Let me introduce you to some of the most mouth-watering pasteles recipes to try out with friends and family this holiday season!
When we think of the festive season in the Caribbean, pasteles feature front and center on the list. They are as classic during the winter months as black cake and ginger beer.
These steamed savory treats are soft, comforting, and totally delicious. Whether you plan to make and eat your pasteles on the sunny shores of the Caribbean or somewhere a little less toasty, they will go down a treat, that’s for sure.
If you’re looking for more information about these little savory delicacies, read on. I have included some pro tips and tricks on how to make them.
You’ll also find 10 awesome variations of pasteles to try out from meat to poultry, seafood, and vegetarian. It’s all covered here.
What are pasteles?
Pasteles are basically small meat, poultry, fish, or vegetable-stuffed cornmeal pies. The filling is full of chopped herbs and olives, caper berries, and raisins.
The pies are wrapped up and steamed in a banana leaf. The banana leaves are wrapped in parchment paper or aluminum foil before being cooked. Pasteles are traditionally eaten across the Caribbean during the holiday season and bring out the festive feelings. They are soft and satisfying, and beautifully seasoned.
Similar to empanadas, pasteles include spiced and flavored meats and fillings. They are different in that their outer casing is made with either corneal or cassava dough in the case of pasteles or a regular pasty kind of dough for the empanadas.
The outer casing is called “masa” and is usually filled with a meat or vegetarian filling, which is mixed with almonds. It used to be traditional to hide a chili inside the parcel, but nowadays you’re unlikely to find a sneaky chili waiting for you. The pasteles are served with a pique sauce which can be described as chili and ketchup combo.
How are pasteles made?
These savory treats are somewhat labor intensive. Families will often batch cook 100-200 at a time, especially during the lead-up to the holiday season. Pastele-making can be a festive event or activity in itself.
The scene can involve friends and family members working together to prepare a bunch of pasteles and then freezing them. This way, a couple can be pulled out of the freezer and cooked at once.
The meat or veggie filling is cooked up as a stew, and the most common types are a Boston butt and other pork and smoked pork cuts, a caper and olive mixture, chickpeas, pickled pimento, or dried fruit.
This gets cooked and seasoned with bay leaves, recaito sofrito (peppers, garlic, and herbs), tomato sauce, and oil for a moreish and deeply layered flavor. Other proteins that are commonly used are poultry, sausage, fish, wild game meats, and an array of vegetables.
Achiote paste is a way to flavor and color foods in the Caribbean and parts of Central America. This ingredient is made from Annatto seeds.
Putting these pasteles together involves heating a strip of banana leaf that has been heated over an open flame and rubbed with a little oil. The heating of the leaf is to make it more flexible and bendy so that it can be wrapped around the dough-filled item.
The masa is placed on the bendy banana leaf and stuffed with the meat mixture. A piece of parchment paper is then wrapped around the banana leaf. Sometimes tinfoil is used instead of paper and string. These banana leaves can also be bought frozen, in which case they don’t need to be heated as they will already be flexible.
These parcels are then dropped gently into boiling water, cooked on a barbecue outside, or steamed. When barbecuing, direct heat will cause the internal filling to steam and cook that way.
Here are ten incredibly tasty and mouth-watering recipes for pasteles. If you haven’t made these before, try not to get overwhelmed. There is a fair amount of work involved, but if you take it step by step, everything should work out in the end.
Consider making a morning or day out of it with friends and family members as it gets closer to the holiday season. Gather a crowd of able hands and divide the steps to making these out amongst the group. Put some lively music on and enjoy the simplicity of cooking and creating together.
Here are some mouth-watering recipes to try. I love that you can accommodate so many different flavors and dietary profiles with these little bundles of joy. Everyone will be covered from absolute meat lovers to vegetarians, if you make a variety.
Here is a savory and super popular little pastele recipe for you to try out at home:
- 2-3 TBS vegetable oil
- 2 pounds of pork shoulder, finely chopped
- 3 tsp fresh garlic
- 3 TBS sofrito sauce
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- 2 tsp fresh cilantro or oregano
- 1 TBS ground cumin
- 3 TBS red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2 TBS jalapeno chili, finely chopped
- 1 sachet Sazon sin achiote
- ½ cup fresh tomatoes, chopped or grated
- Salt and pepper
Cassava masa dough ingredients
- 6 lbs cassava
- 1 TBS crushed garlic
- 2 TBS garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 sachets Sazon with achiote
- 5 TBS achiote oil
- Banana leaves
Method for the dough
- Cut the cassava lengthways down the middle and discard both ends.
- Remove the skin with a knife. Split it in half again and remove the unneeded hard core.
