Cuban Picadillo Lettuce Wraps (GF, DF & Paleo-Friendly)

Cuban Picadillo Lettuce Wraps
By Alison Diven, Contributing Writer

When you crave something different but not too exotic for dinner, try picadillo! Brightened with green olives and capers, mellowed with currants, and warmed with cumin and cinnamon, this ground beef dish is sure to please young and old alike with its mild salty-sweet flavors. We piled it into lettuce leaves with rice and fresh pico de gallo for the perfect summertime meal.

If you’ve had picadillo before, my ingredients might surprise you. No potatoes! you gasp. And what’s with the capers? you wonder. Well, there are as many variations on picadillo as there are Latin-influenced cooks in the in the world. Spain, Brazil, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and more all boast their own version. This recipe features the add-ins my little family likes, and it happens to be on the Cuban(ish) side of things. I won’t claim authenticity, but I will claim deliciousness!

It’s that salty-sweet thing I can’t get enough of. I suppose I first developed a taste for it when I discovered Moroccan, Indian, and Persian cuisines in my early twenties. They paired spices I associated with baked goods, like cinnamon and nutmeg, with meat and poultry. What a revelation! While that period of my life was darkened by illness and desperate attempts to get well, one of its lasting gifts has been all the culinary exploration prompted by food restrictions and healing diets. It changed my cooking forever — for the better.

Cuban Picadillo Lettuce Wraps SliderRecipes Notes:

  • Choose 100% grass-fed ground beef or bison, if you can, for the best nutrition. (Read more about that and how to buy it for less here.)
  • If you’re grain-free, leave out the rice. We use it to help stretch the meat a bit further–it’s just too easy to keep filling lettuce leaves!–but it’s optional.
  • Cooked lentils could replace part or all of the ground meat for a more frugal, or even vegetarian, meal.
  • Instead of using lettuce leaves, serve the picadillo in tortillas, over rice or potatoes, or even in quesadillas for a different twist. And leftovers make a delicious omelet filling! Just add a little cheese.
  • Check the labels on your olives and capers to avoid preservatives and artificial colorings.

More ethnic-inspired recipes from the Nourishing Gourmet:

3 Ingredient Teriyaki Pan-Fried Chicken
Sriracha Lime Salmon One Pot Meal
Simple Persian Lentil Soup
Easy Thai Curry Noodle Soup
Thai Inspired Pizza with Peanut Sauce

Cuban Picadillo Lettuce Wraps (GF, DF & Paleo-Friendly)
Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Cuban-ish
Serves: 4-6
Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, this family-friendly dish will leave you begging for more! If you prefer, you can substitute raisins for the currants. Paleo and grain-free eaters can leave out the rice but will get fewer servings from the recipe.
For the Picadillo
  • 1 pound ground beef, preferably grass-fed
  • 2 Tablespoons tallow, lard, or coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, about 1.5 cups diced small
  • 1 large green bell pepper, about 1.5 cups diced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 14 oz can whole tomatoes
  • ¼ cup currants
  • 2 Tablespoons green olives with pimiento, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 Tablespoons olive brine (or white wine vinegar and salt to taste)
For the Pico de Gallo
  • ⅓ cup minced shallot or red onion
  • ⅔ cup diced tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons minced cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • salt to taste
To Serve
  • Lettuce leaves or cabbage leaves
  • Cooked brown or white rice (optional)
  • Chopped cilantro (optional)
  1. Heat large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add beef. Crumble and stir occasionally as it cooks. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add tallow or oil to pan. Add onions and cook until beginning to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add bell pepper and cook 3 more minutes. Stir in garlic, then add the salt, black pepper, cumin, and cinnamon and stir for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
  3. Add cooked beef, canned tomatoes, currants, diced olives, capers, and olive brine. Break up the tomatoes into small pieces while the mixture comes to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10-20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the pico de gallo. Combine minced shallot, chopped tomatoes, minced cilantro, lime juice, and a dash of salt, then set aside.
  6. To serve, fill each lettuce leaf with the beef mixture, a spoonful of rice (if desired), and a spoonful of pico de gallo or cilantro. Enjoy!


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A born and bred foodie, Alison is probably thinking about her next meal right. now. Her early interest in nutrition and eating spectacular food went alternative when her health collapsed in college, and she discovered—for the first time—real, nourishing food. She’s never looked back. Recent transplants to New Mexico, Alison and her husband and son are embracing their new, enchanted landscape (the light! the mesas! the sunsets!) and celebrating their many opportunities for local, sustainable eating in the Four Corners region. Alison shares the fruit of her 10-year healing quest at Alison’s List, a resource for whole-person healing and enrichment—body, mind, and spirit. Find her at Alison's List and her Facebook page. 


  1. Emily says

    I made this tonight and absolutely LOVE it!! Even the green olives, which I can’t stand olives but thought I’d put them in any way, are the perfect addition. The only thing I have to mention is, you state to ‘add the garlic’ but there isn’t any garlic listed in the ingredients. I just added two cloves minced, since I like garlic, but wanted to share. 🙂 I’ll definitely be making this over and over!

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