Aug 29, 2009

P is for Pasteles

Back to the ABCs. Here is the P entry, Puerto Rican pasteles!

My great-grandmother was from Puerto Rico and many other family members came from the island too. Pasteles are kind of like tamales, but not... LOL Making pasteles is a day-long event. It's always a party since so many hands are needed in the kitchen. This time I took lots pics to show off one of the many DIY events my family loves. (You can click on any of the pics to get a bigger view.) So here for everyone to see, is how to make Puerto Rican pasteles. (NOTE: Like any other family recipe, this will vary, but this is the way we make em.)

First you need to make the "masa" (the outside of the pasteles). For the masa, you need green bananas. I verified with Mom and what you need are regular run of the mill bananas, not plantains, not manzanos (the little bananas), but plain old bananas, but t
hey must be green. You'll also need a malanga (a root vegetable, and I have no idea what it is called in English).

Here's a malanga--a HUGE one!

First off, you peel the bananas and the malanga. Malanga is peeled much like a potato is. I'm sure you could use a vegetable peeler to do it, but in this respect you gotta keep it old school. And the rumour is that my great grandmother forbade anyone from using a peeler to peel potatoes or anything else, so a knife and some elbow grease is the way to get it done.
Peeling old school style

Then get out the cuisinart or food processor whatever you call it. Put on the grating blade and grate the bananas and the malanga. Now back in the day I remember seeing them use hand graters to make the masa. It took so long and there wer so many grated fingers and busted knuckles. Now everyone has their food processor, which I only ever see used for pasteles making. Technology does have its perks! It's such a faster process.

My grandma's coveted food processor

The masa mush

The masa now looks like grey mush. Not too appetizing. But of course, it's not done yet. You have to add some annatto oil. Annatto is a seed that gives off color and some flavor too. Just steep the annatto in some oil until the oil is a deep gold/orange color. Then just add some oil to the masa until you get the desired color. It should look orangey-yellow, like this:

Now you have the outside of your pasteles, but you need something to fill them with. You can fill them with pretty much anything, but traditionall we use pork. And hey you can never have enough pork. So here goes the filling. You get a big hunk of pork and cut it into little cubes. Kinda like competition chili, no ground meat, only cubed.

My aunts chopping up the pork

Now the meat is cooked before it's put in the pasteles, and it's seasoned deliciously. First you start with a "sofrito." A sofrito is the way most latin dishes are started. You saute onions, garlic, and some peppers in some oil until they are tender, but have no color. Just the smell of a sofrito cooking up is enough to make you hungry!
the sofrito

We happened to have some "oregano criollo" from the yard that day. I'm thinking it's just some version of country-type oregano, but don't quote me on that. So it got chopped up and added into the sofrito too.

the "oregano criollo"

Then the meat was added in. It was cooked along with some tomato sauce, and I bet even a little bit of the achiote oil from earlier.
cooking up the filling

Here's the meat all done. Now, of course, we had to taste test, cause you don't want bland meat going into your pasteles. Luckily, we made a little extra and sampled it on some Cuban bread.


Now that all the components are ready, it's time to get to the assembly. Now you can do this lots of ways. If you wanna go really old school, you can wrap it up in a banana leaf. The next step up from that is parchment paper and some kitchen twine. I remember seeing them made this way when I was younger, the twine wrapping was always so fascinating, but so confusing. But thanks once again to technology, we use aluminum foil now. Luckily my mom had stumbled upon these already cut sheets of aluminum foil at the dollar store. So we were on our way.

the wrappers

Now you have to prevent the pasteles from sticking to the aluminum foil, so you can use some Pam or other cooking spray. We didn't have any, so we went old school on this. Just a dish with oil. Dip your hand in and spread some oil on the foil. Then plop a spoonful of masa in the middle. Make a well in the center of the masa to hold the meat.

the well in the masa

Then you spoon in some meat. Make sure it's not too much though, you want it to stay on the inside.
spoon in the meat

Then, with your spoon, move some of the masa on the outside of the well over the meat to cover it. You should have a mountain-looking masa pile. It may look weirdly-shaped, but it will all be fixed in the next step.

cover with masa

Now all you have to do is wrap it up. Bring the long sides together, and fold over the foil a few times to seal it. Then fold over the sides a few times too to seal those up. You should be forming a tight rectangle. Try to get all the air out, wrap it up tightly, you don't want a leak.

wrapping the pastel

Ta Da! You now have a pastel! At this point you can cook them up or freeze them for later consumption.

ready to cook or freeze

Now just keep making pasteles til you run out of meat and masa.

pile them up

Now after doing all that work to make them, it's time to eat. To cook your pasteles, boil the for about 20-30 minutes.

boiling them

cooked up and ready to eat

When they are done, the aluminum foil will look burnt, but don't worry. Its supposed to look like that. It's just the aluminum foil that is a bit burnt.

Ideally, you should let your pasteles cool for a bit so they don't stick to the wrapper, but patience was not in high supply that day.

so we got a little overzealous and it stuck a little, but it still tasted good

Everyone dug right in and enjoyed their pasteles. All the hard work of making them, sure is worth it.

lunch is served

Eat it up

The last bite!

I hope you enjoyed seeing my pasteles tutorial and got an idea for something a little different!

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