- Cut the flesh into chunks and rinse to avoid oxidation. As you would with potatoes, submerge the flesh under water until you’re ready to use it.
- Pulse the cassava in a food processor, or you can grate the flesh if you don’t have access to the machine.
- Place the cassava into a large mixing bowl and stir in the garlic and garlic powder, salt, Sazon, and oil. Combine all the elements well.
Method for the filling
- Heat the oil in a large pan and add in the pork. Cooks the pork until lovely and brown. This should take 5-8 minutes. Add the sofrito sauce, garlic, chopped onions, peppers, Sazon, and herbs, and cook everything for about 5 minutes.
- Add in the tomatoes and about 1 cup of water.
- Simmer the filling on medium heat until the liquid has evaporated and the meat is layered in a lovely sauce. This should take about 20-25 minutes.
- Check the taste and seasoning of the filling and allow it to come to room temperature. It’s important to get a lovely rich-tasting filling to use enough salt and pepper.
Method to put the pasteles together
- Take your banana leaves and cut out the central spine of the leaf. Make sure your leaf is nicely shaped by trimming it. Cut the leaf into pieces. As mentioned earlier, they should be a little soft and flexible from the heating process. This can be done over an open flame or heated directly on an electric stove plate. The point is to get them a little soft and bendy, not to burn them so go easy with this step. Wipe them down with a damp cloth. You can also buy frozen banana leaves in the Caribbean section of your supermarket.
- To wrap the pasteles, place one piece of parchment paper on a clean, flat surface. Top the parchment paper with a piece of banana leave and brush or rub it with a little achiote oil. This prevents the pasteles from sticking to the leaves.
- Add 2 TBS of the masa and spread it out to form a square base.
- Add a TBS of the tasty pork and vegetable filling to the masa.
- Lift the edge of the parcel and fold it over the filling until it touches the other side. Fold the back edge over so that the masa envelops the filling.
- Tie up the pasteles with kitchen string and repeat until you have a ton of pasteles ready to be cooked up!
Method for cooking the pasteles
- Take a large cooking pot and line the pot with banana leaves. Add 2 cups of water to the pot and bring the pot to the boil.
- Lay 2 layers of the pasteles gently into the pot. If any pasteles rise above the water level, then top the pot up with some more hot water.
- The pasteles will need to cook for about an hour. Ensure that you check to see if you need to add more water, as it mustn’t dry out too much. Also, definitely do a little taste test to check if they are cooked through before pulling them out of the pot.
- Once ready, turn the heat off and leave the pasteles inside with the lid on for about 15 minutes.
- When you’re ready to serve them, untie their strings and beware of the steam!
Now that you have the basics of how to make pasteles, here are some more variations of this tasty dish. Try out as many as you like!
Each one has a unique flavor. Remember that if you have a big batch-making day, you can certainly make multiple fillings and encase them in the same masa recipe. Here they are:
Chicken pasteles are just as delicious as pork ones. Try out this combination of tasty and beautifully balanced ingredients as a filling for your chicken pasteles – work with similar quantities and methods that are listed for the pork recipe.
- Chicken mince
- White onion
- Garlic, fresh and crushes
- Carrot, grated
- Bell pepper
- Salt and pepper
Here is a recipe with masa or dough made from corn meal instead of cassava. This dough can be exchanged with the cassava dough and used with any of the fillings listed here. This is a lovely light and summery version.
Ingredients for the filling
- 1 can tuna fish
- ¼ cup white onion, chopped
- 1 TBS chopped scallion
- 1 tsp fresh garlic, minced
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- ½ tsp Sazon with achiote
- 1 TBS caper berries
- 2 TBS raisins
- 2 TBS chopped olives
Ingredients for the dough
- 2 cups corn meal
- 2 ½ cups warm water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 TBS butter
- 1 sachet½ tsp Sazon with achiote
Method for the filling:
- To make the filling, you will need to fry off the onions, garlic, and scallions and until soft.
- After that, you’ll add in the rest of the ingredients, and right at the end, the tuna fish gets added in. There is no need to simmer this filling like the chicken or pork mixture, as it is all soft and cooked already.
Method for the dough
- To make the dough, mix all the ingredients together to form a soft dough.
- Using a tablespoon, scoop out portions of the dough and roll them in your hands until they are soft and a little glossy.
- Oil the banana leaves and place a portion of the dough onto the leaf.
- Roll the dough out and fill as per the pork recipe.
- These should take about 15 minutes to cook. Continue with the same steps outlined in the pork recipe in this article.
