Trinidad Pastelles (recipe) now with Delicious Vegan Option!

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Trini Christmas

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 :)

On this page you will find two approaches towards pastelles. Firstly there is the traditional meat-based recipe for pastelles which comes from Wendy Rahamut of Caribbean Gourmet and author of Modern Caribbean Cuisine and Caribbean Flavors the second is decidedly non-traditional yet and was developed in response to the many requests I have gotten through the years for a vegetarian alternative.

Up until now most of the local attempts at a meat-free pastelle have used soya mince or lentils as fillings and, at the risk of causing offense, I have usually found them rather underwhelming. We’re a creative people, surely we could come up with something exciting, something that would make meat-eaters want seconds for themselves, something a little more Caribbean Glam! Yet I myself, wasn’t sure what direction to go in.

It wasn’t until I received a copy of Taymer Mason‘s “Caribbean Vegan” that I realized what the missing link would be. In her book, Taymer takes on that most meat-centric of traditional Caribbean dishes, black pudding. Recreating something that most people would think of as impossible to do with nothing but plant based ingredients. Her secret weapon? Sweet potato! Shocked? So was I. When combined with browning, the potato (grated finely) takes on the color and texture of high quality ground meat. The bitterness of the browning turns the potato into an ingredient more savory than sweet, and heightens the silky feel. I knew that this approach would be the one to create a vegan pastelle filling that would both amaze and delight. Because the base of this recipe is naturally milder in profile it needs to be more strongly seasoned. Feel free to adjust the balance and sweet and sour to suit your own preferences, in my original testings I omitted capers and used more raisins than olives. Again, shift the ratios to suit your own tastes. To date my taste testers have all given this recipe two hearty thumbs up and none were able to identify the ‘secret ingredient’. It sure was fun to see them try though :) I hope you enjoy it as well!

Note: I often get asked about fish pastelles. For fish pastelles I prefer working with steamed and shredded mild white fish. Tuna is a common choice but I find that 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. It can then be combined with the remaining ingredients of the meat-based filling.

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 original recipe called for lukewarm, but I have modified it to reflect my own practice. ;)


pastelle

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

Ingredients

2 cups yellow cornmeal
3 cups hot water
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.

Sarina’s Vegan Sweet Potato Pastelles

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups finely grated sweet potato
2 medium-large onions, minced
1 cup chopped chives
2 pimento peppers, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons chopped olives
1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons margarine
1 tablespoon browning
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Method:

1. Combine first 8 ingredients (sweet potato through salt) in large mixing bowl.
2. Heat olive oil over medium heat
3. Add potato mixture, sauté for 5 minutes.
4. Turn off heat
5. Add water, margarine, browning, brown sugar and tomato paste.
6. Stir to combine.
7. Add raisins and olives.
8. Stir to combine.
9. Taste and adjust seasonings (especially salt and pepper) to suit.
10. Proceed to fill pastelles as above :)

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 twice since then.

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Passionate foodie, founder of Trinigourmet and Caribbean Lifestyle Maven. Author of "Glam By Request: 30+ Easy Caribbean Recipes"

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  • Sebastian

    ok

    1/4 cup of fresh thyme?

    is this correct? that seems like a lot of thyme to me!

    im making a tomato sauce with canned whole tomatos, onion and garlic, and olive oil

    the recipe calls for oregano but i think i should omit the oregano if im going to use the tomato sauce in this dish, right?

    although i suppose oregano goes with chicken garlic thyme and pimento pepper.. it wouldnt be a bad combination

    but im really just wodnering about the thyme!

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Hi Sebastian :) the measurement is for fresh thyme, not dried :) It is a highly seasoned mixture.. I don’t think it should be so bad.. it is loosely packed :)

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Hi Sebastian :) the measurement is for fresh thyme, not dried :) It is a highly seasoned mixture.. I don’t think it should be so bad.. it is loosely packed :)

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Hi Sebastian :) the measurement is for fresh thyme, not dried :) It is a highly seasoned mixture.. I don’t think it should be so bad.. it is loosely packed :)

  • Sebastian

    ok

    1/4 cup of fresh thyme?

    is this correct? that seems like a lot of thyme to me!

    im making a tomato sauce with canned whole tomatos, onion and garlic, and olive oil

    the recipe calls for oregano but i think i should omit the oregano if im going to use the tomato sauce in this dish, right?

    although i suppose oregano goes with chicken garlic thyme and pimento pepper.. it wouldnt be a bad combination

    but im really just wodnering about the thyme!

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Hi Sebastian :) the measurement is for fresh thyme, not dried :) It is a highly seasoned mixture.. I don’t think it should be so bad.. it is loosely packed :)

  • niekel

    PLEASE ADJUST YOUR RECIPE.

    PASTELL MIXTURES CALL FOR HOT WATER NOT WARM WATER..THIS IS MISLEADING AND I HAD TO DISCARD MY FIRST MIXTURE BECAUSE OF THIS….

    THANKS.

  • niekel

    PLEASE ADJUST YOUR RECIPE.

    PASTELL MIXTURES CALL FOR HOT WATER NOT WARM WATER..THIS IS MISLEADING AND I HAD TO DISCARD MY FIRST MIXTURE BECAUSE OF THIS….

    THANKS.

  • niekel

    PLEASE ADJUST YOUR RECIPE.

    PASTELL MIXTURES CALL FOR HOT WATER NOT WARM WATER..THIS IS MISLEADING AND I HAD TO DISCARD MY FIRST MIXTURE BECAUSE OF THIS….

    THANKS.

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Niekel – The recipe, as stated above, is not mine, I have however used it with warm water without problem. I will however add a note that lukewarm, tepid or room temperature water do not qualify as warm.

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Niekel – The recipe, as stated above, is not mine, I have however used it with warm water without problem. I will however add a note that lukewarm, tepid or room temperature water do not qualify as warm.

  • K Williams

    YOU CAN BUY A PASTELLE PRESS AT MOST LATIN AMERICAN FOOD STORES IN THE US… IT WILL BE CALLED A TORTILLA PRESS… I EVEN SAW THEM SELLING ONLINE AT THE US WEBSITE www.latinmerchant.com under non food items.. Hope this helps :)

  • K Williams

    YOU CAN BUY A PASTELLE PRESS AT MOST LATIN AMERICAN FOOD STORES IN THE US… IT WILL BE CALLED A TORTILLA PRESS… I EVEN SAW THEM SELLING ONLINE AT THE US WEBSITE www.latinmerchant.com under non food items.. Hope this helps :)

  • GJT

    hey, folks, this site is refreshing. But on the topic of pastelles,luke warm water may be a better choice. It allows the cornmeal to yeild, add it slowly and knead to a medium consistancy and cover with plastic wrap. On the topic of brand try to locate PROMASA yellow corn flour. I use only this with the best results

  • GJT

    hey, folks, this site is refreshing. But on the topic of pastelles,luke warm water may be a better choice. It allows the cornmeal to yeild, add it slowly and knead to a medium consistancy and cover with plastic wrap. On the topic of brand try to locate PROMASA yellow corn flour. I use only this with the best results

  • GJT

    hey, folks, this site is refreshing. But on the topic of pastelles,luke warm water may be a better choice. It allows the cornmeal to yeild, add it slowly and knead to a medium consistancy and cover with plastic wrap. On the topic of brand try to locate PROMASA yellow corn flour. I use only this with the best results

  • Raul

    Hey…I was born in PR and raised in NYC. I ate Trini pastels 1st time in 1979. Mon…dey are good, you know. Much betta than PR pastelles by me. I would someday like to eat Trini pastels in Maracas Beach, near St. Joseph. Hmmm…can taste them now.

  • Raul

    Hey…I was born in PR and raised in NYC. I ate Trini pastels 1st time in 1979. Mon…dey are good, you know. Much betta than PR pastelles by me. I would someday like to eat Trini pastels in Maracas Beach, near St. Joseph. Hmmm…can taste them now.

  • Raul

    Hey…I was born in PR and raised in NYC. I ate Trini pastels 1st time in 1979. Mon…dey are good, you know. Much betta than PR pastelles by me. I would someday like to eat Trini pastels in Maracas Beach, near St. Joseph. Hmmm…can taste them now.

  • Bettina

    quick question…in the ingredients it said to use 1lb of chicken or beef and then in the recipe it said to combine chicken with beef. So do you used both meats, or just pick whichever you prefer?

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Dear Bettina, you can use a chicken and beef combo, or use solely chicken or solely beef :) Best Wishes!

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Dear Bettina, you can use a chicken and beef combo, or use solely chicken or solely beef :) Best Wishes!

  • Bettina

    quick question…in the ingredients it said to use 1lb of chicken or beef and then in the recipe it said to combine chicken with beef. So do you used both meats, or just pick whichever you prefer?

  • Bettina

    quick question…in the ingredients it said to use 1lb of chicken or beef and then in the recipe it said to combine chicken with beef. So do you used both meats, or just pick whichever you prefer?

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Dear Bettina, you can use a chicken and beef combo, or use solely chicken or solely beef :) Best Wishes!

  • Sarah

    LOL! That Food Network recipe is deeply disturbing!

    Thanks for posting this recipe!!!I am just discovering this blog and I love it! I just had a quick question…
    Is there a particular cut of beef that I should chop up? Should it be cooked first? I hope these aren’t dumb questions :) My parents always used pre-ground beef and it never quite had the same wonderful texture as pastels that appeared to have shredded beef inside…

    Thank you!
    Sarah

  • Sarah

    LOL! That Food Network recipe is deeply disturbing!

    Thanks for posting this recipe!!!I am just discovering this blog and I love it! I just had a quick question…
    Is there a particular cut of beef that I should chop up? Should it be cooked first? I hope these aren’t dumb questions :) My parents always used pre-ground beef and it never quite had the same wonderful texture as pastels that appeared to have shredded beef inside…

    Thank you!
    Sarah

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  • sally

    does any one has the recipe for pastelle pie? the ingredients for this pie is the same as for pastelles buut you bake it in apie like a shepherd pie

  • tray

    I tried this recipe..was I the only one who found the mixture of cornmeal and water, vERy watery..it was not coming together at all.

  • tray

    I tried this recipe..was I the only one who found the mixture of cornmeal and water, vERy watery..it was not coming together at all.

  • SiempreViva2003

    Yes, Slow cooked beef will shred nicely into the pastelles. just add a little Salt & Pepper to the cooked shredded beef before putting into the pastelles. Also adding a little steak sauce or lemon pepper seasoning adds flavor. but use only a very small amout.

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  • http://Enteryourwebsite... Andrea

    When you say Margarine, you do mean vegan margarine?

    • http://www.SarinaNow.com Sarina

      Hi Andrea, if you keep vegan then vegan margarines are fine yes. I believe the ones I use are. :)

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