Have you ever gotten so hooked on a recipe you’ve made it over and over in a very short period of time? This holiday season I made not two but three pastelones de yuca. A Caribbean interpretation of the shepherd’s pie, this pastelón is a layered casserole that combines yuca (cassava) and a savory filling – meat, soy, or veggies. Pastelones are one of the most versatile pies that can be assembled. The starches and the fillings are limited only by your imagination. Any root vegetable or plantain that can be mashed into a soft but substantial puree can be used for pastelón. Some of my favorites include ripe plantain (the classic!), malanga (taro), and potato.
This particular pastelón is special. Instead of using cooked yuca for the base, it is made with layers of ground raw yuca. Because of this, it resembles a traditional pastel de Navidad – a traditional Spanish Caribbean dish that is wrapped in banana or parchment leaves and boiled, similar to a Mesoamerican tamale. Now, like with beans, I am a little picky about pasteles. When I was younger, I could not stand the smell of the pasteles while boiling. Even though I’ve tried plenty of pasteles de masa – the mixed green banana and yautía ones – the only ones I really enjoy are made with yuca.
A Karma Free Cooking class
I have mentioned before that I caught the blogging bug thanks to Madelyn. Madelyn develops recipes and writes in Karma Free Cooking since 2007. Her posts really spoke to me: I’m always trying to eat better and her vegetarian blog is filled with delicious recipes that appeal to anyone who loves great food.
Last December, I attended Karma Free Cooking’s first hands on class at the Centro Cultural Yoga Devanand in San Juan. The theme of the class was vegetarian Puerto Rican Christmas. That’s where I learned to make the pastelón. We also prepared brown rice with green pigeon peas, salad with a parsley dressing, yautía fritters, and tembleque (coconut custard). Were were a happy and stuffed bunch by the time the cooking class ended.
I was so amazed at how tasty the pastelón was, I knew I had to incorporate it into my holiday rotation. I hosted two Christmas meals for family this year, and tried different fillings for each of them. And I had to make one first to make sure I got it right.
Tips and Tricks
- If you have never peeled a yucca root before, here’s a brief tutorial. Snap the yucca in the middle and make sure you have a white fleshed tuber (none or minimal black spotting). Cut it into chunks. With a knife, make a cut that goes through the white ring underneath the brown crust and lift it with the blade of the knife. The bark will lift up in one piece. Carefully rotate the chunk to continue lifting the white ring and brown peel. Once it is peeled, cut in quarters and trim off the root.
- Making pasteles – and raw root vegetable pastelones – requires either a sturdy grater and plenty of elbow grease, a high-powered food processor or a food mill/grinder. After the cooking class, I immediately sought out the stand mixer grinder attachment and used that for making the yuca mixture, plus some of the fillings.
- The excess starch in yuca can result in a bitter masa. Try to press any excess liquid out of the ground yuca with paper towels (easy) or a strainer (more involved).
- The cassava shepherd’s pie gets its vibrant yellow color from annato oil. To make the annato oil, simmer 1/4 cup annato seeds in 1 cup of grapeseed or canola oil for about ten minutes, or until the oil turns a deep orange color. Add a couple of tablespoons until it reaches the desired color.
- The cassava mixture, as I learned to make it in the class, contains coconut milk and annato oil for color, and extra water. For extra flavor though, you can add to the batter some of the cooking liquids/fats used in the filling instead of water. For example, I stuffed pastelón #2 with stewed shredded chicken thighs. The 1/2 cup or so of chicken stock flavored with sofrito and tomato boosted the masa’s flavor while also helping it get to the right consistency.
- Speaking of the right consistency, the approximate ratio of ground yuca to liquid is 1/2 cup of liquid (coconut milk and flavored stock or water) for each pound of grated yuca.