By Raymond Vega

Puerto Rican traditions involves a lot of holidays especially at Christmas time. Most of these holidays have a religious background that include the “Misas de Aguinaldo,” celebrated from December 17 to December 24 where the church offers a mass at five in the morning, characterized by singing of traditional hymns. When this ends, Christmas Eve is celebrated on December 24 at night where family and friends meet and eat typical plates from Puerto Rico. After Christmas Eve, families attend “Misa de Gallo” where the church organized a Nativity scene.  The expected day arrives, Christmas, where children expects presents and adults the opportunity to share with family. On Christmas day, people dance, eat, go to church and become aware the birth of Jesus. New Year’s Eve, New Year day and the day of the three kings are other holidays where family and friends meet to share and eat. As Puerto Rican we like to be part of all Christmas celebrations around, especially for the typical dishes like, pork grilled, rice and beans, and also and can’t miss  “pasteles”

For that reason Maria Velez, chef in the restaurant “El fogon de Abuela” in Camuy, explained a recipe about how to make delicious “pasteles”.  Maria Velez, a Brooklyn, New York native born to mainland Puerto Rican parents, lived at her grandmother’s house until she was almost five years old.  Between her grandmother, Valentina, and her mother, Conchita, Maria learned that the kitchen is the happiest room in the household, filled with love, family, and delicious food. With an extended family of relatives from Central America, Spain, and other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, Maria grew up appreciating the diversity of Latin cuisine. While attending Long Island University, she met her husband, Dr. Jerry Lombardo.   After marrying, Maria dedicated herself to raising her family, for who she often hosted festivities and gatherings featuring delicious food – a tradition that she happily continues to this day.  As a surprise birthday gift, Maria’s husband sent her to cooking school – a dream that Maria had always wanted to pursue.  In 1998 she registered at the “Escuela hotelera de San Juan”. Presently, she works at the “El Fogon de Abuela Restaurant” in Camuy.

To make the mass you need :
5 lbs of yucca
Salt 1cdta
2 1 / 2 envelopes seasoning with achiote
1 1 / 4 cup vegetable oil
1 1 / 2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 1 / 2 cup warm water
1 1 / 2 cup water to chicken broth
1-Take away the peel cassava. Cut along and make the center or heart. This part is woody and not pleasant to eat the dough.
2-grated the cassava. You get about 9 oz. of dough for each lb. of cassava.
3-You must remove some of the cassava starch. To make the dough passes through a sieve or strainer very dense. You can use a piece of cheesecloth or muslin cloth or you can use a cloth strainer for coffee, which has not been used before (NEW). To facilitate this process adds to the dough 1 1 / 2 cup warm water.
4-In the vegetable oil add seasoning. Join them and throw them in the mass of cassava. Mix well.
5-Prepare the broth with chicken bouillon cubes and ½ cup water.
6 – In a blender, check the dough in small amounts with a little chicken stock and tuned a little dough. Do not do just a little cream. This process will leave your body smooth and at the same time better join dough ingredients. Our grandmothers perform this step using a
pestle and mortar.
7-This is the time to check if the dough has the seasoning to taste. If you have too much salt for your taste add cassava. Add salt to be dull. Remember that the padding will salt and water used for cooking also carries salt. Keep the dough in the refrigerator while preparing filling.


“One of the most crucial step for this recipe, is the mass, if you jump one single step the mass would be hard, and that don’t give a good sensation in your mouth” said Chef Maria.
6 large boneless chicken breasts, skin removed and roughly chopped
1 can of 15oz.  of cooked chickpeas  in water and salt
1 / 2 medium onion, chopped
3 sweet peppers, seeded
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 sheet of oregano
1 pepper cooking
2 cloves of garlic
1 / 2 cup tomato sauce
1 can pimentos
1 / 4 tbs. paprika (Spanish paprika)
1 / 8 tbs. pepper powder
1 / 8 tbs. cumin
1 / 8 tbs. oregano
1 / 8 tbs. vinegar
2 packets of seasoning with achiote
3 ounces of vegetable oil
2 tbs. salt
12 stuffed olives cut into wheels
1 cup water
1-Une pepper, paprika, cumin, oregano, 2 ounces of vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and vinegar. Chicken and let marinate in refrigerator overnight or prepared immediately.
2-Made in the blender the onion, sweet peppers, the oregano, green pepper, half the red peppers, garlic stuffed olives and 2. Grind the ingredients.
3-Put the mix in a container, add in 1 ounce of oil and chicken. Leave for 10 minutes over medium heat. Take the envelopes of seasoning, 1 cup water, tomato sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt or salt to taste and the drained chickpeas. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
4-When thickened (about 10 minutes before the end) add diced tomatoes; olives cut in the 10 wheels and bell pepper cut into strips.
5-Remove from heat when the sauce has thickened and the meat is cooked.


“The only crucial step here is seasoning and cooing well the meet, the other ingredients are only mixing them” say Chef Maria.

The leaves is the step that give the esthetic and a little “Boricua” flavor to the “pastel” here is how to prepare the leaves:
1-Turn on the stove burner on low heat (low). Pass the banana leaf on the stove to take the same flexibility (the cushion). This will prevent splitting when bent when wrap the cake.
You’ll notice that the leaf changes color. Do not let burn; as soon will change color. This procedure did our grandmothers in the stove. You can also use the Q and B Bar. If you use does not throw a lot of coal and coal expected to lose some its red color.
2-With a clean damp cloth leaves. If the sheet is complete take off the central vein. Cut pieces of approximately 12 “x 12”.
To wrap the “pasteles” you will need:
Cord to tie the cakes. The knitting yarn (crochet) will serve
½ cup butter with annatto
damped banana leaves
1-Grease with butter leaf with achiote. This will prevent the cake from sticking to the blade and the same time give you a little more color to the dough.
2-Check as 2 ounces of dough on the sheet and spread it to form the layer to receive the filling. The length and width will depend on how big you want it and how much mass the pie throw on the sheet.
If the amount of mass does not completely cover the meat adds a bit of meat to cover it.
3-On put the filling mass. Leave the ends of unfilled mass to prevent the cake by wrapping the meat out.
4 – Fold the banana leaves over the pie and fold the ends or edges inward. Use the cord
to tie. You can tie two cakes together by placing the sides where the leaves are folded one over the other.
Cooking the Pasteles
1-You need enough water to cover the cakes
2-A container of adequate size for the amount of cake you want to do.
3- Salt to taste. Add salt to the water and let it boil. Then check the “pasteles”. Let boil for at least 1 hour.

Chef Maria advises that if you do not use the seasoning packets of vegetable oil with achiote. Add mass oregano, cumin powder and garlic powder and if you prefer to use pork, use2 poundsground pork.


“If you follow all this simple steps, you are going to get a high quality puertorrican culinary tradition to enjoy with all your family and friends”, said Maria Velez.


Maria with some pasteles.


Here is your final product. Enjoy!


1 Comment

  1. luisrperez said,

    December 14, 2011 at 12:00 am12

    Your story brought back so many memories of my childhood 😀 I remember heading out to get the banana leaves for the pasteles and always asking my grandmother to make some “pasteles ciegos” (nothing in them) for me. Excellent and detailed recipe. I hope to try it out one day 🙂

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