The Easy, Cuban-Inspired Picadillo Recipe a Brain Health Expert Loves

Photo: Stocksy/Cameron Whitman; Art: W+G Creative
After his mom was diagnosed with early dementia, journalist and filmmaker Max Lugavere became committed to learning as much about brain health that he could. Two books (and many, many TV interviews later) he's a bonafide expert.

On an almost daily basis, Lugavere educates people through social media, articles, and TV appearances about the connection between food and cognitive function. A few lessons he preaches regularly: load up on fiber, be generous with your olive oil use, and eat grass-fed meat in moderation. "In terms of the brain, grass-fed organic red meat is a health food without question,” Lugavere says. The main reason for this is because meat contains collagen, a protein that may help protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease. (It's also rich in iron, B vitamins, and other nutrients that support brain health.) And grass-fed beef specifically is higher in brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids compared to its conventionally-raised counterparts.

One of Lugavere's favorite ways to reap these benefits is his homemade, grass-fed picadillo (a spiced, ground beef dish), inspired by the traditional Cuban food he used to eat on the reg when he was living in Miami, Florida. His picadillo recipe is full of other brain-boosting ingredients too, such as tomato sauce (tomatoes are high in antioxidants like lycopene and vitamin C, which can help combat inflammation), and garlic (linked to protecting against Alzheimer's).

His recipe is one of 100 healthy recipes in the Well+Good Cookbook. Get the full recipe below and join Well+Good's Cook With Us Facebook group for more healthy cooking ideas.

Grass-fed picadillo

Serves 4 

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 lb. ground beef (ideally grass-fed)
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup pitted green olives, sliced
1 tsp ground cumin

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When it shimmers, add the onion and cook for four to five minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute.

2. Add the ground beef, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using). Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks, for about 10 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Add the tomato sauce, olives, and cumin. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the flavors have melded.

3. Remove from the heat and serve warm.

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