Discovering Family Recipes

Lately I’ve been on a sort-of comfort food quest. I suppose it has a lot to do with all of us being quarantined, our typical schedules disrupted and travel restricted. Usually when I’ve got an urge to try something new for dinner, we just get on Yelp and see what’s near us, what looks good and go.

These are different times and I really do prefer to try and make it at home rather than ordering curbside pick up or delivery. With that thought in mind, I’ve been in search of recipes from my wife’s Puerto Rican heritage, either foods her Mother used to make, or dishes we have enjoyed on our visits to the Island. This week I tried my hand at another family favorite, Pastelon. It’s  essentially a layered dish similar to a lasagne, though made with plantains, accompanied by red beans and rice.

I’ve acquired several cookbooks of Puerto Rican cuisine thru the years, the one I turn to most often is Puerto Rican Cookery. But like many guys with only rudimentary kitchen skills, I prefer a cookbook with more pictures, and definitely fewer steps to success. So I’ve turned to the internet, especially YouTube videos for a little help in the kitchen. From making mofongo with shrimp, to pasteles and now pastelon, these often-home-made videos are just the thing for a guy with a short attention span.

Another quality I’ve appreciated about this online cooking resource: I like recipes that feature process over precision. Too many measured ingredients, finessed or tricky processes aren’t for me. “Salt to taste” or “cook for about 45 minutes” are my strengths.

So, for your consideration, my picture-book recipe guide to pastelon. With a few brief explanations as needed. Let me know how you like it in the comments below.

For the picadillo, simmer bell peppers and onions, then add ground meat (I prefer ground pork) and plenty of Adobe, sofrito, oregano for aromatics. This dish is all about the contrast between the sweet plantains and the savory meat layers. Red beans and rice are a great accompaniment. For this size of dish (9″x 9″ baking pan) I used four ripe plantains.

Slice the plantains and fry until golden, drain on paper towels, then start your first layer. An egg wash will help bind the ingredients. Similar to a lasagne, I layered grated mozzarella cheese over the meat layer.

A layer of plantain, egg wash, a layer of meat, and then a layer of cheese. Repeat for a second layer. I topped off with mozzarella and grated cheddar cheese to provide a little color. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

The final dish, served with the red beans and rice, is incredibly satisfying. It was more work than I had expected, which might explain why Yolanda only prepared it on special occasions. The aroma of sweet plantains and I’m longing for another visit to Puerto Rico. Enjoy!

If you enjoy YouTube cooking videos, here is the link to the one I watched. https://youtu.be/Ri-U8-95CG0

An excellent cookbook, I highly recommend Puerto Rican Cookery, by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli

2 thoughts on “Discovering Family Recipes

    • Plantains are similar to a thick banana but they need to be cooked before eating. I would definitely try bananas if you don’t have plantains. Just don’t use overly ripe bananas.

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