Easy Vegan Picadillo (Cuban-Inspired)

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Gold fork resting in a bowl of vegan picadillo served with plantains and rice

When we first tried Cuban picadillo, we were enamored by the complex combination of savory, sweet, and salty flavors and knew we wanted to recreate a plant-based version. After a few tests and tweaks we landed on this inspired, fiber-rich twist and we’re so excited to share it with you!

It’s perfectly balanced, quick and easy (1 pot and 30 minutes), and naturally gluten-free. Plus, it gets better over time and reheats beautifully, making it ideal for meal prep! We can’t wait for you to try it! Let us show you how it’s done!

Tomato sauce, shiitake mushrooms, water, lentils, spices, coconut aminos, green olives, olive oil, bell pepper, onion, and raisins

What is Picadillo?

The word “picadillo” originates from the Spanish word picar, which means to chop or mince. It’s a dish popular in many Latin American countries as well as in the Philippines.

Each region varies in what ingredients are included in its picadillo, but the dish usually consists of ground beef, tomatoes, and herbs and spices. Some versions include olives and raisins, some include potatoes, and a wide range of different ingredients make their way into other picadillos (source).

The following is our plant-based take on picadillo, swapping the ground beef for lentils and using ingredients most similar to the Cuban version of the dish.

How to Make Vegan Picadillo

This vegan picadillo begins with sautéing onion and red bell pepper for a sweet, caramelized base. While green Cubanelle peppers are a more traditional ingredient in Cuban picadillo, we went with red bell peppers for accessibility and because we like the sweetness they add.

Sautéing onions, bell pepper, shiitake mushrooms, and garlic

Next comes shiitake mushrooms, which are also not traditional, but they add a nice “meaty” texture and flavor to this plant-based version of the dish. We season them with fresh garlic and coconut aminos at this stage so they soak up lots of flavor.

Then comes green or brown lentils for a protein and fiber-packed replacement for the ground beef in traditional picadillo. We went with canned to keep this recipe super quick and easy, but homemade lentils would also work!

Pouring water over lentils, olives, and spices in a skillet

For the seasonings, we included the classics: oregano for its herbiness, cumin for smokiness, cayenne for heat, and salt and pepper for overall flavor. Tomato sauce, pimento-stuffed green olives, and optional raisins add classic picadillo flavors, while water makes it all saucy!

After a quick 10-15 minutes, the lentils soak up all that sauciness and a complex explosion of flavors awaits!

Wooden spoon in a skillet of lentil picadillo

We hope you LOVE this vegan picadillo! It’s:

Savory
Sweet
Salty
Fiber-packed
Quick & easy
& Perfect for meal prep!

Serve it up with roasted plantains, rice, and cilantro for a filling meal that transports you to the tropics (okay, maybe a little imagination needed)!

More Flavorful Lentil Recipes

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo @minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!

Holding a gold fork in a bowl of roasted plantains, white rice, and vegan picadillo

Easy Vegan Picadillo (Cuban-Inspired)

A delicious, easy, plant-based twist on picadillo! Just 1 pot and 30 minutes required for this hearty, savory-sweet, Cuban-inspired entreé.
Author Minimalist Baker
Print
Sauté pan of vegan picadillo
5 from 9 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 (Servings)
Course Entree
Cuisine Cuban-inspired, Gluten-Free, Vegan
Freezer Friendly 1 month
Does it keep? 3-4 Days

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (if oil-free, sub twice as much water)
  • 2 cups diced white or yellow onion (1 medium onion yields ~2 cups or 320 g)
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped (1/2 bell pepper yields ~2/3 cup // or sub an equivalent amount of green Cubanelle peppers if available)
  • 1 ½ cups roughly chopped shiitake mushrooms (3 ounces yield ~ 1 ½ cups // or sub cremini mushrooms)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp minced garlic (~4 cloves)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut aminos (for depth of flavor)
  • 2 (15-oz.) cans brown lentils, rinsed and drained (2 cans yield ~2 ½ cups cooked lentils)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 pinch ground cayenne (optional // for heat)
  • 1/4 tsp each sea salt and black pepper (plus more to taste)
  • 1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce (or sub tomato passata)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pimento-stuffed green olives (or other green olives in brine)
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped raisins (optional // or sub dried currants or sultanas)

FOR SERVING optional

Instructions

  • Heat a large-rimmed skillet, pot, or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add oil, onion, and bell pepper and sauté, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the mushrooms, stir, and sauté for 2 minutes. Then add garlic and coconut aminos and sauté for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown. Turn down heat if browning too quickly.
  • Then add drained lentils, oregano, cumin, cayenne (optional), salt and pepper, tomato sauce, water, olives, and raisins (optional). Stir to combine and simmer (covered) for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to develop flavors.
  • Remove the lid and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, to thicken. Taste and adjust flavors as needed, adding more cumin for smokiness, olives for saltiness/tanginess, raisins for sweetness, or cayenne for heat.
  • We love serving this with roasted plantains, rice (white or brown), and cilantro. Enjoy!
  • Leftovers keep well stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave until warmed throughout.

Video

Notes

*Recipe loosely adapted from Immaculate Bites and Chef Zee Cooks.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated without optional ingredients.