You can quite easily make a delicious catfish version of the tuna recipe. Just exchange the same quantity of tuna for cooked catfish meat. A great idea is to make up both the tuna and catfish versions and serve them on the same platter for a seafood celebration.
Lentil and green pea pastele
There are a couple of really tasty and colorful vegetarian pasteles recipes, and this is certainly one of them. Here is the list of ingredients; you can choose to use either cassava or cornmeal masa for this recipe.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for this satisfying vegetable pasteles filling:
- 1 tsp Sazon with achiote
- ½ white onion, chopped
- 2 cloves chopped garlic
- ½ cup chopped celery
- 2 pimento peppers, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- ½ lb dry brown lentils
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- ¼ cup fresh coriander, chopped
- ½ cup frozen peas
- 3 TBS vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Method for the filling
- Boil the lentils in salted water until they are cooked through but retain their shape.
- Drain the lentils and stir in the Sazon.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet or pan and add in the onion. Cook the onion until it’s soft. Be careful not to burn the onion, or the lentil filling will taste burned.
- Add in the celery, garlic, peppers, bay leaf, and thyme. Allow the ingredients to cook slowly with the onion until they have softened too.
- Add in all the other ingredients. Cook together for 10 minutes and then set aside to cool.
- Continue with the stuffing and parcel folding as per the previous recipes—Cook as directed.
Chickpea and pimento pepper pasteles
Here is another fun filling idea. Follow the lentil and pea pasteles recipe and, instead of the lentils and peas, add chickpeas and peppers. This filling is even more straightforward as you can use canned chickpeas, and then you don’t need to boil them, as per the lentil recipe. You can just add them to the onion mixture with the celery. Instead of the peas, add extra pimento peppers.
With the rise in vegetarianism, this is an excellent recipe idea to master as you will find more and more people looking for meat-free options.
Another mouth-watering and meaty option is beef pasteles. Follow a similar process of making the pork and chicken but using pork and the rest of the ingredients listed below.
Ingredients for the filling:
- Ground beef
- Large white onion, finely chopped
- Chopped chives
- Pimento peppers
- Fresh garlic, crushed
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Tomato paste
- Canned tomatoes
- Worcestershire sauce
- Capers, chopped
Shrimp and pea pasteles
Try out a combination of shrimp and peas for something a little fresh. Follow the path of the tuna and catfish pasteles with all the same ingredients and steps.
You can also add corn to this recipe if you like. Cilantro goes really well with shrimp so ensure you chop up a bunch to add in.
Lamb is such a juicy and flavorful meat. It makes a wonderfully rich and moreish pasteles filling. Ensure the meat is beautifully seasoned and balanced, and follow the pork recipe for this meat. You can use either the Cassava or the corn meal dough for the outer coating.
Lamb can take a variety of herbs; in this case, lots of oregano will work really well with this meat. When you brown the meat initially, ensure you get a lovely brown crust on the meat.
As much as pasteles are about the flavor, you want them to look good too. Browning the meat well will ensure a rich-looking filling when you bite into it.
Plant-based ground meat alternative
If you are vegetarian or know you’ll be making these for vegetarian folks, use a plant-based ground meat alternative.
Follow the pork pasteles recipe and use the vegetarian ground “meat” instead. Keep in mind that a plant-based meat alternative may cook a lot quicker than pork or lamb. You may need to reduce the cooking time so that the filling doesn’t become too mushy.
Pro Tips and Tricks to making pasteles
Here are a couple of winning tips and tricks to get you the very best pasteles:
- Recruit a crew. If you’re going to make these in bulk, embrace the saying: “many hands make light work.” It’s a super fun activity to share with friends and family members. You can make the filling in advance and then create a line of people to fill, wrap and steam the parcels. Put on some festive music, and you have yourself a fun activity.
- Use a food-processors, guys. If you’re making in bulk, use a food processor. Borrow one if you need to. No one needs to chop all those ingredients by hand!
- Taste the filling before making the parcels. You need to check it because the seasoning can make or break how good your pasteles are. This includes testing to see if you need extra salt, pepper, herbs, and Sazón. The flavor should be layered and well-balanced. Remember that the outer casing or masa is a subtle flavor, so the filling needs to pop with great taste.
- Make sure your banana leaves are bendy and flexible before starting to fill. You will have a lot of cracking and breakage if you don’t. Once you’ve heated your leaves, check their flexibility before moving to the next step.
Wrapping it up
Pasteles as a savory treat are a real experience! What is even more of an experience is the process of making them.
Gather together a group of people you care about and make up a batch! This is a great culinary team-building experience, so whip out those banana leaves and get cracking.
Perfect for the holiday season, pasteles are the quintessential Caribbean savory item and should be part of your festive celebration.