xmlns:fb='http://www.facebook.com/2008/fbml' Trinidad Pasteles

Friday, December 16, 2016

Trinidad Pasteles

The year is coming to a close, there is a chill in the air and the birds have migrated, except for the ones that pick at my garbage on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Tis the season to be jolly and bright, but there appears to be a significant number of miserable folks around. Have you noticed that too? To sum up 2016 in one word, I would say shocking, from the result of the US elections, to news of divorces, break-ups, suicides, increase in bullying in schools, Brexit, speech plagiarizing, end of Cuba embargo and Castro subsequently dying, hurricane Matthew devastating Haiti, continued chaos and crisis in the Middle East and other areas, racial tensions, police brutality, murders, the increase in the number of homeless people on my train and in NYC, and one good news, Chicago Cubs winning against the Cleveland Indians etc. What wasn't shocking was Bolt winning his eight Olympic Gold medal.

At home, raising two teenagers is a feat on its own. My Jewish doctor mentioned that he raised 8 teenagers and the most valuable advice he gave me ( I am already healthy) was "choose your battles". We can't argue and reprimand them for every single thing. Leaving your entire closet on the floor-if and when you trip and fall or can't find something, don't tell me about it, not combing your hair-fine, studying till your eyes fall out-a parent's dream come true, wearing your expensive contacts every day instead of your glasses-as long as you can see where you are going, fighting with your sister-leave me out of it, shaving your legs and declaring it fell off by itself-we will schedule an appointment with a doctor if it continues, buying Japanese food every time I give you allowance-leave some for me.

What's not fine is wasting precious time, spending hours on social media/phone, listening to lewd music, not dressing adequately for the weather, permanently borrowing products from my bathroom (only to find it missing when I am in the shower), rummaging through the drawers in my bedroom (it does not contain all the solutions to your problems), wearing chemical-laden, strong smelling perfume(where do you get that stuff!), stashing 5 pounds of candy in your school bag after halloween, eating all my baking chocolate in the refrigerator(I'm going to hurt someone), taking pics with your tongue sticking out of your mouth(what nonsense is that), posting selfies on social media with any of your epidermis showing(a Caribbean parenting thing), "caking your face". As I am writing this, my daughter texts me her Christmas list, the first 5 items are makeup. I am not hopeful that I am going to win the battle against makeup with two teenagers. Folks, if you have teenagers or kids too, rest assured we will survive. As the Great Book says, this too shall pass.

Despite all the issues and my personal opinions, I know my Christmas will be merry and bright, because my kitchen will be busier than ever. Actually, it all started at the end of November with Thanksgiving and I haven't stopped the feasting yet. After January 20, I will drop the 'e' and hopefully the pounds I am about to gain(I say that every year). But until then, let's make these pasteles together and have some fun.

Pasteles are a popular favorite amongst Trinbagonians around Christmas time. I don't know why we wait all year to make these(most likely the work involved?). According to Wikipedia, it is believed that the pasteles were introduced by Spanish colonizers who ruled the island between the late 15th and early 18th centuries.

This comfort food should be in your freezer year round to enjoy as a snack. It's made up of two components, the cornflour mix and a savory filling such as beef, chicken, pork, or seafood cooked with raisins, capers, olives and other Caribbean flavors. The filing of your choice is enclosed within the soft, melt in your mouth corn flour(if done right) and wrapped in banana leaves. I've made pasteles with chicken, turkey, ground beef and bison and I beyond excited to try many variations in the future. Pasteles' sweeter counterpart 'paime', does not contain any filling, and is made with cornmeal, coconut and raisins-an optional ingredient.

This pastele recipe has a wonderful balance of flavors-sweet, savory, spicy (optional) and a hint of salty from the olives and capers. If you don't like raisins, olive or capers, I would recommend that you not eliminate those ingredients entirely but chop them fine. This way you get the celebration of flavors without the experience of biting into any one. I spread the mix with the back of a spoon in a circle on the banana leaf, place the filling along the diameter and wrap. The oblong pastele 'pie" is then tied with a string(I didn't do it here because I couldn't find mine!). Once wrapped, the pasteles can either be cooked in boiling water, steamed or frozen for later use(I prefer steaming so that liquid/water does not seep into the wrapped leaves).

