A daughter shares her mother's Puerto Rican holiday recipe.

Maddie's Puerto Rican family pulls out all the stops for Thanksgiving. In addition to the typical fare, their Thanksgiving table is laden with Puerto Rican favorites, including pasteles, a Puerto Rican version of tamales. For Maddie, those familiar Puerto Rican dishes bring to mind her parents: "My mom was an excellent cook. Everyone always wanted to go to her house for the holidays. She passed away this year from Alzheimer's (and my dad two years ago). The one thing we have missed for a long time is her cooking (with Alzheimer's she didn't remember how for about the last eight years)... The entire family from aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors looked forward to my mom’s pasteles every Thanksgiving."


PASTELES

~Makes 2 dozen~

For the Masa (Dough) 

  • 8 pounds green bananas, peeled
  • 2 green plantains
  • 2 pounds yautias (taro root)
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1 pound calabaza (pumpkin-shaped squash)
  • 6 tablespoons achiote-annatto oil (see recipe below)
  • Additional 1/2 cup annatto oil
  • 5 tablespoons salt, to taste
  • Aluminum foil (or parchment paper with butcher’s twine)
  • 1 pack banana leaves


For the Pork Stuffing 

  • 3 ½ pounds pork shoulder, cubed
  • 1 cooking ham steak, cubed
  • 1 cup sofrito (see recipe below)
  • ½ of an 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 ½ cups water (or low-sodium beef broth)
  • 1 tablespoon adobo (Puerto Rican spice mixture)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 small envelope sazon with annatto (Puerto Rican spice packet)

Prepare Masa

Peel all of the root vegetables (keep vegetables whole). As you peel each vegetable, place them in a bowl with salty water. Grate all the vegetables, using the fine side of the grater, into a large pot or bowl. Add the salt, 6 tablespoons of annatto oil, and 1 cup of the pork sauce (no pork, just the sauce) to the masa and mix well. Add salt and/or pepper to taste.

Prepare Pork Stuffing

Place the cubed pork and ham, sofrito, tomato sauce, water or broth, salt, black pepper, and sazon into a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the meat sauce for the masa. Set meat mixture aside and let cool.

Assemble

Wash and dry the banana leaves, then cut in half with kitchen scissors. Place a piece of banana leaf in the center of a piece of aluminum foil. (If you were not able to find banana leaves, you can use aluminum foil or parchment paper. If you use parchment paper, you will need to tie each one.)

Place about ½ teaspoon of annatto oil in the center of the banana leaf or foil and smear it around in a circular motion. Using a large cooking spoon, place about ½ to ¾ cup of the masa in the center of the banana leaf and smear around in a circular motion. Place a good helping of the pork stuffing with a little sauce in the center.

Carefully flap the upper side of the foil toward the lower side. Fold the two bottom flaps up 1½ inches, then fold over again toward the center of the pastel. Now, fold the right flap over and then the left one to seal.

Cook the Pasteles

Fill a large, deep pot with water, leaving enough space to add the pasteles. Bring the water to a boil, add salt (enough so that when you taste the water, you can actually taste the salt). Immerse the pasteles in the boiling water and boil at medium heat for 1½ hours. Make sure the pasteles are immersed in water while boiling; add more hot water if needed.

Unwrap from foil and serve hot.


SOFRITO

  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 Cubanelle pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 14 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ cup olive oil

Wash, peel, and seed the peppers. Coarsely chop peppers, garlic, and onions. Put in a food processor and chop finely. Store in a glass jar covered in the refrigerator, or freeze (½ cup per freezer bag).


ACHIOTE OIL

Achiote/annatto seeds are used to color oil, which gives rice a yellowish-orange color and a nutty flavor similar to saffron.

Combine 4 tablespoons annatto seeds with 1 cup olive oil in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until oil turns red-orange. Remove from heat immediately. Be careful not to burn any seeds; otherwise, the oil will turn bitter and will need to be tossed. Cool thoroughly, strain, and store in a jar in the refrigerator. Discard seeds.