Traditional Puerto Rican Pasteles

Pasteles en Hoja from Dominican Republic
Juan Silva / Getty Images
  • 4 hrs
  • Prep: 3 hrs,
  • Cook: 60 mins
  • Yield: 20 pasteles (10 servings)
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Making and serving pasteles at Christmas time is a Puerto Rican tradition. Pasteles are a type of tamale made with pork in adobo sauce encased in green banana masa, wrapped in banana leaves, and boiled not steamed like Mexican tamales. True green bananas (not unripened bananas) and banana leaves are available from Latin markets.

There are as many ​pastel recipes as there are cooks. This is just one version. You can always add or take away ingredients to meet your preferences.

It's hard work, but well worth the effort. Every year, women gather their families together—even the youngest are assigned a job—to make pasteles by the hundreds that are frozen to be enjoyed over the holidays and all the way up to Ash Wednesday and the fasting days of Lent.

For wrapping, you will need 40 banana leaves (cut into 10x5-inch rectangles), 20 pieces of parchment paper (cut into 8x4-inch rectangles) and 20 pieces of kitchen string (cut into 18-inch lengths).

What You'll Need

  • For Pork Filling
  • 2 pounds pork (from pork shoulder, diced)
  • 4 ajíces dulces (small sweet peppers, chopped)
  • 1 small onion (chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons
  • recaito (Puerto Rican sofrito sauce)
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 tablespoon
  • adobo
  • 1 tablespoon ground oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • For Masa Dough
  • 4 pounds
  • yautía (malanga, peeled)
  • 6 green bananas
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon achiote oil (or enough to reach desired consistency)
  • For Wrapping
  • 40 banana leaves
  • 20 pieces parchment paper
  • 20 pieces kitchen string

How to Make It

Make the Pork Filling

  1. Brown the diced pork in a large nonstick skillet.
  2. Add the ajíces ​dulces, onion, recaito, garlic, adobo, oregano, and bay leaf, stirring well. ingredients.
  3. Cook until the pork is no longer pink inside.
  4. Remove the bay leaf and set aside to cool.

Make the Masa Dough

  1. In a large bowl, grate the yautía and the green bananas.
  2. Stir in the 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

    1. Prepare a work surface to assemble and wrap the pasteles. If you have friends helping you, set up an assembly line.
    2. For each pastel, lay out a piece of parchment paper, topped with one piece of banana leaf.
    3. Brush with achiote oil and add 1 1/2 to 2 spoonfuls of masa into the center of the leaf. Add one spoonful of pork filling and top with another spoonful of masa.
    4. Brush a second banana leaf with oil and place the oiled side down on top of the masa.
    5. Bring the top and bottom edges of the parchment paper over the top, fold or roll down the edges to make a horizontal seam. Tuck the ends under. Tie with a string in both directions.
    6. At this point, you can freeze any pasteles you are not going to cook and eat right away. Place them in zip-top bags, date, label, and freeze.

    Cook the Pasteles

    1. Bring a stock pot of salted water to a boil. Place the pasteles in the water making sure they are submerged. 
    2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
    3. Using tongs, remove the pasteles from the boiling water and place on a plate. Cut the string with kitchen scissors and very carefully (so the steam doesn't burn you) open the banana leaves and parchment paper and place on a serving plate.
    4. They can be served with pique criollo (Puerto Rican hot sauce), rice and pigeon peas (arroz con gandules), escabeche (seared and marinated cold meats or fish), roasted pork, and other holiday foods.