Making pasteles and serving them over the festive period is one of the most enduring Puerto Rican traditions.
It’s both time-consuming and labor intensive to make pasteles, a type of tamal that’s made from a green plantain mesa stuffed with pork and adobo. The concoction is then wrapped in banana leaves.
The tradition in Puerto Rico is to rack up hundreds of pasteles, both to be eaten over the holiday season, and also for freezing. They are then eaten right up to the beginning of Lent. Viewed as a team event, everyone in the family is assigned a job in the pasteles-making process.
I. Pasteles 101
Pasteles are much like Mexican tamales, although the masa contains different root vegetables in place of just corn.
Where tamales are steamed, you boil pasteles instead.
Made using plantains and banana leaves – both available in most Latin American stores – you can use a food processor to streamline the arduous process of shredding the veggies.
According to Puerto Rican tradition, the filling is usually pork that’s been quickly stewed. Peppers add a glorious splash of color.
This classic dish is always wrapped in banana leaves, so you should do your best to find this. This is one of those recipes that really doesn’t work quite so well with any other substitute – there’s a reason traditions stick! Even though you may feel this adds some prep time – and it does – you should find the payoff worthwhile when you bite into your finished pasteles.
II. What Are the Different Types of Pasteles?
As you would expect, there are many different types of masa you can use as a base for your pasteles.
There is no right or wrong answer here, and you’ll find most Puerto Rican families will have their own favorite. For many, this is banana paste and yuca paste. Less popular but still apparent is a masa de arroz, a simple bed of steamed rice surrounding the filling.
All that counts here is experimenting until you find what works for you and your family. You may find you like the simplicity of the bed of rice, and that’s perfectly OK.
Just like you can use different kinds of masa for wrapping the fillings, you can use different fillings, too. While pork filling is ubiquitous, there are many other fillings that work with pasteles, including:
What can you do if you can’t find any banana leaves and you’re desperate to rack up some pasteles, then?
Well, use just the parchment paper. Avoid the temptation to use foil or wax paper, as both will taint the pasteles with an unpleasant aftertaste.
III. How To Make Puerto Rican Pasteles
To get started making Puerto Rican pasteles, you need to first gather the following ingredients for the pork filling.
What You Need for the Pork Filling
- Pork shoulder (2 pounds, diced)
- Olive oil (2 tablespoons)
- Sweet peppers (4 small, chopped)
- Onion (1 small, chopped)
- Puerto Rican sofrito sauce (2 tablespoons)
- Garlic (4 cloves, minced)
- Adobo seasoning (1 tablespoon)
- Oregano (1 tablespoon)
- Bay leaf (1)
Next, it’s time to get some basics together so you can make the masa dough and the wrapping you need for this dish.
What You Need for the Masa Dough
- Malanga (4 pounds, peeled)
- Plantains (6, green)
- Garlic (1 clove, minced)
- Recaito (2 tablespoons)
- Kosher salt (1 tablespoon)
- Achiote oil (1 teaspoon)
What You Need for the Wrapping
- Kosher salt (for boiling water)
- Achiote oil (1 tablespoon)
OK, with those ingredients assembled, it’s time to get down to business.
What To Do: Making the Pork Filling
- Gather up your ingredients for the pork filling as listed above
- Use a large non-stick pan or skillet to brown the diced pork in some good quality olive oil
- Throw in the onion, sweet peppers, sofrito, adobo, garlic, oregano, and bay leaf. Stir well as you incorporate the ingredients
- Cook until the pork in not pink inside any longer
- Remove the bay leaf and set the mixture aside to cool
What To Do: Making the Masa Dough
- Gather up the dough ingredients as above
- Grate the plantains and recaito in a large bowl. You should wear gloves for this as uncooked plantains will stain both your hands and the kitchen towels. Be warned!
- Blend the roots to a creamy consistency in a food processor
- Lay the masa over a sieve with a fine mesh – some cheesecloth would also work well – and leave it there for at least 3 hours. This allows all excess moisture to drip out
- When the masa is ready, stir in the salt, garlic, and recaito. Also add just enough achiote oil to moisten the dough slightly, and to introduce some subtle color
Now it’s time to wrap your treats!
What To Do: Wrapping the Pasteles
- Prepare 20 banana leaves, 20 rectangles of parchment paper (8 x 4 inch), and 20 pieces of kitchen string (18-inch) and set them up in an assembly line
- For each pastele, you need a piece of parchment paper topped with a banana leaf. Brush some achiote oil into the middle of the banana leaf in a rectangle
- Add 2 spoons of masa to the center of the banana leaf
- Add 1 spoonful of the pork filling, then another spoonful of masa
- Bring the edges of your banana leaf so they cover the top of the pork filling. Repeat this with the opposite side of the banana leaf. The filling should now be completely covered
- Fold the edges of the banana leaf over the top and fold them underneath the package itself
- Tie with a string in either direction
If you have any pasteles leftover, pop them in some dated and labeled plastic bags, then slip them in the freezer.
What To Do: Cooking the Pasteles
- Bring a pan of salted water to the boil
- Pop your pasteles into the water and ensure they are fully submerged
- Reduce the heat then simmer for 1 hour
- Remove the pasteles from the water using tongs and put them on a plate
- Cut the strings of each of the pasteles and then open the leaves and paper parcels carefully
- Place the pasteles onto a serving plate and enjoy!
We trust if you pitched up here at Madiba today with no clue about what pasteles are or how to go about making them, that has changed.
You don’t need to go ahead and make hundreds of these things first time out the gate, but we are pretty sure that once you start experimenting with this Puerto Rican classic, you’ll be eager for more.
With fall now well underway and the holiday season already starting to limber up, we have a busier schedule than ever here at Madiba. Take a second to bookmark our blog as you go, and pop back soon for more great guides and gift ideas. We’ll see you soon!