Pasteles… A Cooking Journey into my Puerto Rican roots!

Chicken Pasteles with Arroz con Gandules!

Greetings, dear meows!

As 2021 came to a close, I wanted to end the year by doing what I love the most… No… not that ya pervs… although… 😛🤣😉 Cooking. I mean, cooking! 😝I tried my hand at making a Puerto Rican holiday staple dish that’s very similar to the more familiar and widely popular Tamales. They’re called Pasteles and although they’re an acquired taste, if you know… You KNOW! I think they’re absolutely delicious and something about the flavor of them just awakens a feeling within that’s hard to describe. It’s one of those ethnic foods that strikes a certain cord and activates a part of my soul that reminds me of who I am, where I’m from, and who I’m becoming. Sounds like a lot, right? Perhaps a bit dramatic, but certain kinds of food will do that to you.

They can be a little labor intensive, just like tamales are to make, but oh so worth it. Admittedly, for all of the various savory and sweet things I know how to prepare like the back of my hand, pasteles where one of those dishes that I always enjoyed eating, but was never given a recipe for or even shown how to make them. It just always seemed like you needed a brigade of kitchen help with, simply because as with tamales, you have to make a crap ton of them to go around… I mean it’s really easy to eat a few tamales in one sitting, but pasteles are a bit different because of the complexity of the masa it’s made with. Allow me to explain…

Pasteles Masa. Picture by Sense & Edibility

So I guess I should begin with what the flip pasteles even are, and why they’re such a thing around the holidays. Many Latino cultures have different variations of them, but for me, my Puerto Rican Abuela, my Nena Elba, made them around Thanksgiving and would always send us home with at least a dozen to be frozen and enjoyed throughout the holidays. The masa for pasteles are made with a bunch of different types of root vegetables blended together with green bananas, calabaza (pumpkin), potatoes, yuca, or yautia. Then the masa or dough is seasoned with achiote oil, and stuffed with a meat filling of either chicken, pork, beef, or other vegetables. And like tamales, the variations on the dough depends upon the ratio of ingredients and how you were taught to make them. My Nena’s pasteles were always a bit on the dense side because I think she used a lot of green bananas AND plantains in her recipe.

Now I emphasize the word “and” because there’s somewhat of a debate as to whether or not green plantains belong in the recipe at all. The difference between green bananas and plantains is the amount of starch. But I went with my grandmother’s version as best as I could remember. Purely based upon how I remember them tasting. Our flavor memory is a powerful thing and comes in handy in the kitchen! And of course I used my own Mystic Seasonings Adobo and Sazon spice blends of give it the flavor that just hits different!! Again, if you know… You KNOW! Anyways, they’re usually served with Arroz con Gandules ( pigeon peas ) and potato salad. Us latino’s sure do love to starch it up!! I guess it’s because as most peasant dishes go, the point was to fill everyone up with the little you had and doubling down on the starches was the way to go especially since everyone and they’re flipping mother showed up to eat come holiday time! 🤣

Before I even continue, I have to credit my cousin Ivette Gomez for inspiring me to make pasteles this year. Last Christmas she purchased some spices from me ( https://mysticseasonings.com/ ) and used them in her recipe and posted a video making them with her family. Fast forward a year later and I found a recipe blog written by Chef Marta Rivera explaining in the greatest detailed ways the ABC’s of pasteles, and her recipe resonated with me the most out of all the ones I had been researching. I highly suggest you read her blog and follow along once you decide to go down that rabbit hole. She explains everything perfectly and I thank her for inspiring me as well. https://senseandedibility.com/pasteles-puerto-rican/ I combined her instructions with the flavor memory I have of my Nena’s recipe and I was absolutely pleased with the results and proud of myself for finally conquering my intimidations about making them. There’s something to be said for continuing to recreate the dishes that our relatives have been making for generations and keeping those traditions alive so they won’t ever be lost or forgotten. For me it’s a way to stay connected to my heritage and my ancestors.

Pork Filled Pasteles with Roasted Peppers and Manzanilla Olives wrapped in Banana Leaf and Parchment Paper!

So I bought all the stuff I needed to make these suckers and did the damn thing!! I mean, I’m a Chef after all and I can do this!! 😛 Don’t mind me… Chef or not, all you need is a bit of confidence that no matter what, you’ll learn from the experience either way… And being the very last thing I cooked in 2021, I wanted to literally set the tone for 2022. Continuing to face things head on, both learning from and letting go of the outcome, and accepting the results. To be cautiously optimistic and to become better and better with each attempt. And if things don’t work out they way I’d like, I can always make improvements and keep trying. As you can see by my ramblings, these pasteles where a metaphor. A perfect one at that. I cracked my knuckles and went for it, and I’m so happy I did. I had hesitated for years in trying to make this dish cause I didn’t want to mess them up. But now, it doesn’t matter. The point is to set aside those voices of self doubt and do it anyway. So many lessons to be learned from the mistakes we make, and we avoid them more than we should. Which is again why cooking is the perfect place to work those emotions out! I mean, it’s no bullshit! It’s either going to be great, or it’s gonna suck and you have to start anew. Speaking for myself, there’s already enough in my life that I either regret doing, and even more so, NOT doing. I refuse to let fear hold me back from an experience that could change my life in ways I could have never imagined. Making these parcels of meat filled goodness was me proving something to myself. I’m capable of so much more than I think. And so are you, dear reader. 🖤✨🥰

One for my baby… And one more for the road! 🥂

And that’s my story, morning glory! I could go on, but I won’t. 🤣 I hope that 2022 brings us all the strength, all the love, and closer and closer to achieving the things we both want, and need. And that we don’t overlook the things that are in front of us, especially the people in our lives. It doesn’t matter how many meows are at our table, but how much we value having each other around. Being authentic and true to them as much as ourselves. So get out there and do something you’ve always wanted to do! Start that project or business… Tell them you love them and can’t live without them, tell them to take a long walk off a short pier, or not to let the door hit their ass on the way out! But take those leaps of faith and follow your gut instincts and intuition! And make some pasteles, or bake some bread, or cook something crazy and have fun doing it, dammit! Let’s gooooooo! 🤘🏼😈🤘🏼

Looking forward to all the beautiful madness and shenanigans this year has to bring.

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

xo Nikki ✨🖤😻🔮

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