Trinidad Pastelle Recipe

10.12.20 | Recipe by Renz

A savory cornmeal pie, filled with seasoned meat. This steamed delicacy is an all-time favorite part of the Caribbean foodscape during the Christmas season. And something your guests would love to nibble on.

A gray plate of pastelles wrapped with a pack of flour and a spoon of chow chow

One of the top sourced items in a Trinidad and Tobago house at Christmas time is pastelles. These things are prized possessions.

Not sure how a savory cornmeal pie, stuffed with some meat filling and wrapped in banana leaves (or foil) be such a high stake commodity?

You need to try one to understand.

But these little things, along with black cake, ginger beer, sweetbread, punch ah creme are the things to have on your Caribbean Christmas list.
  
Most people are daunted by making pastelles because the process entails a lot of work. Especially if you decide to make a large batch.

Most times we have a full production team to get these done. Cause, in reality, you don't want to make just 6 pastelles. For the work needed and how quickly we eat them out, that ent making no sense.

So then you decide you want to make dozens on dozens, so you then bring in enough people to divvy up the workload.

And if you think this is too much work, check out my baked pastelle pie which has the same great flavor combination in a casserole form.

What exactly are pastelles?


A lot of people would compare pastelles to tamales or empanadas. But they are not really the same. Pastelles compromise seasoned meat (beef, chicken, fish, or vegetarian versions) that has been encased in a cornmeal body and wrapped in banana leaves. They are then steamed.

It's a Caribbean-wide dish but has been said to originate from Venezuela and was brought to Trinidad by our Spanish settlers.

Ingredients for pastelles


  • Cornmeal flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Warm water
  • Ground beef
  • Onion
  • Chive
  • Garlic
  • Black pepper
  • Pimento peppers (or 1 tablespoon pimento sauce)
  • Capers
  • Olives
  • Raisins
  • Celery
  • Chadon beni



Ingredients needed to make the meat for the filling


Equipment needed

How to make Trinidad pastelles


I've broken this down into segments so that it makes it easier to get through. You can also break the section up into days, especially if you are making huge batches.

The important thing about pastelles is the flavor. So you want to make sure you season up your meat, and even your dough really well.

Fillings can vary from beef (the main thing) to chicken, fish, and vegetarian options like tofu and mushrooms.

Sizes can also vary. The size is up to you. Depending on your personal intentions that decides if you grab a tennis ball of dough or a lime ball of dough.

Preparing the leaves

The first step in the process, especially if I don't have help, is to get my leaves ready. As I mentioned above, it would need to be cleaned and heated to be made pliable.

Pastelles are most commonly wrapped in banana leaves. We would normally just go outside and get them. We would then cut off the "rib" of the leaf then trim off the edges.

Once that is done we need to make it pliable, or flexible enough to fold. Cut the leaf into the best sizes for what you need and over low heat, pass it over the direct heat. Make sure that you do not burn them.

Keep moving the leave over the heat until it bends easily.

Another option to get it pliable is to drop them into boiling water then pull them out.

Or another alternative is to place the leaves in an oven of about 200 degrees and leave for 5 to 10 minutes.

For the commercial leaves that I find in the Caribbean or Asian stores here, it's a little less work. These are already scalded and pliable. Defrost the leaves, wash them off gently (you can even just use a wet paper towel and wipe them off).

Then disinfect them with some diluted vinegar water and leave them to dry.

Other wrap alternatives would be using foil or parchment paper.

And some people even use leaves and foil together, with foil being on the outside wrap after they wrap with the leaf.

Once the leaves are done and set them aside.

Preparing the meat


Now it's time for the meat.

Beef is my ultimate favorite filling. I love having my pastelle stuffing to have raisins, capers, pimento, and a hint of spicy.

The good thing here is that you can taste this as you go along and season it up to your liking.

It is important that things are finely chopped for the meat mixture. Like your onions (I ground mine after I took the pic), cloves garlic, chive, peppers, etc. If not they can poke through the cornmeal wrap depending on how thin you make the casing.

Plus nobody wants a big chunk of onion et al while eating these pastelles.

Cooking the meat is quite easy. Heat your oil and add in your onions and garlic and cook till opaque.

Add your meat and everything else but the capers, olives, and raisins. Cook until your meat is tender.

Remove from heat then add in the remaining meat ingredients and combine.

Meat is now cooked and set aside. Now to get the dough ready.

