Growing up Hispanic, my mother tried for a very long time to keep the tradition of making a holiday dish known as Pasteles, strong. Pasteles are a delicious and laborious dish of mashed root vegetables boiled in banana leaves that is usually enjoyed around the holidays.
Over time, I became a teenager and couldn’t be bothered to help and mom’s elbow and back pains made the annual tradition of spending HOURS mashing and grating the root vegetables a thing of the past.
Until now! We are dusting off our graters and peelers, putting up pots of boiling water and getting our banana leaves ready.And I am very honored that this post was chosen for this months 24×24 contribution for Foodbuzz.com.
We are going to feast, family style, after we revive this old family tradition.
One recipe for Pasteles calls for about 5 lbs of root vegetables. But since we are reviving this tradition, we plan on sharing the pasteles with our extended family which will call for 15 lbs of plantains, green bananas, potatoes and yautia. Along with our pasteles, we would be preparing arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas to complete our hispanic holiday dinner. What better way to start the New Year than by reviving a family tradition that has been dead for nearly 12 years??
Last year, I attempted my own batch of pasteles with the help of a friend. The memory was still fresh in my mind… and how I forgot to season the masa (the grated root vegetables). This year, I was adamant to make sure to season the pasteles so as not to waste such effort.
We wanted to make 50 pasteles.
In the past, when we made pasteles annually we would make batches of 100 or more. So this mere batch of 50 seemed doable.
Ingredients (one of the many variations of pasteles!):
For the Meat Filling:
2 Tablespoons oil (we used canola)
¼ cup sofrito (available in the freezer section or Spanish section. I prefer the frozen one)
5 lbs of pork shoulder, cut into small bite sized pieces (Don’t eat pork? You can use Chicken or Beef)
8 oz tomato sauce
4 oz water
For the masa:
20 green cooking bananas
5 lbs of yautia or taro root
2 russet potatoes
1 Tablespoon Sofrito
¼ cup sauce from the filling
1 cup of pureed pumpkin (optional)
8 oz evaporated milk (optional)
A jar of spanish olives, pitted and drained
15 oz can of chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 cup achiote oil (achiote seeds + water = achiote oil, also found in Spanish aisle)
For the Assembly:
50 sheets of parchment paper (18” x 18”)
50 strands of cooking twine (best way to measure is double the distance between your thumbs with your arms spread out)
25 banana leaves cut in half, cleaned and patted dry (OPTIONAL. Our store was out of leaves so we omitted them altogether. The flavor is slightly affected but if you cannot find any, you must make sure your masa is perfectly seasoned)
It’s quite a laundry list, yes?
Well, it’s just as much work too!
My mother and I were going back and forth on proper procedures with regards to this recipe and the end resulted in a “New School vs. Old School” Family Throwdown. Armed with my grater, I was prepared to do this the Old School way. And armed with a meat grinder attachment, my mother set out to prove me wrong using my Kitchen Aid Mixer to quicken our prep time. . .
Now it gets interesting. I set out a day before the big day (New Year’s Eve) to pick up the ingredients. It’s important to save the green bananas for last because they need to be green in order to work. The moment they turn yellow, they will be too sweet. While I was picking up the root vegetables, Mom was home setting up the pork. We like to get the pork done the day before so that the meat really has time to develop flavors… and more flavor is definitely more DELICIOUS!
In a medium sauce pot, heat the oil and add the sofrito over medium heat. When the sofrito is fragrant (and trust me, it is!), add the cut up pieces of pork. Stir the pork around in the pan letting it cook. This took us about 9 minutes. While the pork is cooking, sprinkle generously with garlic powder. My mother is not one to measure, so if I had to guess I would say she used about 2 Tablespoons. And then she added some salt. On top of that, she poured the tomato sauce and added a little bit of water to thin out the sauce. Once it started to bubble, she lowered the heat and let simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. She cooled it and store it in an air tight container in the refrigerator overnight.
In the kitchen of Old School versus New, we sat at different ends of the table and went at the root vegetables with a hungry ferocity like I have never seen before. Mom, the smart one, donned gloves. I, not being afraid of getting a little dirty, went at it barehanded.
After two green bananas, I sorely regretted it. The bananas have an odd GLUE-like nectar and when you are grinding 20 bananas, it can get sticky… so I put on some gloves but the damage was already done.
We also, did some damage to the table… its days later and the table still bears a sticky layer of banana goo that we just can’t seem to remove!
My mom, using my Mixer with the meat grinder attachment stood on her respective side of the dining table dropping root vegetables in at a quick pace. While I was grinding away each piece, she realized that the masa she had was too coarse and ended up running all of the masa through the grinder 3 more times.
In the end, it took us an hour to complete the grinding process. Dad came by to take a few pics and offer some support.
“Dad, can you bring me some water?”
“Help! My sleeve is unrolling!”
When the grinding was finally done we immediately seasoned the masa so we wouldn’t forget. A spoonful of sofrito, a healthy handful of salt, and some of the sauce from the pork and fold them into the masa.
There is no real way to know for sure how well seasoned your pasteles are unless you taste the masa. I’m not saying grab a spoonful because it’s not the most pleasant taste in the world but dip your pinky into it and take a taste. If you’re happy with it, then this part is done, if not, add a little more salt.
Now that the masa is complete, place it in the refrigerator while you set up the work station for the folding of the pasteles. To avoid more sticky stuff on the table, we lined it with newspaper and plastic wrap.
Then we set up a station of pork filling, olives, chick peas, and achiote oil in the center. The stack of parchment paper ready to go in a pile as well as a pile of twine that is easily accessible.
When it was all laid out, we grabbed the huge bowl of masa and got the assembly line going. Mom did the first one. I followed her method so our pasteles would come out nearly identical.
1.On a clean sheet of parchment, place a half sheet of banana leaf in the center (if you are using it.)
2.Place a teaspoon of oil in the center of the leaf (if you are using) or the paper (if you are not using banana leaves) and spread out in an expanding circular motion to distribute it.
3.Add a half cup sized blob of masa to the parchment paper/banana leaf.
4.Add two tablespoons of pork filling to the masa
5.Top with two olives and a couple of chick peas
Now comes the “fun” part. The Folding. There really is no EXACT way to fold but your main goal should be to make sure the ends are sealed and there are no air pockets in your pasteles.
Fold the wrapper in half to close the pastel. Fold the edges over until tightly sealed. If using leaves just fold one over the other until completely sealed
That’s what the pics are for:
Now that you have a pastele pack all folded up, it should be in the vicinity of 2.5 inches x 5 inches.
Repeat this process again to create a 2nd packet.
Place two packs together, seams facing and let the stringing begin.
Stringing is all about keeping the pasteles together and from opening during the boiling process. I recommend doing what feels right, but try to get the effect above. And if you are really not getting it, there is always foil (and YouTube).
Our goal was 50 pasteles. Our end result was about 40. I noticed half way in that mom was getting tired and started to flub the process in an effort to get it over with as soon as possible. I quickly took over so as not to waste all of our combined effort.
Pasteles go right in the freezer. But if you want to prepare your pasteles, as you have every right to after all that work, simply put up a pot of salted water. Bring it to a boil, and boil the packets are they are for 1 hr and 15 minutes. Allow them to cool slightly and cut the twine and paper.
Grandma came to give her approval of our first pasteles in 14 years and thought they were great.
Mine needed hot sauce.
When dinner was over, we left clean up to Dad.
Its amazing how after such a long day, we still had enough energy to ring in the New Year! And Fabulously, I might add!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!