(Puerto Rican savory cakes in banana leaves)
Pasteles are Puerto Rican special occasion food. The whole family usually gets together assembly-line-style to make large numbers of these starchy parcels and get them ready for the boiling pot.
Pasteles are special occasion food, and no Boricuan Christmas table is complete without them.
Don't worry if your first few pasteles look kind of funny. The work will get easier and you will get better at it as you make more of them. Spread the work over more than one day by making the masa and filling up ahead. Chilled masa is much easier to work with. Then gather some family or friends and make the pasteles in an assembly line.
The special ingredients for pasteles — taro root, plantains, banana leaves — can be purchased at most Asian or Latino markets.
Makes about 12 to 15 pasteles, enough for 6 to 8 people
- Green bananas, peeled and chopped -- 5
- Green plantain, peeled and chopped -- 1
- Yautía (taro root), peeled and chopped -- 1 1/2 pounds
- Russet potato, peeled and chopped -- 1
- Salt -- to taste
- Onion, chopped -- 1
- Green pepper, seeded and chopped -- 1
- Garlic, peeled and chopped -- 3 to 4 cloves
- Oil -- 2 to 3 tablespoons
- Pork butt or shoulder, cut into small cubes -- 2 pounds
- Tomato sauce -- 1 cup
- Water -- 1/2 cup
- Cilantro, chopped -- 1/2 bunch
- Oregano, dried -- 2 teaspoons
- Salt and pepper -- to taste
- Banana leaves, hard spine removed and cut into 12x6-inch rectangles -- 15 pieces
- Parchment paper, cut into 12x6-inch rectangles -- 15 pieces
- Kitchen string --15 (20-inch long) pieces and 30 (10-inch long) pieces
- Achiote or vegetable oil -- 1/4 cup
- Masa: As you chop the bananas, plantain, yautía and potato, place the chunks into a large pot of cold, salted water to keep them from browning.
- Drain the water and puree the chopped ingredients in batches in a food processor. Add a little water or milk as needed to make a soft dough with the consistency of cooked oatmeal. You may have to let the processor run for a while, and make sure to scrape down the sides. Remove the masa to a large bowl and season with salt. Chill in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
- Filling: Add the onion, pepper and garlic to a food process and pulse to chop finely.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium flame. Add the onion-pepper mixture and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rest of the filling ingredients and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning and allow to cool.
- Assembly: Get the masa, the pork filling and all of your assembly ingredients together in a workspace. Lay out a piece of parchment paper, then center a piece of banana leaf over it. Wipe the banana leaf dry and then brush the top side with achiote or vegetable oil.
- Scoop up 1/2 cup of the masa and place in the middle of the banana leaf. Spread evenly over the leaf, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of pork filling in the middle of the masa.
- Fold the top edge down over the filling. Bring the bottom edge up over this. Then fold in both sides to make a rectangular packages. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly or the filling will squeeze out. Flip the package over on the parchment so it is seam side down.
- Fold the bottom of the parchment up over the wrapped package. Fold in each side, then roll up, burrito-like, to complete the package. Tie one of the 20-inch pieces of string around the pastel lengthwise and then three 10-inch pieces across the short side.
- Bring a large pot of well salted water to boil on the stove. Drop in the prepared pasteles and boil gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove from the water with tongs, remove the outer parchment and serve the pasteles with or without their banana leaf wrapping. Goes well with arroz con gandules.
- The recipe above is a basic pasteles filling. Additional items are often added to the filling when the pasteles are wrapped. Add 5 or 6 capers and 1 pimento-stuffed olive to the filling of each pastel. Or add 5-6 cooked garbanzos.
- Pasteles can also be made with chicken, shrimp or ground beef. For vegetarian pasteles, substitute 2 (15-ounce) cans of drained garbanzos for the pork.
- Stir a little of the sauce from the filling into the masa to give it extra flavor.
- Puree 1/2 pound of peeled, chopped calabaza squash with the masa if you like. Or substitute yuca (cassava root) for the yautía.
- If you want to avoid all the string tying, use aluminum foil to wrap up the pasteles instead of parchment paper.
- Wrapped, uncooked pasteles freeze well for later use. Cook them directly from the frozen state.