I’m one of those people that asks questions of other shoppers while in ethnic food stores.
“What is this? What is your favorite way to cook it?”
Most times I get a cursory answer or someone who doesn’t speak my language any more that I do of theirs. Sometimes, though, I meet that friendly person who is delighted to share their culinary knowledge. Right before Christmas was one of these times.
I asked about an herb that was right next to the cilantro. It was called recao (or culantro). This lovely lady was using it to make Recaito (Puerto Rican sofrito) for Pasteles. She spent time telling me in detail about Pasteles. She gave me enough information that I was able to go home and track down a recipe.
Pasteles are very similar to tamales, only the masa is made of quite a variety of tubers, gourds, and green bananas. Then you boil the pasteles submerged in water rather than steaming them like tamales.
I didn’t think that I was going to manage to make these this year seeing as I was out of fresh pumpkin and didn’t have plans to acquire any. However, I ended up bringing my mom’s last pumpkin home from our Christmas festivities as she wasn’t going to manage to use it before it went bad.
Since I was already shopping for tamale supplies, I simply got enough banana leaves for this process as well as the few extra ingredients.
I followed this recipe using the food processor instructions. I simply substituted pureed Mexican zucchini for the peppers and tomatoes in this recipe and the recaito. I froze the extra recaito in an ice cube tray to use another time.
I found annatto seeds at an ethnic grocery store. To make annatto oil infused 2/3 cup canola oil with about 1 1/2 teaspoon annatto seeds on low for about 20 minutes. This way I could season the meat and infuse the oil without having the rest of a bottle of annatto oil hanging around my pantry.
For the sazon packet I sprinkled 1/2 teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cumin, annatto seeds, and garlic powder into the pot with the meat along with the other ingredients in the recipe.
Also, yautias are tubers called taro or malanga at the grocery stores near me. However, taro is also a name given to a smaller tuber. Yautias are larger than baking potatoes, while true taro is smaller than a red potato. I read that either will work, but the malanga is the most traditional.
John and I liked the pasteles. We though they were a fun derivation from our tamales. However, of all three children only Little Man liked them. I guess we’ll have to stick to tamale making in the future.