Navidad Boricua: Pasteles
Pasteles are an iconic part of Christmas, and especially for Nochebuena dinner. It’s a labor of love and definitely a family effort to make them. Their unique flavor and texture make all the effort to make them worth it. They are beloved in Puerto Rico and are symbolic of the "old school" Puerto Rican cooking. Being raised in New Jersey, we didn't find many other families that would make them. It's a recipe that's passed down through generations within families, and I'm so lucky to have my 98 year old grandmother to still teach me her family recipes. While I"m not ready to share her recipe with the world, I do want to give you a sense of what Pasteles are all about.
Puerto Rican pasteles are traditional holiday treats which closely resemble tamales. These savory dumplings are made from a mixture of grated green plantains, root vegetables, and green bananas that get filled with pork chunks cooked with Sofrito, Adobo, Sazón, achiote oil and olives. The mixture is then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Good pasteles should be tender, filling, and packed with flavor.
Pasteles are a popular dish served during the Christmas season, but can be found year-round in many Puerto Rican restaurants and markets. The dish is usually served as a side dish, though it can be eaten as a main course. It pairs well with fried plantains, arroz con gandules, and stewed meats.
Making pasteles has always been a family effort and I know most other families are the same. The tasks are divided up among the family with everyone having a job-- even if it's just cutting string or cleaning banana leaves. They are also made in large quantities so that you make the most out of the long process. At the end, dozens of pastels are divided among family members and some set aside for gifting friends and neighbors.
If you've tried pasteles, leave a comment, we'd love to hear what you think of them!