Making and serving pasteles at Christmas time is a Puerto Rican tradition. Pasteles are a type of tamal made with pork and adobo stuffing encased in a green plantain masa and wrapped in banana leaves. Although time-consuming and labor-intensive, these pasteles are worth the effort. Traditionally made by the hundreds, then eaten during the holidays and frozen to consume up to the start of Lent, these savory treats are the product of a team effort. Each person in the family, even the youngest, is assigned a job of grating, mixing, stuffing, and wrapping. Make the plantain or yuca version for a delicious and filling traditional pastel.
Unlike Mexican tamales, pasteles are boiled and not steamed. Made with green plantains, don't mistake them for unripened bananas. Both plantains and banana leaves are available from Latin markets.
- For the Pork Filling:
- 2 pounds pork shoulder (diced)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 small sweet peppers (chopped)
- 1 small onion (chopped)
- 2 tablespoons recaito (Puerto Rican sofrito sauce)
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 tablespoon adobo seasoning
- 1 tablespoon ground oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- For the Masa Dough:
- 4 pounds yautía (malanga, peeled)
- 6 green plantains (or substitute yautía and plantains with yuca)
- 1 clove garlic (minced)
- 2 tablespoons recaito
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon achiote oil (or more to reach desired consistency)
- For the Wrapping:
- 1 tablespoon achiote oil
- 20 10-by-5-inch banana leaves
- 20 8-by-4-inch rectangles parchment paper
- 20 18-inch pieces kitchen string
- Salt (for boiling water)
Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this dish is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.
Make the Pork Filling
Gather the ingredients.
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
Gather the ingredients.
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
Prepare a work surface to assemble and wrap the pasteles. If you have friends helping you, set up an assembly line.
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.
- How to Cook Frozen Pasteles: When ready to cook, place the frozen pasteles in a pot of boiling water directly from the freezer. Cook for an hour, until tender. Pasteles keep well in the freezer for up to 4 months, so always label the freezer bags with the date when they were made.
What's the difference between pasteles and tamales?
Pasteles are a Puerto Rican type of tamal, with a masa made of plantain and yutai or yuca. Tamales are a popular dish throughout Mesoamerica that are typically made with corn masa.