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Pasteles are a singular creation made from common ingredients: root plants stuffed with meat. The meat is usually pork, but it can also be chicken or turkey. At home, it’s prepared only on the most special occasions. If you’re traditional, you have to use plantain leaves to wrap the pasteles. If they can’t be found, then wax paper will do. Plantain leaves are abundant in Caribbean markets and even Chinatown. They come wrapped in bundles of 12 or more. There is a big difference in taste between pasteles made with plantain leaves and those wrapped in wax paper. Preparing pasteles is time-consuming. A food processor helps. There are still those who prefer to make them the old fashioned way by grating all the ingredients by hand. Tradition is tradition. I prefer the shortcuts. Either way, pasteles is a project, not a quick fix.

Meat Filling:

3 tablespoons olive oil

11/2 pounds lean pork meat, cut into small cubes (chicken or turkey can be substituted)

1/4 pound salt pork, washed and diced

1/4 pound lean cured ham, washed and diced

1/2 cup pimento stuffed Spanish olives

1/4 cup capers

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1/2 cup chopped roasted peppers from a jar

1 16-ounce can chick peas

1/2 cup black raisins

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Pastel Paste:

10 green bananas

1 pound yautia, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 large green plantains, peeled and quartered

2 cups vegetable oil

1 cup annatto seeds

1 tablespoon salt

24 plantain leaves

Kitchen wire to tie pasteles


1. Heat oil in a medium skillet and quickly brown pork meat over high heat.

2. In a small frying pan, quickly stir-fry salt pork until well browned. Add salt pork to meat; then add ham, olives, capers, tomato sauce and roasted peppers. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a large pot, combine chick peas (with their liquid), raisins and olive oil. Add cooked meat and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. If the meat becomes too dry or liquid evaporates, add 1/2 cup beef bouillon and continue cooking over medium heat.

4. Using a hand grater or food processor, finely grate the green bananas, yautia, pumpkin, potatoes and plantains. Using a wooden spoon or fork, mix well in a large bowl.

5. In a saucepan or skillet, heat vegetable oil; add annatto seeds and sauté on low heat for 5 minutes or until oil attains a uniform orange-red color. This is the achiote coloring. Let cool. Strain into a bowl or glass container. Add 1/2 cup of the achiote coloring to the vegetables. Add salt and mix well. This is the masa or pastel paste.

6. The plantain leaves must be “treated” before using. In Spanish this is known as amortiguar. First, clean each leaf with a damp cloth. Then, with a pot holder or tongs, hold a leaf over a moderate flame, turning leaf slowly until heated but not burned.

7. Smear treated leaves with 1 tablespoon of remaining achiote. Place 2 tablespoons pastel paste in the center and spread it out evenly. Place 2 tablespoons meat filling in the center of the paste (masa). Follow diagram shown below for shaping pasteles.

8. On diagram below. 

9. Bring 4 quarts water (with 2 tablespoons salt) to a boil in a large pot or kettle. Add as many pasteles as will fit comfortably, but with water to cover. This could range from 7 to 8 pasteles. Boil, uncovered, for 1 hour. Remove pasteles and drain. Repeat until all pasteles are done.

10. To serve: place on a platter, cut string and discard, Unwrap pasteles and turn over carefully into plate. The pastel should retain its shape.

Yield: About 24 pasteles.


Recipe from “Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Receipes” by Oswald Rivera