Green Banana Tamales

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Latin American Paleo Cooking Over 80 Traditional Recipes Made Grain and Gluten FreePuerto Rican pasteles are a traditional holiday dish in the tamale family, with a dough made from Paleo friendly starchy tropical fruits, vegetables and roots. This is Milagros’s family recipe, passed down for generations. Different families have different traditions for both the dough and the filling. They are labor intensive to make but many hands make light work. It is not uncommon for families to pile together in the kitchen and make these in huge batches. They are excellent for batch cooking and store well in the freezer for six months. Unwrapping these is like opening a special present!

  • Yield: 22 Pasteles


For the masa
  • 16 very green bananas (about 6 lbs [2.7 kg]), peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1½ tbsp plus 2 tsp (27 g) fine Himalayan salt, divided 3 malanga roots (about 1½ lbs [680 g]), peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1½ lb (680 g) calabaza squash, seeds removed, peeled and coarsely chopped (can substitute butternut or acorn)
  • 1 cup (237 ml) Chicken Broth
For the meat filling
  • 6 tbsp (84 g) lard, coconut oil or avocado oil
  • 6 tbsp (85 g) Sofrito
  • 2 tsp (4 g) ground turmeric
  • 1 batch Simple Shredded Chicken or leftover Milagros’s Famous Pernil al Horno, shredded
  • 1 (2.5-oz [70-g]) jar capers, drained
  • 4 culantro leaves, or about 12 sprigs fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp (2 g) dried oregano
  • 1 tsp (6 g) fine Himalayan salt
To assemble the pasteles
  • 44 pieces thawed banana leaves, or 25 pieces plain parchment paper (optional: include a small piece of banana leaf if wrapping with paper)
  • 22 pieces 45” (1.4 m) kitchen twine
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil mixed with ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ (5.75-oz [163-g]) jar green Manzanilla olives
How to Make It
  1. To prepare the masa, cut the tips off the bananas and cut 2 to 3 slits down the length of the peel. Cut each crosswise into 3 pieces. Place in a large bowl or pot and cover with water. Dissolve 1 to 2 teaspoons (6 to 12 g) of salt in the water. Allow to soak for 20 minutes, then remove the peels. Working in batches, puree the bananas, malanga and calabaza in a food processor or blender, adding the chicken broth. In a very large mixing bowl, combine all the pureed starches with the remaining salt, thoroughly mixing the starches together. Alternatively, you can grate all the starches, using a box grater. This is the traditional method that is quite labor intensive, though some swear by the consistency of the dough when it is made this way.
  2. Ideally, chill the masa in a covered bowl in the fridge overnight. This prevents the dough from tasting bitter and also makes it easier to work with
  3. Also ideally, prepare the meat filling in advance so that it can also chill in the refrigerator overnight. It should not be hot when forming the pasteles.
  4. To prepare the meat filling, in a large skillet, heat the fat, sofrito and turmeric over medium heat until sizzling and fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the meat, capers, culantro, oregano and salt and sauté until the meat is warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes. Place in an airtight container and allow to chill in the refrigerator.
  5. Clear off your counter space and recruit help if you can. To prepare the banana leaves, spread them out and cut out the central stalk, then cut the leaves into pieces about 12 x 18 inches (30.5 x 45.5 cm). Discard any leaf sections that are ripped, which would allow the dough to leak out. Place the leaves in a stack. If using parchment paper, cut it to size and arrange in a stack.
  6. To assemble the pasteles, arrange the stack of leaves, twine, turmeric dyed olive oil, bowl of masa, meat filling and olives on your counter. For each pastele, you will use 2 banana leaf pieces or 1 sheet of cut parchment paper (paired optionally with a small slice of banana leaf for flavor) with the long edge running left to right.
  7. To assemble, first dip a spoon in the olive oil and spread it around the center of your wrapper. Add ½ cup (115 g) of the masa, 2 to 3 tablespoons (28 to 42 g) of the meat filling and 2 or 3 olives.
  8. Fold the pasteles by grabbing the banana leaf edge closest to you and folding away from you, lining up the edges of the leaves. Straighten the shape of the masa by pressing gently with your hands below the leaf edges. Fold the edges back toward you. Then, gently press the sides to shape it into a rectangle and fold the sides toward the center, sealing the mixture inside. If necessary, repeat with a second banana leaf. Turn the wrapped pastele over so the folds are facing down.
  9. If using paper, use only one piece. Follow the same process, but in the first step when lining up the edges, fold 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the edges together and crease before folding back toward you. Before folding the side to the center, fold down 2 inches (5 cm) of the ends and crease to seal the edges of the paper.
  10. To tie the pasteles, take a piece of the twine and fold it in half. Place it underneath the pastele with the loop sticking out by several inches (several cm) and the loose ends facing toward you. Bring the loose ends over the top of the pastele and through the loop. Pull the loose strings to the sides of the pastele. As they reach the short ends, carefully flip the pastele over so that you can wrap them all the way around. Meet the 2 twine ends in the center, then twist them together and wrap around the center of the pastele one more time, then tie it in a bow.
  11. To cook the pasteles, place as many that will fit in a very large pot and fill with enough water that they can float at least 2 inches (5 cm) above the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and lower the heat to a low boil. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes. Halfway through cooking, turn them over to ensure even cooking. Drain and cut away the twine and very carefully (do not burn your fingers on the hot water/steam) unwrap the pasteles and transfer directly to dinner plates (not to a serving platter they will fall apart). Use kitchen shears to help cut away the sides of the leaves/paper, if necessary. Always check one pastele for doneness before opening all of them. If necessary you can rewrap and cook them for a few minutes longer.
  12. You can freeze pasteles immediately after wrapping them, prior to cooking them. Milagros recommends stacking 2 to 4 together and wrapping them with aluminum foil to keep them freshest. To cook from frozen, increase the cooking time to 45 to 55 minutes. Do not thaw before boiling.

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