In Puerto Rico, it’s a tradition to serve Pasteles at Christmas time. Like their Mexican cousins the Tamale, the Pastele is made with meat stuffing. Unlike the Mexican Tamale, the masa is made from yautía and plantain masa and wrapped in banana leaves.
This recipe calls for pork shoulder, sweet peppers, onion, recaito sofrito, garlic, adobo, oregano, and bay leaf seasoning. This filling is wrapped in masa made from the yautía malanga root, plantains, garlic, recaito sofrito, and achiote oil. It is then wrapped in banana leaves, folded up, tied up, and boiled in water.
Although this Puerto Rican recipe is time-consuming and labor-intensive, it’s more than worth the effort to make.
Puerto Rican Pasteles
For the Pork Filling:
- 2 lbs pork shoulder diced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 small sweet peppers chopped
- 1 small onion chopped
- 2 tbsp recaito Puerto Rican sofrito sauce
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp adobo seasoning
- 1 tbsp ground oregano
- 1 bay leaf
For the Masa Dough:
- 4 lbs yautía malanga, peeled
- 6 green plantains or substitute yautía and plantains with yuca
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 tbsp recaito
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp achiote oil or more to reach desired consistency
For the Wrapping:
- 1 tbsp achiote oil
- 20 10- banana leaves 10-by-5-inch
- 20 parchment paper 8-by-4-inch rectangles
- 20 18- inch pieces kitchen string
- salt for boiling water
Make the Pork Filling
- Brown the diced pork in the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet.
- Add the sweet peppers, chopped onion, recaito, garlic, adobo, oregano, and bay leaf, stirring well. Cook until the pork is no longer pink inside. Remove the bay leaf from the mixture and set aside to cool.
Make the Masa Dough
- In a large bowl, grate the peeled yautía and the green plantains (or cleaned and peeled yuca). Use disposable gloves, as uncooked plantains will stain your hands and kitchen towels.
- Blend the grated roots in a food processor until creamy.
- Place the masa over a cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve for at least 3 hours so the excess moisture drips out.
- Once the masa is ready, stir in the garlic, recaito, salt, and enough of the achiote oil to moisten the dough and add a little color. You are now ready to assemble and wrap the pasteles.
Wrap the Pasteles
- For each pastel, lay out a piece of parchment paper, topped with one piece of banana leaf. Brush achiote oil in a rectangular shape on the center of the banana leaf.
- Spread 1 1/2 to 2 spoonfuls of masa onto the center of the leaf.
- Add one spoonful of pork filling and top with another spoonful of masa.
- Bring the edges of the banana leaf over the top of the pork filling. Then repeat with the other side of the banana leaf so that the masa completely covers the top of the filling.
- Bring the edges of the banana leaf together and fold down over the top.
- Fold the edges of the banana leaf underneath the package.
- Bring the top and bottom edges of the parchment paper over the top and fold or roll down the edges to make a horizontal seam. Tuck the ends under.
- Tie with a string in both directions. At this point, you can freeze any pasteles you are not going to cook and eat right away. Place them in resealable bags, date, label, and freeze.
Cook the Pasteles
- Bring a stock pot of salted water to a boil. Place the pasteles in the water, making sure they are submerged. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
- Using tongs, remove the pasteles from the boiling water and place them on a plate. Carefully cut the string of each with kitchen scissors and very carefully open the banana leaves and parchment paper. Place the pastel on a serving plate.
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History of the Pastele
In Puerto Rico, the holiday season starts after Thanksgiving and goes through Christmas and Three Kings Day to the Octavas and Octavitas, a religious observance that extends the celebration through mid-January. It seems like pasteles are always a part of each celebration. The Fiestas de la Calle de San Sebastián caps it all off over the course of three days in Old San Juan. Friends will show up at loved ones’ houses singing and playing music, like Christmas caroling but with maracas, güiros and cuatros.
It’s common during these celebrations to make large batches of pasteles. Similar to tamales, pasteles are a combination of grated green unripe bananas called guineos, plantains and either yautia or yuca, blended to make a masa seasoned with achiote oil. The filling — pork, ham or chicken simmered in a sofrito of peppers and onions, then mixed with garbanzos, olives, capers and raisins — is tucked into the prepared dough and wrapped in plantain leaves. Once the pasteles are filled and wrapped, they can be frozen, then steamed or boiled just before serving so they’re ready to welcome anyone who may turn up at your door.
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