When I steal, I steal from the best. Paul Cornell has been doing The Twelve Blogs of Christmas for years, and they’re something I always look forward to. I also very much like the idea of them, giving your readers special gifts/opportunities/insights for the holiday season. Now that this blog is going on two years old, I thought I’d start a version of that tradition here. I hope Paul doesn’t mind.
My friend, Heather, made me rice and beans tonight, which I haven’t had in a long while! As it’s close to Christmas, it got me thinking about the specifically Puerto Rican food that my mom would make (around the holidays and otherwise), and I thought I’d share that meal and the memories associated with it w/you for my first Christmas post. So, without further ado…
Let me just be perfectly clear about this. I hated pasteles. Hated them with a fiery passion. They were gross, and ick, and yuck, and made of every tuber (yuca), banana-like fruit (green plantains), and other gross vegetables (olives and capers) I hated. My mom would be all, “But they’re a Puerto Rican food!” And I’d be all, “Well then, Puerto Rican food is disgusting!” What mystified me more than the fact that someone would wrap something this gross in a banana leaf and call it dinner was the fact that my dad and brother could not get enough of them!
Because they are so labor-intensive, my mom only really made them once a year. One big batch around Christmastime that seemed to last through the New Year. And while I hated pasteles and never ate them, I loved helping her make them. You see, my job was to help her grate the veggies. Luckily, while I didn’t like eating them, using a grater on yuca and green plantains was hella fun! So, she’d sit me down at the table with a big pot and a pile of vegetables and a grater and I’d get to work as she did other stuff in the kitchen. And we’d talk about stuff. Or not; sometimes there would be music on. Or her novelas on Univision. But even if we weren’t talking at all, it was one of the times I felt closest to her. And it also made me feel important. After all, if I didn’t do my very important job, there would be no pasteles for anyone! It would ruin Christmas! I was an elf, and my mom was Santa Claus. (or, I was a camel, and my mom was one of the Three Kings if you wanna get really Boricua about it)
So, thank you, Mighty Pastel. You may taste nasty, but you helped me find closeness with my mom, and I guess that’s something.
For those of you who want to try your hand at this culinary “delight” (the quotes are mine. Remember, some people actually love these things!), I’ve included a recipe below, courtesy of Food.com. While there are as many pastel recipes as there are cooks, this one seems the closest to how my mother made them. Enjoy!
- 1/2 cup lard or 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon annatto seeds
- 1 1/2 lbs lean pork , cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1/4 lb pork fatback, cut into 1/2-inch pieces or 1/4 lb bacon , strips cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 -3 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 medium onion , coarsely chopped
- 1 green bell pepper , seeded and coarsely chopped
- 6 small sweet green peppers , seeded and coarsely chopped (aj?es dulces) (optional)
- 2 medium tomatoes , seeded and coarsely chopped
- 4 leaves fresh culantro , coarsely chopped (or cilantrillo, or both)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas (reserve the liquid)
- 1/3 cup pitted green olives , sliced into thin rounds, with 1 tablespoon liquid
- 1 tablespoon capers (optional)
- 2 cups raisins
Ingredients for the dough
- 2 large green plantains
- green bananas
- 2 lbs yautia (taro root, malanga, dasheen)
- 1 cup broth , reserved from cooking the filling
- 1 tablespoon salt
Ingredients for the wrapping
- 1 lb frozen banana leaves, spines removed or 1 lb fresh banana leaves , cut into 12-inch squares spines removed
- 20 sheets parchment paper , 12-inch x 18-inch (If banana leaves are not available, parchment paper may be used for entire wrapping)
- string or butcher s kitchen twine
Add oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the annatto seeds and heat for one minute to release their orange color.
Remove from heat and drain the oil into a separate container.
Discard the seeds and return half of the oil to the skillet.
Return the oil to medium-high heat and add the pork and bacon. Brown for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, small green peppers, tomatoes, culantro, and oregano, and sauté for another 5 minutes.
Stir in the chickpeas and olives (with their respective liquids), capers, and raisins.
Cover and simmer over low-medium heat for 40 minutes. When done, uncover and allow to cool.
Drain the broth into a separate container and set aside.
Make the dough by peeling the plantains and the bananas, first cutting off the ends and running a knife tip lengthwise along one or more of the ridges.
Insert and run a thumb just beneath the cut peel to lift and remove it. Peel the yautia.
Place plantains, bananas, and yautia into a large bowl of salted cold water to prevent discoloring.
You can grate them using the fine side of a hand grater, or instead, cut into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces for the processor.
Fill 1/3 to 1/2 of the food processor or blender container with the cut vegetables, slowly adding broth to form a smooth, porridgelike mash. It should not be runny.
Transfer the purée to a large bowl. If you run out of broth, substitute water as needed.
Stir in the salt and the remaining annatto oil.
Place a banana leaf on a sheet of parchment paper.
Drop a scant 1/2 cup of the dough onto the center of the leaf and spread it several inches all around with the back of a spoon.
Drop 2 tablespoons of the filling a bit off center. Fold each long side and then the ends toward the center.
Slide the encased leaf toward the long edge of the parchment and wrap again.
Fold end flaps over.
Tie two pasteles together, with folded edges facing each other.
To cook, put a batch (4 to 6 tied bundles) into a large kettle of salted boiling water and cook semicovered at medium-high heat for 30 minutes.
Turn the bundles over and cook 40 minutes more
When done, drain them well, remove the strings and wrappings, and serve hot.