Few dishes are as cherished to Dominicans as Pasteles en Hoja (Plantain and Beef Pockets). It is an essential component of the Christmas and New Year's Eve dinner.
Whenever I want to explain Pasteles en Hoja (Roots and Beef Pockets) to somebody who has never seen them I usually say “they are a little bit like tamales, with different ingredients and wrapped in plantain leaves instead of corn husks”.
I know it’s a roundabout way of explaining it, but it gets the message across. If the person knows what a tamal is to start with.
So what are Pasteles en Hoja?
Pasteles en Hoja are a tamal-like food, popular in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Instead of a corn “masa”, a plantain (or unripe bananas) and roots batter is used as the base. They may be stuffed with beef (most common stuffing), chicken, or whatever strikes your fancy.
It’s made with many ingredients that, although common in the Dominican Republic, might be hard to come across in your own country, so plan this recipe ahead to give yourself time to hunt down all the necessary ingredients – it will be worth it. If you find it impossible to get the banana tree leaves, don’t despair; you can use parchment paper as a substitute.
There is also a yuca (cassava) version that I love every bit as much.
Pasteles en Hoja Recipe (Plantain and Beef Pockets)
- For the filing
- 1/2 lb [0.23 kg] of ground beef
- 1 cubanela (cubanelle) pepper, diced into very small cubes
- 1 small red onion , diced into very small cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon of oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
- 1 teaspoon of salt1 tablespoon of oil
- 1 cup of tomato sauce
For the paste
- 1 unripe plantain
- 1/2 [0.23 kg] lb of yautía blanca (taro)
- 1 lb [0.46 kg] auyama (West Indian pumpkin)
- 1/2 [0.23 kg] lb of ñame (yam)
- 1 teaspoon of seasoning powder
- 1 quarter cup of milk
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 3 banana tree leaves and/or parchment paper
- String (the kind used for tying ham while cooking)
- 1/2 cup of ketchup
- 1 teaspoon of hot sauce
Making the filling
- Mix the beef, cubanela pepper, onion, oregano, pepper and salt.
- In a shallow pan heat of oil over medium heat. Add the beef and brown, cook for 10 minutes adding water by the tablespoons as it becomes necessary. Add tomato sauce. Mix well and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.
- Simmer over medium heat, adding a tablespoon water when it becomes necessary. Let all the liquid evaporate. Remove from the heat and reserve.
Making the paste
- Peel and grate the plantain, taro, pumpkin and yam.
- In a deep bowl mix the plantain, taro, pumpkin, yam, milk, seasoning powder and salt.
- Cut the plantain leaves into 6 – 5″x5″ [13 x 13 cm] squares.
- Put 3 tablespoons of the plantain and root mixture on the center of one of these squares.
- Put 2 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.
- When all are done, bring half a gallon of water to boil in a deep pot.
- When the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of salt.
- Put all the pockets in the boiling water and boil over medium heat for 30 minutes.
- Unwrap before serving.
- Serve garnished with hot sauce and ketchup.