As I approach my 30s I often find myself wondering if I can carry out the traditions of my family. Seven years ago I lost my Aunt, Grandmother and Mother, in a matter of three months. With them went the traditions, the recipes, and for me, the culture. My sister and I have vowed to keep as many of the traditions as we can alive, but with that comes a lot of questioning. I often find myself trying to recreate my grandmother’s recipes, and I will have to call my sister and ask her if she remembers what Abuelita used to add to this or that. As children and teenagers we often can care less and try to rebel against what our family thinks is important, only to long for those things once we have matured and venture out on our own.
One of the most important recipes that I had always regretted not paying attention to were Pasteles, I don’t care what kind of Puerto Rican you are, where you grew up or if Spanglish is your main language, if you are Puerto Rican, chances are Pasteles were being made at your house, your abuela’s house, Tia Fefa’s house or Doña Carmen’s. Let’s also not forget that while you were making them for family, you were also making them to sell to the people in the oficina, or la señora que no tiene hijos, or tu prima que vive en Connecticut and only comes around for the holidays. Pasteles brought us together, no matter if your job was to peel the verduras, grate them, cut the string or make the “paquetes” or “juntas” as my grandmother would say. I remember my grandmother taking out her old vinyls of Hector Lavoe (especially the one with him in the baby carriage and the santa suit), El Gran Combo, Oscar DeLeon ,Willie Colon, Frankie Ruiz, Pete Conde, and she always slid in some Johnny Ventura for good measure. As the years progressed vinyls turned into cassettes, and the music switched to Jerry Rivera y su Cara de Niño, Marc Anthony con Otra Nota, La India and even Enrique Iglesias.
The years have passed, and I never in a million years thought I would be able to get a recipe that would be like my grandmother’s. If you ask us all what she put some will say guineos and yuca con un platano, others will say all yautia con un poquito de yuca, platano y guineo, but none, not one could tell you what she actually put into them. As my grandfather’s journey on the earth was coming to an end, my sister and I went to Puerto Rico to cherish our final encounters with him. Never had I thought that this tragedy would bring about such an amazing gift (I’m sure my abuelita had something to do with it)!
In passing we mentioned that we were trying to collect recipes from our childhood, in order to keep some traditions alive. La Mama de Nilda, as she is known to me since I never really caught her name, everyone called her “mai”, volunteered to share her recipe with us, even letting us record it with my sister’s ultra ghetto digital camera(that would turn off on its own if you moved it too much). I shall forever be grateful to her for imparting her knowledge upon me. With that I offer to you this great gift this Christmas Season! Feliz Navidad!
As given to me by “la mama de Nilda”
5 # Yautía Blanca (taro root)
5 # Guineo Verde (green bananas)
3 # Calabaza (pumpkin)
1 Cup Achiote (annato seeds)
3 Cups Aceite (oil, she used Corn, I used Canola)
3 Cucharadas de Manteca (3 really large spoons of lard, I used equal portions of lard to oil)
Sal (salt to taste)
Caldo de la Carne (the stock from your pork filling)
1) Add Oil, Lard and Achiote to a large pot, and set your heat to low, let them infuse for about 30 minutes, remove from stove and set aside to cool. Strain the seeds from the oil. If the lard solidifies just warm it up until it is liquid consistency again.
2) You must grate all of the vegetables on the finest side of your grater, if you alternate the verduras it will be easier to mix later on.
3) Add “pork stock” for flavor
4) Add Achiote Oil, about ½ cup at a time until the Masa is a light orange color
5) Add Salt to taste
6) Whip the masa to mix all of the flavors and to avoid having hard pastels (I used my kitchen aid stand mixer and mixed on high for about 3 mins to avoid cramped arms)
At this point you should test some of your masa by cooking about a tablespoon worth just to make sure it has enough salt.
I will leave you to decide what kind of fillings you will use, tradional pasteles contain pork, garbanzo beans, olives stuffed with pimientos and some people even add raisins.
by Mary DeLeon