Preparing the Dough


My favorite brand of cornflour to use for this is Promasa cornflour. You can get this flour from Callaloo Box.

It is best to use cornflour NOT cornmeal. These are two different things and this is what can make the difference in the texture of your pastelle.

Corn flour is also milled corn BUT it is fine and smooth. It is also less corn tasting in comparison to cornmeal.

Cornmeal can be used as a substitute though so don't worry.

Mix all the dough ingredients together adding the lukewarm water in batches as you combine. You want it to form a nice sticky ball.

You don't want the dough to be crumbly and fall apart when you are spreading it out. If it's breaking you can add a little water at a time and mix till it's good. So test the texture now before making the individual balls.

You can then go ahead and make your dough into the size balls you want and set aside. (either a tennis ball or a lime ball)

Cover dough with a damp cloth to stop it from drying up.

How to fold Trinidad pastelles

 
Now we have all the parts ready to go we can go through this step by step.

You should now have banana skin/foil, meat, and dough ready. You should also have your twine cut and ready for tying.

Oh, another important thing you need here too is vegetable oil. Having oil on your hands and on the leaf really helps with making sure the dough does not stick to things.

With your dried leaf, take some oil and grease one side of a leaf.

Take a ball of dough and place it on the oiled leaf. If you are just using your hands, gently push the dough out to flatten. Not too thin because it needs to hold the filling. Also not too thick.

It is better to use a bottle or even another plate to press down.

If you are using a pastelle press, or a plate, instead of your hands, take another leaf and oil it. This leaf will be the pressing leaf that you will use to flatten any balls.

Put that second leaf, oil side down on top of the ball, then use your press/plate and press down and flatten. Take off the second leaf and set it aside to continue to use as the pressing leaf.

Now that dough is flattened, place the filling in the center of the dough. Not too much.

  
Open dough of pastelle on a banana leaf with meat filling


Now to fold the pastelle:

Step 1: Take the right side of the leaf (or a longer side depending on how it's laid down) and fold it into the center of the dough. Then peel the leaf back from the dough. It shouldn't be too difficult once you oiled it well.

  
dough with meat filling with one side of dough folded in


Step 2: Take the left side of the leaf (or the next longer side) and fold it to meet, or even just past, the center of the dough (to meet or slightly past the right fold). Peel back the leaf from the dough. 

  
pastelle with sides folded in with meat filling on a banana leaf


Step 3: Fold the bottom up to close the space at the bottom. You can leave the leaf there or peel it back.

  
Pastelle dough on a banana leaf with sides folded in


Step 4: Fold the remaining side in to close the gap.
  
Fully folded pastelle on a banana leaf


Step 5: Then fold in/wrap the rest of the banana leaf into the center.

Step 6: Gently flatten pastelle

Step 7: Wrap a piece of twine around pastelles (some people sometimes put two pastelles together with the seam side facing each other) and set them aside.

  
Folded pastelles waiting to be put to boil


Continue this process until all dough balls are filled.

On medium heat, put about 6 - 8 quartz of water to boil. Season with salt.

Once bubbling rapidly, gently add pastelles to water, bring again to a boil and let boil

You can also steam the pastelles. Place a colander over boiling water (do not let the water get into the colander) and leave pastelles to steam for about 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from water and drain.

Voila, you just made pastelles.

Exciting right?

Storage


You have two options for storing pastelles.

After making them and they have cooled, you would freeze them. The best way to freeze them is to put them into freezer bags to help keep them longer. Once they have been sealed in there well, pastelles can stay in your freezer for up to a year.

You also can opt to freeze them before boiling them.

I prefer to boil them prior to freezing.  


Opened banana leaf with an already steamed pastelle



How to reheat pastelles?


To reheat, the best method is to place frozen pasteles into already boiling water and let them boil for about 10 - 15 minutes.

You can also steam them again by putting them in a colander over some boiling water.

I sometimes use a microwave if I am really hungry but it burns them. The edges get brown and crunchy. So only use this method as a last resort.

  
Two pastelles on plate with banana leaf showing the inside with meat



What to eat with pastelles?


Now, what can you pair these with? Depending on how you see them. Some people eat them as appetizers or even two for an actual meal.

They might just top them with some chow chow on the top.

Others may eat them as part of a meal for the holidays with stuffing, baked ham, rice, and whatever other numerous things on the Caribbean menu.

However, you eat them enjoy them.









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