Puerto Rican Pasteles — Making the Masa
The Puerto Rican Pastel is of indigenous Taino heritage.
In Puerto Rico, the “pasteles” (cakes similar to tamales) are a prized dish for very special occasions since it is very time consuming. The “masa” for the pasteles consists of green bananas, taro, pumpkin and some people use other vegetables. The pasteles are seasoned with the juice of the fillings, usually pork or chicken with chickpeas, spices and annatto oil (“achiote” seeds infused in oil). Some people as myself, make them vegetarian using chickpeas and tempeh or other vegetable protein. These pasteles are wrapped in parchment paper and a strip of plantain leaf, which, if fresh, have been directly heated over the fire to make flexible. The cakes are cooked in boiling water or frozen for later use. Since making pasteles is labor intensive, Puerto Ricans recruit family members and make large amounts especially for special occasions.
This recipe is based on my observation and on the many mentors I’ve had, among them my family, friends and Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s recipe in her book “Cocina Criolla” (1982). Throughout my life I’ve seen my family and friends make pasteles. During the last two decades I have also enjoyed the vegetarian ones—all delicious. I believe making pasteles is a science and an art, but most of all a labor of love and an arduous task. As it is for Mexicans, Costa Ricans and others throughout Latin America when making tamales (similar to pasteles, but tamales are less labor intensive) during the Holidays and for special celebrations, to make pasteles is an occasion for family members to gather and follow traditions. Many from the Puerto Rican Diaspora throughout the U.S. including Hawaii do the same. Comadre Luz Betancourt and I embarked on this project remembering our traditions and how our family made them. But this was our first time making pasteles alone without a mentor. Comadre Luz and I met a few years ago though Las Comadres, a Latina organization in the U.S. Coincidentally for Comadre Luz and I, our ancestral paths perhaps have crossed since both our parents were from Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, but also both grew up in Ponce. In memories of our ancestral traditions we embarked on this special treat. We enjoyed the pasteles very much and hope you will too.
¡Buen provecho! Margarita
Puerto Rican Pasteles — Making the Masa
Serving Size: 40
Preparation Time: about 6 hours (two people working)
Cooking Time: 60 minutes
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- 8 pounds white and/or yellow yautia (“yautia blanca y/o amarilla” is a type of tuber, taro)
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 medium potato
- 1/2 pound pumpkin, acorn or butternut squash
- 15 green bananas — guineos verdes
- 2 cups hot water
- 2 tablespoons sea salt (or more to taste. Usually 2 tablespoons for this amount of masa, but these are low sodium pasteles; plus you have the sodium from the olives in the filling.)
- Achiote paste — You have leftover from the filling
- Banana leaves 2 bags
- Parchment paper – 1 roll
- Biodegradable kitchen cooking cotton twine (string) – 1 spool
Note: You can buy the yautia at Latino grocery stores and perhaps at some supermarkets that carry Hispanic root vegetables. If you don’t find yautia and other ingredients, ask the produce manager if they can do a special order of yautia and other ingredients.
Instructions for masa
- Peel, wash, drain and grate the vegetables.
- After grating, grind them well in a mortar or food processor to soften the dough.
- Add gradually 2 cups of warm water.
- Add the achiote oil that you reserve when you prepared the filling.
- Add 2 tablespoons of salt (more or less to taste)
- Mix well, cover
- Now prepare the cakes, pasteles.
- Take one large parchment paper and place on top a piece of plantain leaf.
- Place one serving tablespoon of masa and spread with spoon over plantain leaf
- Add some of the filling made from your favorite recipe or may try this one.
- Fold the parchment paper in half tucking ends. Tie with cotton twine two wrapped pasteles together with tucked ends facing each other.
- Cook for an hour in boiling water. What you will not use, freeze before cooking.
For more information on pasteles and the annual festival, click below, though in Spanish: Historia del Festival del Pastel
For more healthy and delicious Latino foods, click here and check below.
Movie: “Nuestros Antepasados: Un breve viaje a través de la historia” (OUR ANCESTORS: A SHORT TRIP THROUGH HISTORY)
Porque el Taino Aun Vive
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