menu, I was intrigued by the ground beef, raisins and olives. I like all three of those things, but together? But then I noticed it has a fried egg on it, so really it’s no decision at all.
Heat the olive oil in your pan over medium-high heat, then brown your ground beef. Make sure to break up any larger bits, you want the beef to be as integrated as possible. Once that’s browned remove the beef with a slotted spoon so that it doesn’t overcook.
Return the pan to medium heat and saute your onions, garlic and pepper for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing browns too much.
Return the beef to the pan and add the crushed tomatoes, cumin, oregano, cayenne and olives. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for 20 minutes to allow flavors to marry (oh true love!). At this point you should begin cooking your rice.
After 20 minutes, add your raisins, salt and pepper to taste, and continue simmering for another 5-7 minutes. With about 3 minutes left, start cooking your eggs. I go sunny side up, but poached is also pretty amazing here. Either way, make sure the yolk is nice and runny so it can get all throughout the dish. Serve over a scoop of white rice and top with your egg.
The ground beef and rice are mostly the canvas for this dish, they provide heartiness and put it squarely in comfort food land. But the real star here is the contrast of the raisins’ sweetness with the brine-y saltiness from the olives.
This dish is beyond delicious on its own, but a nice runny yolk really ties everything together. It adds a further level of richness and helps to offset the cayenne if you’re not a big spice lover. Do yourself a favor and don’t skip on the egg. In fact, I’ll just leave you with this: