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Trinidad Pastelles (recipe)

Posted Dec 15 2010 9:12am

One of Trinidad’s seasonal delights, pastelles are a steamed cornmeal pie wrapped in banana leaves and filled with stewed meat, olives, and raisins. I’ve been told that they are very similar to Latin American tamales, and indeed Venezualan foodblogger Tomasnomas has a link to the exact same dish , referring to it on his blog as Tamal Navideño. It makes me so happy that this dish is yet another cultural tie that our geographic neighbour shares with us, despite our language differences :) Bienvenido!

The following recipe for Pastelles comes from Wendy Rahamut of Caribbean Gourmet and author of Modern Caribbean Cuisine and Caribbean Flavors

The Food Network also has a recipe for Trinidadian Beef Pastelles
, however I must admit I find it rather ‘disturbing’. Still it got a high rating so maybe some of you adventurous types will try it and let me know how it turns out (esp. if you are familiar with the traditional recipe) :)

Note: I often get asked about making vegetarian or fish pastelles. For fish pastelles I prefer working with steamed and shredded mild white fish. Tuna is common but it often imparts a dry, harsh quality to the pastelle. Taking the extra time to steam and shred white fish lends to a much moister and delicately flavoured result. For veggie pastelles, soya mince is an obvious meat substitute, however for those who want to completely avoid soya, mince mushrooms and spinach for a totally unusual yet acceptable alternative. Hope that helps!

Also, for those with problems with the cornmeal coming together. It’s very important to use hot water otherwise the cornmeal will not swell adequately. The recipe called for warm, but better to err toward the hotter side of that definition ;)


Trinidadian Beef/Chicken Pastelles

To prepare fig leaves, steam them in a large pot of boiling water for ten minutes until they become pliable and soft. They may also be softened by waving them over an open flame. You can also use sheets of tin foil.

Cornmeal dough and pastelle assembly


2 cups yellow cornmeal
3 cups warm water (not tepid, lukewarm or room temperature. If in doubt boil the water first and leave it to cool for 5-10 minutes)
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 tsp salt

1. In a food processor or by hand, combine cornmeal with butter and salt.
2. Add water and process to make a soft, pliable dough.
3. Divide the dough into 12 balls. Cover with a damp cloth to prevent drying.
4. Place one piece of dough on a greased fig leaf and press into an eight-inch square.
5. Spoon two tablespoons of filling onto the middle of the dough and fold and seal pastelles.
6. Wrap in fig leaf and tie into a neat package. (you can also use foil)
7. Steam pastelles for 45 minutes until cooked.

Makes 12-15 pastelles.

Chicken and beef pastelle filling

1 lb chopped beef and chicken, chicken only, or beef only
2 onions, finely chopped
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme
2 pimento peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbs chopped celery
1/2 Congo pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup tomato sauce
4 tbs capers
3 tbs stuffed olives, sliced
1/4 cup raisins
2 tbs fresh thyme

1. Combine beef with chicken. Add salt and black pepper.
2. Add a quarter-cup chopped chives and one tablespoon thyme.
3. In a large saute pan heat olive oil.
4. Add onion and garlic. Saute until fragrant.
5. Add pimento peppers, remaining chive, pepper and thyme.
6. Add meat and cook until brown.
7. Add tomato sauce, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.
8. Add raisins, capers and olives and stir to combine.
9. Cook for about five minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning.
10. Add two tablespoons fresh thyme and stir to combine.

11. Remove from heat and cool.
12. Prepare dough as in recipe above and fill and fold pastelles as indicated.

Makes 12-15 pastelles.

Want even more Pastelle related info?

Why not check out the following two links from fellow Trini Food Blogger ‘Can Cook Must Cook’!

Can Cook Must Cook provides two additional recipes for Trinidadian pastelles
Can Cook Must Cook provides an interesting history of the Trinidadian pastelle

This post was originally published November 27, 2006. It has been updated once since then.

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