Picadillo con Papaya Verde – Costa Rica

I recently experienced a 5-day whirlwind tour of Costa Rica, land of coffee, bananas and eco-tourism.

Digging beneath the country’s breathtaking beauty – damn near impossible, believe me! – I went in search of their culinary treasures, so different from the picante salsas and complex moles of Mexico.
Chilies are preferred fresh and are often red and sweet, not hot. Gallo Pinto, a mix of rice and beans, is the national dish and can even be found on the menus of Costa Rica’s Burger King and McDonalds.
Picadillo, a hash-like mix of various ingredients from potatoes, meat and root vegetables, is an easy introduction to a Tico neophyte like myself.
One version, Picadillo con Papaya Verde, was taught to me one humid afternoon at the staff kitchen of Arenas del Mar.

A green papaya was picked from one of the many trees on the property and away we went.
Chopped ham was first sauteed with grated green papaya, red pepper, onions and cilantro. Lizano (a tamarind-based sauce), annatto paste and chicken bouillon powder were added the former for sweetness, the annatto for colour and the bouillon for a hit of salt. The mixture cooked together becoming an orange-hued hash, and hot corn tortillas were the vehicle for this culinary delight.

The recipe was given to me verbally and I have tweaked it a bit – with all due respect.
Back in Canada, I scrambled eggs as a separate ingredient for the picadillo – without the ham – and it was amazing.
And being the chili fiend I am, I find a bit of piquante picks up the whole dish. Chilero is the name of the Costa Rica’s national hot sauce and come in all levels of heat. I prefer the ones with the addition of chilie Panameno (Panama chilie, see red chilie photo above), certainly a relative of the habanero.
The resulting article from my Costa Rica trip can be viewed here, with other delicious recipes from my trip.
Picadillo con Papaya Verde
Serves two, just standing around
1/2 cup cooked ham, chopped
1/2 loosely packed cup cilantro (called culantro in C.R.), leaves only, coarsely chopped
1/4 white onion, slivered
1/2 medium red pepper, diced
1 cup green papaya, peeled and grated.
2 1/2 Tbsp. powdered chicken stock (optional)
1 Tbsp. Lizano (available at Latin foods stores)
1/2 Tbsp. annatto paste (the kind without spices)
In about 3 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil, saute the onion and red pepper over medium high heat until the onion is translucent. Add the ham and mix together, until heated through. Add the optional bouillon powder, annatto, Lizano sauce, grated papaya and cilantro. Stir frequently making sure the mixture doesn’t burn but becomes thoroughly mixed together, caramelized and producing a lovely orange hue.
Meanwhile, heat some corn tortillas while scrambling three eggs – it’s called multi-tasking!
When it’s all ready, plate. Add hot sauce as needed.
** Options: grated or small diced potato is an easy stand in for green papaya, as is arracache, a Costa Rican root vegetable. Any kind of meat can also be added, or even seafood. It’s still a picadillo. Enjoy!

One Response to “Picadillo con Papaya Verde – Costa Rica”

  1. Kennis says:

    Thank you for the recipe. Culantro is actually different from cilantro, which CR also has. Culantro has broad leaves, and smells and tastes like cilantro, but only much stronger. Can’t wait to try your recipe!

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