Since Sam is on spring break this week, he had some time on his hands to step away from his books and studying. Which also gave me some time away from the kitchen. Sam has done all the cooking this week, and it has been awesome. We invited some friends over for dinner who had stayed in bama for the break. They were shocked to discover that Sam cooked everything that night. It’s true what our guests said, that if we were to ever have kids, they would never eat out. Both Sam and I grew up in a household in which going out for McDonalds or pizza was always a treat. Not something eaten everyday. And I would definitely do that for our kids in the future.
Along with the fabulous Dominican meal with friends one night, Sam decided to give it a shot at making pasteles. Pasteles are a Latin American dish made of grated plantains, green bananas, root vegetables, and sometimes pumpkin, with a meat filling. They’re then wrapped in banana leaves or parchment paper and boiled. Very similar to tamales from South America. Of course, different regions make pasteles with slightly different ingredients. But the concept of wrapping and method of cooking are the same.
We always come home to his mom’s pasteles, which are our favorite! Sam tries to help her in the kitchen every time she tends to make them. So he has a good idea on how it’s done. But this is his first attempt without his mom’s help, though we did call her a couple of times before starting to cook. =P
We made the pasteles with a shredded chicken filling. Other meat choices are always an option. Also, because I made the chicken, there wasn’t enough sauce after shredding, because the chicken soaked up all the liquid. You must reserve some sauce to add to the masa for flavoring. So, instead we used the leftover juice saved from the roasted chicken Sam had made the other day for dinner. If you come across this problem while making pasteles, I would recommend heating up some chicken stock and adding the same seasonings used on the shredded chicken and make a chicken stock reduction.
The masa is the starch coating the chicken filling. In this recipe, the masa is made of pumpkin, green plantains, unripe bananas, yuca, and yautía. The pumpkin in the masa gives the mixture its moisture. The plantains and unripe bananas attribute to the stickiness of the masa. Yuca is a root vegetable, very similar to potatoes, though I find them to be a bit drier and flakier when boiled. Yautía is another root vegetable that is similar to taro. This is my first encounter with yautía, so I don’t have much to say about it.
Shredded Chicken Filling
2 lbs chicken, with bones (skin optional)
1/4 red onion, minced
1/3 red bell pepper, minced
4 garlic cloves, mashed with 1 tsp salt
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 chicken bouillon cube
1 packet Sazón Goya con azafran
1 1/4 tbsp Goya adobo seasoning
1 tbsp ground oregano
1/2 – 1 lb pumpkin (calabaza – tropical pumpkin), peeled and seeds discarded
2 green plantains (plantanos), peeled
3 unripe bananas (guineo), peeled
1/2 lb yuca, peeled
1/2 lb yautía, peeled
20 banana/plantain leaves or parchment paper, cut into 8″x4″ sheets
Heat oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add all ingredients for shredded chicken filling in pot. Add 1 cup of water. Mix until well combined, then cover and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove chicken from heat and allow for it to cool to room temperature. Reserve 1/2 cup of sauce to add to masa. Then shred chicken and put aside.
In a large bowl, grate the pumpkin, plantains, unripe bananas, yuca, and yautía, alternating with each ingredient. The plantains and bananas tend to dry out, so grate them as soon as possible. When grating is completed, add the reserved chicken sauce and mix until well combined.
For assembly, lay a banana leaf or parchment paper on work surface. Be sure that your banana leaf is not ripped, otherwise your pastele will leak out while boiling. If using parchment paper, brush oil to prevent the masa from sticking. Place about 1 – 2 spoonfuls of masa on the center of the banana leaf. Flatten the masa with a spoon. Place a spoonful of the shredded chicken filling on the center of the masa. Using a spoon or your hands, coat the masa over the chicken filling until filling is covered.
To wrap, bring the top edge and bottom edge of the banana leaf up so that the edges meet evenly over the top of the pastele. Fold or roll down the edges, forming a horizontal seam. Fold up the the ends of the banana leaf, then tie with kitchen string once around and once the other way to resemble a present, and tie a knot in the middle. At this point you can freeze them and store for up to a month or boil them up to serve immediately.
To cook pasteles, bring a pot water to a boil. There should be enough water to cover the pasteles. If cooking right away, cook for 20 minutes covered. If cooking frozen, cook for 35 minutes covered. Remove banana leaf and enjoy!