Nutrition (1 of 4 servings)

Serving: 1 serving Calories: 297 Carbohydrates: 45.2 g Protein: 7.6 g Fat: 9.8 g Saturated Fat: 1.3 g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.9 g Monounsaturated Fat: 5 g Trans Fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 752 mg Potassium: 677 mg Fiber: 5.8 g Sugar: 8 g Vitamin A: 723 IU Vitamin C: 31 mg Calcium: 83 mg Iron: 3 mg

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  1. Nicole says

    This is one of my mom’s best dishes growing up was so happy to find a vegan spin on it. I followed your recipe pretty closely but added ground cloves (bc I didn’t have nutmeg) and capers. It was delicious one of the best dishes I’ve made in a while. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Mindy C says

    5 Star Recipe!

    This recipe came together easily and beautifully. I omitted the olives (bought olives with pits by mistake, they were a wonderful side) and the raisins (they’re just a no for us) and subbed soy sauce for coconut aminos, but followed the recipe otherwise, using green lentils that we cooked, as that was all that was available in our small town. It was absolutely delicious, filling and satisfying. We served it with fried plantains and an avocado and pineapple salad and it was a lovely meal.

    I only wish we had doubled the recipe!

    We’ll definitely be making this one again!

  3. Laura says

    Wonderful recipe and very adaptable! I have had success subbing the lentils with 2 packages crumbled, steamed tempeh to make it more protein rich. I’ve also found a bit of smoked paprika to add a beautiful depth and smokiness, especially in contrast to sweet plantains if serving those as an accompaniment.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      We’re so glad you enjoy it, Laura! Thank you for the lovely review and for sharing your modifications! xo

  4. Emma says

    Yum! The flavor in this dish is incredible. I didn’t use rasins, but next time I think I will. I served it with quinoa, as that’s what I had in my pantry. Lentils don’t agree with me, so I used chickpeas instead. Not as “meaty” looking, but felt they worked nicely and the roasted plantains were a perfect touch. This will be in my rotation!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Woohoo! So glad you enjoyed this recipe, Emma. Thanks so much for the great review and for sharing your modifications!

  5. RM says

    So glad to have come across this. Picadillo is one of my favorite recipes my abuela used to make, but I haven’t made it much since going veg b/c ground beef crumbles are so sodium heavy. I never thought of lentils! Looking forward to enjoying this childhood fave again. Thank you!

  6. Anonymous says

    Because I’m not American, what’s in tomato sauce that isn’t included in tomato passata (crushed tomatoes (pulpy tomatoes) in juice). TIA

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi there! There is usually some salt and a small about of herbs in tomato “sauce”, but crushed tomatoes will work in a pinch!

  7. Daman says

    So yummy! I had to up most of the spices though to get a solid flavour:

    1 heaping tsp cumin
    1 tsp cayenne (I used chili powder)
    1 tsp each sea salt
    1/2 tap black pepper

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Sabrina, that might work, but we’d suggest starting with half the amount since it’s saltier. It may also benefit from maple syrup since coconut aminos is naturally a little sweet. Let us know if you try it!

  8. Felicity says

    This was very wholesome and tasty. I forgot the onion and didn’t bother about the raisins, and tasted very yum. Would make again. Super easy, super quick.

  9. Katie says

    Excellent recipe and held up well for leftovers throughout the week. To make it a bit lighter, I opted to serve it over sturdy salad greens and it was plenty filling without the rice! My meat-eating partner LOVED this and kept remarking on how delicious this was.

  10. Blaine says

    Made this last night for a date night with my love:) It was easy and delicious! I just recently watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain in Cuba so when I came across this recipe, I was inspired to give it a shot. Plus I was intrigued by the flavours(ingredients) involved. Not my usual fare for sure. I made the Roasted Plantains to go with it as suggested and now I wouldn’t make this meal without the plantains! Such a nice compliment. I served with brown rice and fresh cilantro as well. So good and was a hit for at home dinner date! Will make it again for sure.

  11. Leia says

    Very good and filling. My family dislikes mushrooms (except for me!) so I used TVP instead. I also made it with quinoa instead of rice. Everyone enjoyed it.

  12. Stephanie says

    This looks excellent – I’m excited to try it!

    Just a brief comment, I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and every recipe I’ve made from here has blown my mind. I went vegetarian a couple years ago but I’ve found that finding good resources hasn’t always been easy, especially if I wanted to avoid drowning my food in cheese! I need my recipes to take relatively little time to make. So your blog has suddenly made my life so much easier.

    Thank you for having so many easy-to-make high-quality vegetarian/vegan recipes. The flavors are above and beyond anything I’ve made before, and despite not being a huge fan of cooking beyond the obligatory weekly batch cooking you inspire me to study your work to see if I can learn a thing or two. :) Thanks for being such an amazing resource!

  13. Melissa says

    My partner took one bite of this and he said, “This is probably one of the best things you’ve ever made.”
    Wow..!!

    It’s delicious and simple to make. It’ll be part if our roster from now on I’m sure :)
    Love the Cuban inspiration and would love to see more.

  14. Greg says

    “Then comes green lentils for a protein and fiber-packed replacement for the ground beef in traditional picadillo.”

    But the ingredients list says brown lentils, and brown are shown in the photos. ???????

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Janet, we tested this recipe with tempeh and found the bitter taste wasn’t complimentary to the other flavors. If you want to try it, we’d suggest grating the tempeh into small crumbles then adding it in place of some of the mushrooms. Hope that helps!

  15. SharonA says

    Hi there
    Can I use dry lentils. Cook them in my instant pot and then use them rather than canned? Any idea how much dried lentil makes 2 1/2c cooked?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Sharon, that should be fine. 1 cup uncooked makes ~2 1/2 cups cooked. Let us know how it goes!

  16. Julie says

    I love picadillo and am excited to try this! But I’m wondering if there is anything you could sub for the mushrooms. I love them, but my husband does not. 😕

  17. Susan says

    Going to make tonight but quick question on the lentils…I have never seen canned lentils..do you use a specific brand ?