Puerto Rican Pasteles

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.


Puerto Rican Pasteles
by jasja dekker

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

Masa Dough

  • 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!


  1. marisol vasquezi says:

    This is great.the only thing I see missing is the banana leafs so that the mixture doesn’t stick to the wax paper.I’m not exactly sure why its used or if it adds flavor or just helps with the mixture not sticking,but I remember my mom and aunts always used it.now I wish I had paid more attention.

    • Regarding the pasteles recipe; if you brush some of the achiote oil onto the wax paper before you place the masa it will prevent it from sticking.

  2. marie lind says:

    I’m so far away from from PR culture. My mom was born in PR yr 1910. My dad Italian. I remember my mom making gandules, mashing green bananas into a paste, making little balls n cooking them with gandules. That was her idea of making pasteles and a taste of PR. That was the most delicious food ever.

    I make my gandules for the holidays like mom and I serve my food on green banana lief found in Asian food store.
    I love reg pasteles but it is too much work and I can’t find spices. I’m in AZ and do not like tamales.
    Feliz Navidad.

    • Aida Feeks says:

      Pasteles are made using parchment paper
      Which you can also buy at any dollar store as well. The parchment paper holds the mass in place while cooking in water. I believe the type paper used prevents water from getting into the mass while cooking. My parents used to make them for the Christmas and New year especially when we would get unexpected company, which was often, our door was Always open for company. I wish I could find someone that makes them, I’m in the NJ area. But I’m SC for the Holidays now. Miss those pasteles & my parents.

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