I bet half of our readers are knee-deep in food right now, and the other half obsessing about what food will be on the table tomorrow. And on many of those tables, Pasteles en Hoja de Yuca (Cassava and Chicken Pockets) will be one of the stars of the evening.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and no other occasion in our culinary culture packs as much significance. It’s a time for families (and friends) to get together and share probably the biggest, fanciest meal they’ll have the entire year.
For each person this holiday may have a different meaning: For some it is a time of deep religious significance, for others it is a time to share with friends and family, to get together and catch up on the events of the year.
From the fanciest mansions to the humble barrio shack, dinner will be the best we can afford. Our national food traditions will make an appearance, some homes will partake of their own family traditions, some — like ours — will include some decidedly non-traditional dishes too.
Regardless of your own customs and beliefs, Aunt Ilana and Aunt Clara want to wish you a very merry Christmas, and may you spend these days in the warm embrace of a loving family and friends.
Pasteles en hoja are almost obligatory at the Christmas Eve dinner, but pasteles en hoja de yuca gives it a great new twist for a change. There are many recipes for this dish, each cook swears by his, but I love mine, and I hope you do too.
- 4 boneless , skinless chicken breasts
- 1 onion , quartered
- 1/2 teaspoons of orégano
- 3 cloves of garlic , chopped
- 2 teaspoon of salt , or to taste
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon of agrio de naranja , or hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon of chopped chives
- 2 lb [0.9 kg] of yuca (cassava), peeled and washed
- 1/2 lb [0.23 kg] of auyama (West Indian pumpkin), peeled
- 1 1/4 cup of milk
- 1 1/4 cup of water
- 1 tablespoon of bija (annatto, anato)
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 3 banana tree leaves and parchment paper
- String (for cooking)
Place the chicken in a pot, add 1 qt [1 lt] of water, onion, oregano, garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt to it (set aside remaining salt). Simmer over medium heat until the chicken is cooked and has started to flake.
Remove chicken from the liquid (you can save the liquid and use it as broth for another dish).
Once the chicken has cooled to room temperature, flake into very small pieces.
Heat oil over medium heat, add chicken and cook until it is heated through. Stir in tomato sauce, agrio de naranja and chives. Season with salt to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Grate yuca and auyama (separately) with the finest side of the grater.
With a clean cotton cloth, squeeze the yuca to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Remove any ungrated pieces or clumps.
Mix yuca and auyama and set aside.
Mix milk, water and annatto, and boil over very low heat until the liquid has reduced to half (you should obtain 1 1/4 of it). Sieve to get rid of solids.
Mix in butter, salt and garlic powder and stir. Pour this mixture into the cassava and yuca mixture and stir to mix.
Cut the plantain leaves into 6 - 5"x5" [13 x 13 cm] squares.
Put 3 tablespoons of the yuca mixture on the center of one of these squares.
Put 3 tablespoon of filling in the center, cover with 3 more tablespoons of the root mixture to cover the filling.
Fold the leaf square in the shape of an envelope.
Wrap again in parchment paper and tie tightly.
Heat 1/2 galón [1 lt] of water in a large pot over medium heat. Once it breaks the boil add the pasteles and simmer for 35 minutes. Make sure they're always covered with water and add more if it becomes necessary.
Check the Pasteles en Hoja recipe to see the wrapping process step by step.
You can freeze the pasteles once wrapped but uncooked, just make sure they are tightly wrapped with plastic film and they should last up to 6 months in the freezer. If you will serve the next day, keep refrigerated overnight (uncooked) and boil before serving.