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".
I know it's a roundabout way of explaining it, but it gets the message across. Maybe.
What is Pasteles en Hoja?
Pasteles en Hoja is 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.
This Christmas classic is 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.
Dominican vs Puerto Rican pasteles
The name Pasteles de Masa seems to be the most common way to find Puerto Rican pasteles recipes in Spanish. They are very similar to Dominican Pasteles en Hoja. Having once tried Puerto Rican pasteles, I can honestly say that I could have closed my eyes and imagine I was in Santo Domingo; they were that close.
Curiously, when I checked the oldest Dominican cookbook I own (first published in the 1930s), there were two versions of this dish, one the author called "Pasteles Puertoriqueños", the other was very similar to this recipe, but with the addition of yuca to it (we don't currently do so) so by then Dominicans were aware of the two versions of this dish, I believe.
About our recipe
In all the years I've been blogging I have encountered countless ways of making pasteles (before I started writing about Dominican food I just cared about eating them, not how they were made).
Some people use unripe bananas instead of plantains, some reject using auyama as blasphemous, and anything in between. There is no one right way to make pasteles, and that's a great thing, we all like different things.
We'd love to hear the tips you swear by for great pasteles, let us know in the comments!
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 salt
- 1 tbsp 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.