Tofu Picadillo is a plant-based riff on the classic Cuban dish. Featuring a fragrant stew of aromatics, tomatoes, and warm, smoky spices, this vegan picadillo is every bit as lively and flavorful.
Why You'll Love this Tofu Picadillo
Classic Cuban Picadillo is made with ground beef, however this version leans on crumbled extra-firm tofu to bulk up the base of the stew. Also in the mix is a few classic contenders like onions, garlic, plenty of bold spices, and pimento olives for a briny, salty bite.
You'll also find raisins in many authentic picadillo recipes, which I personally love. I noted them as optional in this dish, however I find their sweetness and chewy texture to really enhance it.
Picadillo often fills empanadas or soft flour tortillas, however I love serving it over rice or stuffed into bell peppers. This vegan picadillo makes plenty for leftovers, so you can get creative with how you choose to serve it. Overall, it's a simply, relatively quick weeknight dinner that's both nutritious and incredibly satisfying.
Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions
- Tofu: It’s important to use extra-firm (or “super-firm”) tofu for this recipe. The firmer the tofu, the less moisture you need to press out of it. (Less moisture = “meatier”, crispier cubes.) I purchase the super-firm, vacuum-sealed packs of tofu from either Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.
- Onion: Yellow or white onion works here. You need 1 ½ cups total, which amounts to 1 medium or ½ large onion.
- Bell Pepper: I prefer the earthy flavor of green bell pepper for this recipe, however any color works. You can also use a poblano instead for more intense earthy, smoky notes.
- Garlic: You need 3 cloves of fresh garlic, however you can certainly increase to 4 or 5 if you're a garlic lover.
- Tomatoes: Either canned whole, peeled tomatoes or fresh plum tomatoes work for this vegan picadillo. I typically use canned, however during the summer when tomatoes are juicy and sweet, fresh are the way to go!
- Spices: A mix of smoked paprika, oregano, coriander, and cumin do the heavy lifting, and a pinch of cinnamon adds warm notes of spice.
- Olives: The green olives sold pitted and stuffed with pimento (most often sold in jars) are Manzanilla olives, which are classically used in picadillo. They are pale green in color with rich, briny flavor, and a somewhat oily texture.
Step 1: Press and Crumble Tofu
Wrap tofu in a clean kitchen towel and press on all sides to remove as much moisture as possible. Alternatively, you can set something heavy on top (such as a cast iron skillet), and let it press for about 15 to 20 minutes, or even longer for firmer tofu.
Using your hands or a fork, crumble tofu into pieces (similar to the size of ground beef), leaving a few chunks for texture.
Step 2: Cook Tofu
Next, heat 2 Tbsp. of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Once hot, add tofu and cook, without stirring for 3 minutes. Stir, and continue cooking, stirring only occasionally (about every 3 mins) to allow optimal browning, for about 12 minutes. Transfer tofu to a bowl.
Step 3: Sauté Pepper and Onion
Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan, along with chopped pepper and onion. Cook 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, coriander, and cinnamon; cook 1 more minute, until aromatic.
Step 4: Add Tofu and Tomato to Pan
Add tofu back to pan and stir well to coat with spices. Next, add tomatoes, vegetable broth, and salt; bring mixture to a simmer.
Step 5: Simmer
Simmer tofu picadillo covered for 15 minutes, removing lid to stir once or twice to avoid burning. Remove lid, add olives and olive brine (or vinegar), and continue cooking, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 6: Stir in Raisins and/or Herbs
If using, stir in raisins and herbs right before serving.
FAQs and Expert Tips:
Tips for Making the Best Picadillo:
- Use a large skillet: You want to allow the tofu plenty of room to properly brown, so break out the largest pan you have.
- Don't skimp on the spices: Picadillo typically houses a LOT of flavor, so don't shy away from the spice amounts.
- Adjust heat: If you notice the picadillo starting to burn or brown too early, lower the heat to medium/medium-low.
- Add acid: A splash of vinegar or the brine from the olive jar really helps perk up the picadillo.
- Finish with sweetness and/or herbs: If you choose to add raisins and/or cilantro, add them at the very end of cooking.
How to Serve Picadillo:
- Rice: Serve this picadillo over white rice with a few wedges of avocado for a light, simple meal.
- Tacos: Fill a few warm flour tortillas with the picadillo mixture and top with a crunchy slaw.
- Empanadas: Picadillo empanadas are a classic, and SO simple to make using puff pastry dough.
- Tostadas: Layer a tostada with refried beans or avocado mash, top with vegan picadillo, shredded lettuce or slaw, avocado, and a sprinkle of cotija cheese or queso fresco.
- Stuffed Peppers: Hollow out 6 large bell peppers and fill each cavity with picadillo mixture. Place in a large baking dish with about 1 inch of water. Cover with foil and bake until the peppers soften, about 35 minutes.
- Bread: Serve with a side of corn bread or a piece of fresh, warm Cuban bread.
How to Store and Reheat:
- To Store: Place leftover tofu picadillo in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. This picadillo recipe tastes even better the next day as the flavors have time to build and meld, which makes it fabulous for meal prep.
- To Reheat: Reheat picadillo gently in a skillet over medium heat until warm. Alternatively, heat individual portions in the microwave, stopping to stir every 30 seconds, until warm.
More Favorite Tofu Recipes to Try:
If you give this recipe a try, snap a pic and tag #dishingouthealth on Instagram so I can see your beautiful creations. I also really appreciate readers taking the time to leave a rating and review! Lastly, follow along on Facebook and Pinterest for the latest recipe updates.
- Large skillet with fitted lid (preferably non-stick)
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 (14-16-oz.) pkg. extra-firm (or super-firm) tofu, drained
- 1 ½ cups finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- ½ tsp. ground coriander
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed* (sub 4 finely chopped plum tomatoes)
- ½ cup vegetable broth
- 1 tsp. salt
- ⅓ cup pimento stuffed (Manzanilla) olives
- 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar or olive brine (from the jar of olives)
- Optional: 2 Tbsp. raisins and/or fresh chopped cilantro
- Serve over white rice with sliced avocado, stuffed into warm flour tortillas with slaw and avocado, stuffed into bell peppers and baked until tender, with chips, etc. Refer to text in post for more serving ideas.
- Wrap tofu in a clean kitchen towel and press on all sides to remove as much moisture as possible. Alternatively, you can set something heavy on top (such as a cast iron skillet), and let it press for about 15 to 20 minutes, or even longer for firmer tofu.Using your hands or a fork, crumble tofu into pieces (similar to the size of ground beef), leaving a few chunks for texture. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Once hot, add tofu and cook, without stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir, and continue cooking, stirring only occasionally (every 3 minutes or so) to allow optimal browning, for about 12 minutes. Transfer tofu to a bowl.
- Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan, along with onion and bell pepper. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, coriander, and cinnamon; cook 1 more minute, until aromatic.Add tofu back to pan and stir well to coat with spices. Add crushed tomatoes, vegetable broth, and salt; bring mixture to a simmer.
- Simmer tofu picadillo, covered, for 15 minutes, removing lid only once or twice to stir. Remove lid, add olives and olive brine (or vinegar), and continue cooking, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, stirring only occasionally. (The less you stir, the better browning and crisping of the tofu you'll get).Stir in raisins and/or cilantro right before serving.