Many regions of the world have their own variation of banana leaf wrapped snack/meal and there are many versions in the Caribbean, Central, South and Latin America. Pastele making is rooted in tradition and usually involves many family members assisting in the process. My Jamaican co-worker talks about dukunu/blue drawers which has a banana-sweet potato filling. In the Dominican Republic, it is known as tamal or guanimos, and is made with cornflour stuffed with ground meat. Puerto Ricans use mashed green plantain and root vegetables to make theirs. My Venezuelan friend described their version as hayaca, a corn dough stuffed with similar meat variations and ingredients-sometimes using hard fowl. The thought of that gets me excited(you won't understand).

You can find frozen banana leaves in your supermarket in the Caribbean section. These leaves are already supple which does not require heating over an open flame or immersing in hot water. If your super market does not have such a section ask the store manager--or move. That's all. You may also get technical and use a pastele press-mine is on it's way from Trinidad. Have no fear,  I have developed this recipe so that a press is not required. You can also skip the step of making balls, then pressing into a circle. I find that a little extra liquid in the corn flour mixture results in a more tender pastele without the need to add a pound of butter. At the end of the day and the holidays my motto is still all things in moderation(I bet you don't believe me).

These pasteles are already flavorful and do not require any condiments but I won't hold it against you if you drizzle it with a little Caribbean pepper sauce.

Does that look like I skipped two steps...? No!!! 
Does that look soft and tender? Heck Yes!
Folks, less time we spend cooking means more time to spend eating....Agree? If you don't agree, use less water in the dough and make/roll your balls...if that kinda stuff makes you happy.

Testimony from a bona fide Trini: "I'm not mamguying you, but this is better than some they sell in Trinidad, this is real good girl."

Ria's Trinidad Chicken/Turkey/Pork/Beef/Bison Pasteles

Makes 12-14 servings

2 cups fine yellow corn flour (I used Promasa)
1 ½ teaspoons Himalayan salt
2 tablespoons raw brown sugar
4 tablespoons salted organic sweet cream butter, melted
3 cups warm water

For the meat filling

½ large sweet onion, finely chopped
1 lb minced meat (I used ½ minced chicken and ½ minced turkey)
2 tablespoons green seasoning
2 tablespoons grated carrot
½ large red sweet pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground cumin
10 olives, chopped
½ cup raisins, chopped
2 tablespoons capers, chopped
1 ½ tsp salt
4 Scallions, chopped
2 Caribbean pimento peppers (seasoning peppers) and/or hot pepper (habanero or scotch bonnet), chopped

Large stock pot or wide saucepan.
Banana Leaf, cut into rectangles 10 x 6 inches
Foil or parchment paper, cut into rectangles, 12 x 8 inches
Twine (not required if using foil)

Place cornflour in a medium bowl. Mix in salt, sugar and melted butter. Gradually pour in warm water into corn mixture and mix thoroughly until the excess liquid is absorbed.

To cook meat:
1. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium heat.
2. Add onion and cook 3 minutes until translucent.
3. Add meat and green seasoning and cook until brown. If it's dry, especially if you used lean meat, add 1-2 tbs oil.
4. Add carrot, sweet pepper, ketchup, oregano, cumin, raisins, capers, salt, black pepper, cook for 5 minutes, then add ½ cup water, reduce heat to low and cook about 20 mins or until the meat is tender and flavorful. 
5. Add chopped scallions and pimento peppers or hot pepper during the last 5 mins.

To assemble:
1. Cut parchment paper or foil 12 x 8 inches.
2. To prepare banana leaves: Wilt in boiling water or over an open flame. Dry, wipe leaves and cut into rectangles 10 inches x 6 inches. Frozen banana leaves do not require any preparation except wiping with a paper or kitchen towel.
3. Place parchment or foil on counter, then place the banana leaf in the center.
4. Place two heaping tablespoons corn dough mixture into the center of the banana leaf(I did not oil the leaf because I have found that banana leaves is naturally "non stick"). Flatten and spread out the dough evenly in a circle. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling along the center of the dough. Fold half of the dough over the filling using the leaf. Fold over the other half to cover the filling. Now fold leaf to make a parcel. Fold and tie parchment paper, if using foil tightly fold the ends of the foil. Repeat with the remaining corn dough and filling.
5. Bring a few inches of water, in a stock pan or wide saute pan, to a boil. Put wrapped pasteles into pot, cover, reduce heat to low and steam for 60-90 minutes. Drain immediately and place on a flat surface as they retain the shape when they become cold.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas! 

With Love and the best dishes,

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