Puerto Rican Pasteles
When I traveled to Puerto Rico in January, I was treated to all sorts of fabulous creations, all homemade by my boyfriend’s aunts and cousins. I feasted on the opportunity to indulge in a cuisine that was previously unknown to me. Sofrito, arroz con gandules, flan, and more – all recipes his aunts and cousins were eager to share with me. One of the dishes served at the family reunion was pasteles, the Puerto Rican cousin to Mexican tamales, and I was excited to make this for a couple of Puerto Rican themed events.Making pasteles, just like tamales, is a labor of love, starting with the peeling and grating of the yucca and the green plantains (a food processor greatly speeds up this work). It’s going to take some time and effort, so I believe in making a large batch and freezing them. If you do this alone, like I did, allow a full day. I’m pretty quick in the kitchen and yet this still took me over 5 hours. If you have help, work in assembly line fashion and you’ll finish faster.There are two components to the pasteles – the masa, made from green plantains and in my recipe’s case, yucca; and the filling. Both the masa and the filling get seasoned with sofrito, which you can buy, but is much better homemade.And I learned from one of the aunts that achiote oil is essential, so be sure to make some the day before so it has time to steep.
A note about the banana leaves for wrappers: when you cut the leaves into rectangles for rolling the pasteles, note that the leaves will roll easier with the lines of the leaves rather than against them, so cut your pieces that way. Also, a quick 20 seconds on a hot flat skillet softens them and makes rolling much easier with less cracking. Use a heat safe spatula to press them down and flip them – when they turn from a waxy dark green to a lighter pea green, they are pliable. Some recipes online suggest wrapping the pasteles in parchment paper and tying them after wrapping in the banana leaves – I felt that was redundant, so omitted that step.Practice makes perfect for rolling and tying the pasteles. You want the masa and filling neatly tucked inside, in a nice tight roll without splitting the banana leaf, and then you tuck the ends under. Set a pastele on the counter on top of a 3-foot piece of string in the shape of a U, with the two ends of the pastele on the string about 2 inches up from the bottom of the U. Pull the two strings from the top over the pastele and through the U; pull to tighten and pull strings out to the two ends. Flip the pastele over and criss cross the strings in the middle before flipping it over again, then tie in a not on the top side, trimming away excess string. (If this doesn’t make sense, there are video tutorials on the internet you can reference.)Pasteles can either be cooked right away or frozen for use later. Either way they need about an hour to simmer to perfection. Serve alongside pork pernil, with arroz con gandules. And how about a nice fruity Mai Tai drink to go along with the meal? Turns out my boyfriend’s uncle is famous for inventing the syrup used for that drink at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. Cool, right?!
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 pounds ground pork
- Salt and pepper
- 6 large sweet peppers (mixed colors), diced
- 2 medium onions, diced
- ¼ cup sofrito
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons adobo seasoning
- 2 tablespoons ground oregano
- 8 pounds yucca, peeled and grated
- 12 green plantains, peeled and grated
- ¼ cup sofrito
- ¼ cup achiote oil
- 2 cups reserved drippings from the filling after draining
- 40 8x10 inch banana leaf wrappers, heated on a skillet until pliable
- 40 3-foot long pieces of kitchen twine
- Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat and add the ground pork; season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook until broken apart and no longer pink. Add the peppers, onions, softrito, garlic, adobo, and oregano and cover. Cook until the vegetables are soft, stirring frequently, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain the filling mixture in a colander over a bowl. Reserve the drained juices to add to the masa mixture.
- Working in small batches, combine the grated yucca and plantains int he bowl of a food processor and pulse for 2-3 minutes to puree the mixture. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with remaining yucca and plantains until it's all pureed.
- Combine the sofrito and achiote oil with the reserved drippings from the filling and pour over the masa - use your hands to work the seasonings into the masa.
- To assemble, place a banana leaf lengthwise in front of you. Add ½ cup of masa to the leaf (using a ½-cup ice cream scoop works well) and flatten into a rectangle in the center of the leave about 5 inches from side to side and 3 inches from top to bottom. Place ¼ cup of the filling over the masa, and then roll the banana leave up to encase the pastele. Tuck the two ends underneath then truss with kitchen twine.
- Pasteles can either be cooked right away or frozen until needed. When you are ready to cook them, bring a stock pot of salted water to a boil. Place the pasteles in the water, making sure they are submerged, then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour.