So many dishes enjoyed in Hawaiʻi today can be traced back to the introduction of various cuisines and cultures during the plantation era.
Puerto Ricans were one of the migrant groups that came here in the early 1900s and with them they brought pasteles (known in Hawaiʻi as “pateles”).
Hawaiʻi, being a tropical environment like Puerto Rico, possessed many of the ingredients necessary to make these tamale-like treats. What couldn’t be found was easily replaced with similar substitutions.
Puerto Ricans use banana leaves to wrap their pasteles. Hawaiʻi had banana leaves and ti leaves which could both be used.
Puerto Ricans often put yautia in their masa. Hawaiʻi had taro.
Both places had plantains, squash, pork and bananas.
There are different variations of this recipe, commonly made during the Christmas holiday in large amounts. My recipe is a merging of many I have found online used with ingredients grown on Oʻahu.
I recommend spending a few days to put it together and enlisting the help of at least one friend. The process of making them is as much if not more rewarding than eating them.
"Local Style" Puerto Rican Pasteles
On Oʻahu you can find many of these ingredients from local farms. Otherwise try your local Latin American market for ingredients such as banana leaves. I use ti leaves for my recipe because they are readily available in Hawaiʻi and make a great wrapper, but they are traditionally wrapped in banana leaves.
Suggested timeline for this project:
Day 1 - Source your ingredients
Day 2 - Debone the ti leaves, make soffrito and simmer the pork.
Day 3 - Stuff, wrap and cook the pasteles.
- 18 each ti leaves deboned
- 1 each chile chopped
- 1/4 each green bell pepper chopped
- 1/4 each red bell pepper chopped
- 1/4 each yellow onion chopped
- 2 Tbsp cilantro chopped
- 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
- 2 lbs pork shoulder diced into bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 cup soffrito see here
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tsp oregano dried
- 1 tsp cumin ground
- 1/4 cup achiote paste
- 12 oz tomato puree
- 3 sprigs cilantro chopped
- TT salt and pepper
- 1 cup pimiento stuffed green olives sliced
- 4 lbs plantains peeled
- 1/2 lb russet potato peeled
- 1/2 lb taro root peeled
- 1/4 each kabocha squash peeled
- 1/2 cup achiote oil
- TT salt and pepper
Watch the video below to learn how to debone a ti leaf.
Place all of the ingredients in a blender with just enough water to get the motor running. Puree until finely chopped.
Season the pork liberally with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet heat the canola oil over high heat. Add the pork, and let sear until brown on one side before stirring. Stir and brown on each side. This may need to be done in a few batches depending on the size of your pan. Do not overcrowd your pan. This will cause the meat to steam rather than brown. Remove the meat and place onto a paper towel lined plate.
Lower the heat to medium. Add the soffrito, garlic, oregano and cumin. Season with salt and pepper and saute for 2 minutes until fragrant.
Add the achiote paste, tomato puree, cilantro and seared pork. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered on medium-low heat for about 1-1 1/2 hours until tender.
Grate the ingredients and combine in a bowl.
In a food processor combine half of the grated ingredients, 1/4 cup achiote oil and salt and pepper. Puree until chopped fine. Repeat once more with the remaining grated ingredients, oil and more salt and pepper. Afterward mix both batches together in a bowl adding more oil if necessary to ensure a cohesive "dough." It should stick together, but not be wet.
Assemble the pasteles
Warm an electric burner on medium-high heat. Run the ti leaves quickly over it one by one to soften the leaves. Do not burn the leaves.
Lay a ti leaf, horizontally and shiny side down on the counter. Brush the center where you will lay the masa with achiote oil. Slather a 1/2 cup of masa over the oil in a rectangle shape, spreading it evenly with the back of a spoon. Place 2-3 tablespoons of the braised pork in the middle of the masa and top with sliced olives. Fold the top of the leaf down, so that the masa folds over the filling. Fold the bottom of the leaf up to fully enclose the filling. Fold the right side of the leaf over, followed by the left side of the leaf to form an oblong packet. Reapeat with the rest of the ingredients.
Cut the butcherʻs twine into 18 pieces about 2 feet long.
Cut 18 pieces of parchment paper roughly 12 inches by 12 inches.
Lay out a sheet of parchemnent and place a pastele in the center. Fold the top part of the paper over and scoot the pastele down until both ends of the paper meet. Fold both pieces of paper up 3 times to create a seal, then fold the rest of the paper back over the pastele. Fold each side of the paper in to create an oblong packet.
Fold the string in half. Place it lengthwise on the counter in front of you with the loop side at the top. Place the packet in the center horizontally. Bring the bottom ends of the string up over the packet and through the loop of the top of the string and pull tight. Pull each strand of string to the middle of the packet and then pull outwards, one to the left, one to the right to tighten. Flip the packet over. Bring the strings around each side and tie them together at the center. (See link in the notes for a demo)
Boil or steam the pasteles for one hour. Unwrap and enjoy while still warm with hot sauce and whatever other condiments you enjoy. I like making a fresh slaw with lime juice to go with. This is probably not traditional, but I also enjoy sour cream on the side too!
How to debone a ti leaf.
Skip to minute 6:34 of this video for a demo on how to wrap and tie your pasteles.
You can purchase achiote paste here.
You can purchase achiote oil here.
I sourced my achiote oil and ti leaves on Oʻahu from Kahumana Organic Farms.
The pork shoulder I used is from Mountain View Dairy in Waiʻanae, purchased from Pono Pork.
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.