Traditional holiday recipes are, of course, the most time-consuming and labor intensive. But the outcome is well worth the trouble for special-occasion meals. A variety of pasteles are sold every year at the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City. Pasteles are also made with viandas, which are root vegetables such as yautia, yuca, and bonaito. I had the pleasure of learning a version of these pasteles from one of the servers at my restaurant, Midgi Lamboy.
Serving Size: Makes 1 dozen
-Juice of 8 Seville oranges (about 1 cup; see note)
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano (see note)
-1 tablespoon salt
-1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-1 pound pork butt, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
-1 1/2 cups achiote oil
-1 medium white onion, diced
-1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
-2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
-2 cups Chicken Broth
-1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
-1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans
-12 pimiento-stuffed green olives
-1/2 cup raisins
-2 tablespoons capers, drained
-2 pounds white plus 2 pounds yellow yautia, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
-7 green plantains, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
-1 cup warm whole milk
-1 tablespoon salt
-1 pound package banana leaves
To make the filling, in a medium bowl, mix together the orange juice, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Place the pork in a shallow glass dish, pour the marinade over, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot, heat 1/2 cup of the achiote oil over a medium flame. Drain the pork from the marinade and fry for about 10 minutes, turingin with tongs until evenly browned on all sides. Add the onion, pepper, and tomatoes, and cook for 8 minutes, until the vegetables soften. Add the broth, cilantro, garbanzos, olives, raisins, and capers. Cover, transfer to the oven, and cook for 45 minutes, until the mean is tender and the liquid is nearly evaporated.
To make the dough, purée both types of yautia with the plantains and milk in a food processor; it is best to do this in batches. The dough should be like a smooth paste. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add the salt and remaining 1 cup of achiote oil, and mix well, until the dough is an even yellow-orange color.
To form the pasteles, clean and cut the banana leaves into 10x6-inch rectangles. Cut a piece of wax paper slightly bigger and put a banana leaf on top. Spread 3 tablespoons of the root vegetable paste thinly on the leaf, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around the edges. Put 3 tablespoons of the pork filling down the center of the paste, and top with an additional tablespoon of the paste to cover. Fold the banana leaf in half lengthwise, using the wax paper for support. Fold the ends into the center so they barely touch, taking care that by folding you do not apply too much pressure and cause the filling to ooze out. The pasteles should look like little envelopes. Using kitchen string, tie the pasteles crisscross like a gift, so that both ends are sealed completely.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasteles, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, until firm when pressed. Once cooked, remove promptly from the water and let them rest for 10 minutes before unwrapping and serving.
-Seville Oranges: Tart oranges grown in the Mediterranean that are also called sour and bitter oranges. They are relatively small and contain only about 2 tablespoons of potent juice per orange. Sour oranges are used daily in the Cuban and Caribbean kitchen because of their unique sweet, sour, and acidic flavor. They are also the orange of choice from which to make marmalade. If Seville oranges are not available, mix equal parts of fresh orange and lime juices.
-Mexican Oregano: A dried herb with a strong, aromatic flavor; also referred to as wild majoram. It was a staple in my childhood home in El Paso. When my mother was growing up on a northern Mexican ranch, the cattle used to graze on fresh wild-growing oregano, so as a result, the meat itself had a subtle oregano flavor.