A Top Tradition in Puerto Rican Cooking
When I started thinking about this delicacy, I was determined to find a recipe for Puerto Rican pasteles easy enough I could cook, and representative enough of the Boricua Puerto Rican-American culture.
My first source? Rafael Bonilla, a true Boricua who immigrated to the U.S. in 1954. He is the father of my friend Denise who grew up in The Bronx, NY enjoying her dad’s delicious labor of love: pasteles.
Her dad came to the U.S. when he was 12 years old from Santurse, Puerto Rico to live with her aunt in Brooklyn, NY. He recalls the major event of Christmas: pasteles. His aunt used to make them. Watching her make them, engraved in his soul the secrets of this traditional Puerto Rican cooking dish.
Rafael invited Barbara, the Irish girl who stole his heart to his aunt’s house for pasteles. After marrying her, they embraced the Puerto Rican tradition themselves, and from there on, Barbara helps in the pasteles making and cooking process.
I had the pleasure of sampling one of the pasteles that Rafael and Barbara make for Christmas when Denise brought one for me to our Spanish tutoring lesson. I went home and cooked the nicely wrapped tamale in boiling water for 1 hour…the result? Simply delicious.
Puerto Rican Pasteles Recipe – Receta de Pasteles
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 1 hour
Makes about 26 pasteles
- 1 large yellow onion finely chopped
- 1 small jar of green olives
- 1/2 small jar of capers
- 10 sweet green peppers diced (called ajicitos dulces)
- 1 green bell pepper diced
- 6 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 small piece of salt pork (tocino) diced
- 1 pound of ham steak diced
- 6 pounds of pork meat diced
- 1 6oz can of tomato paste
- 1 bunch of cilantro finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 cups of water
- 2 pounds of guineo verde
- 3 pounds of yautia blanca (a tuber with elongated shape, bumpy, patchy, and brown skin.)
- 5 green plantains
- 1 small piece of pumpkin
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- Achiote or achiotina
- Wax paper with strings to wrap the pasteles (Hispanic supermarkets)
Making the Stuffing
Make the sofrito starting out with the salt pork (tocino) and then the ham, followed by the peppers, garlic, onions, olives, capers and cilantro. In a separate 6-8qt pot brown the pork, then add the sofrito to the portk followed by the water and the tomato paste. Stir and cook until the liquid cooks off and the mixture congeals.
Making the Puerto Rican Pasteles Masa Dough
In a large bowl, peel yautía, the guineos, and the green plantains. You can grate them or use your food processor. Rafael recommends using the processor to save time. Stir in the salt and enough achiotina to moisten the dough and give it some color. Set aside.
Wrapping the Pasteles
Prepare the paper by spreading a bit of achiotina to help avoid the masa getting stuck to the paper after cooking the pasteles. After letting the masa dough and the filling stay in the fridge overnight (it helps you manipulate the masa), take a piece of the masa, spread it on top of one sheet of wax/wrapping paper.
In the center of the masa place the desired amount of filling and close the pastel. Wrap the pastel starting by the longer side of the paper and continue with the one right across from it. End by folding the shorter edges. Tie with the string. You can freeze some pasteles at this point.
Cooking the Puerto Rican Pasteles
Fill a big pot with water and let it boil. Make sure there is enough water to cover the pasteles. Boil the pasteles for 1 hour. You can test if they are ready by unwrapping one and testing the masa to see if it is hard. It should be soft. If they are soft, your pasteles are ready to be enjoyed!