Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Nearly every culture in the world has its own Christmas traditions (provided, of course, the population is remotely Christian).  Food, of course, takes center stage right along side the baby Jesus and all those cute farm animals in the manger.  I recently learned about the Italian "Feast of the Seven Fishes" for instance, a seafood extravaganza prepared every Christmas Eve.

In Puerto Rico, Christmas means pasteles: delicious packets of savory goodness that resemble large tamales, cooked in banana leaves, usually with a pork center and a plantain or taro masa.  Dale Cooper, Karl Marxxx and I planned to make a batch this Christmas Eve but ran out of time.  The preparation process alone can take the better half of a day for a large batch.  With four packets of rotting leaves in my fridge and a steely commitment to togetherness, Dale Cooper and I decided to improvise on his family's traditional recipe and attempt our own batch last night.  We stayed up well past three in the morning wrapping pasteles in foil.  While I shouldn't mention this publicly, I think our pasteles may give abuelita's a run for her money.  If you have a day to kill and access to a well stocked bodega, I highly recommend a stab at this Puerto Rican holiday treat.    

 Dale Cooper, making the banana leaves pliable enough to fold by heating over an improvised flame.

 First, spread masa on a banana leaf (in our case, a mixture plantain, unripe green banana, butternut squash and coconut milk) 

 Next, spread the filling on top of the masa (a stew of fresh pork, olives, chickpeas, prunes and sofrito).

 Add an olive and a blanched almond in the center.  

 Wrap the banana leaf.

 Wrap the pastele in foil to prevent leakage. 

Boil for an hour and then remove from foil:

 Dale, unwrapping his pastele from the banana leaf. 

 It may not look appetizing, but trust me it's DELICIOUS! 

 Imagine your own double entendre.  Unwrapping my pastele from its banana leaf.

Voila!  Food!!!


  1. My grandmother was born in Spain and raised in Puerto Rico, she used to make these all the time- sadly I have to admit that as a kid I could only stand to eat them with ketchup. Such a terrible thing to do to such a yummy food.

    1. i feel like that's how most puerto rican parents get their kids to eat them; my cousins and i would slather 'em with ketchup to get past the appearance. eventually we'd scrap the condiment altogether.

  2. The Cuban version is made with corn...white, tender corn and it is wrapped in the corn leaves. It is a pain in the behind to do but worth while. I love the Puerto Rican pasteles but have never mastered the art of making them.

  3. Hey that's what I've eaten in Dominican Republic. There, they call that "sheet cake" and it is very laborious to do so. By the end is worth it because it is very tasty.

  4. "pastel en hojas" (something like sheet cake)

  5. Hojas!!! I was walking all around Sunset Park in Brooklyn asking Latin Grocers in my very respectable Spanish if they had Banana Leaves...the only problem was that I couldn't remember the word for "leaf" (hoja) and circumventing such a specific word proved quite dificil..."tu sabes, las cosas que crecen en los arboles..." I finally had to text a native speaker to be reminded of the word "hoja" and I found them instantly.

  6. There is also a something called hayacas, and I think those where hayacas, because pasteles are bigger and the masa has a more rice-y look to it. But I am from Colombia, so maybe we do them different here. But yeah, people also eat them the next day of Christmas and New Year's Eve.

  7. It has given me laugh reading your comment about the banana leaves. To me it is the same but in English, ja ja ja. Sometimes I can not find the right word and just talking nonsense. People look at me trying to help and I do not get more than aggravate the situation.

    And the comment of hallacas, this Christmas we ate at a friend's house, they are from Venezuela. They make a similar but with corn flour and bring almost a design within the dough: olives, raisins, capers, onions, boiled eggs, and seasoned meat beforehand. I find it a really hard work.

  8. delicious, they are everywhere in Washington HTS in the season. Saludos, Colby and friends and a Happy New year!

  9. Hate to be the only one to point this out, but, ah, I SEE PENIS.