We continue with our series on traditional Christmas
goodies. We've given you the drinks sorrel, ginger and ponche de creme. Now its on to the dishes starting off with a dish brought here by the Spanish settlers, the
much-loved pastelle. Enjoy.
Christmas in Trinidad would not be the same without a good pastelle. The seasonal favourite is a must-have at all events from late November until early January. But how do you make a pastelle? Colleen Evelyn has been kneading, pressing, filling, wrapping, steaming and selling pastelles for close to a decade and she let us in her kitchen to show us her secret to preparing the perfect pastelle.
"I learned to make pastelles from a woman named Merle Ramirez and while working at the Country Club in Maraval, I experimented with different techniques. Over time I developed my own style and recipe and I do things that are easier for me for the larger orders," Evelyn shared.
Before you get started, Evelyn said you should gather your fig leaves at least four hours in advance. Instead of heating the leaves over the stove, the modern technique involves washing the leaf properly, drying it and then open freezing it in your fridge. "You should have the leaf frozen for at least four hours so it is pliable and easy to fold like paper. It's that easy and it holds well and doesn't affect the taste or the texture of the pastelle."
After this you should season your lean ground beef, ground chicken or minced soy (for the vegetarians) and cook it with a little oil together with capers, olives and raisins that have been soaked in advance. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Next, you start working on the dough. "I've tried many different types of cornmeal but the Promasa brand is really the best for holding the pastelle together. It's a better consistency to work with. I learned from Merle to season the dough properly so it has a nice flavour. She grates onion but I like to add pimiento and all purpose seasoning with a little salt to the dough with some margarine and hot water to mix it. Use a spoon at first to mix the dough until the margarine melts and then you can use your hand. You want a soft, moist dough. Make sure it's not too dry or the pastelle will come out dry," Evelyn added.
The frozen fig leaf should then be removed from the freezer and cut into squares. "You don't need to defrost it, just lay it out and put a little oil on the top side. Then you make little balls with the cornmeal dough and put one ball to the centre of one square. A trick I learned while doing this is to use a cornflakes bag or a heavy density plastic bag instead of plastic wrap to press down the dough. You rest the bag on top of the ball and using a small Pyrex dish, just press it until it's flat and thin. Some people have wooden presses and those are good too but when you're doing a lot of pastelles, it's not a time-friendly device."
Folding the pastelle can be quite tricky so Evelyn gave these tips: "Fold the sides over using the fig leaf to press it so you get the oil to coat the pastelle a little and make the dough easier to fold. Then fold the top and bottom the same way and finally, you wrap it tight making sure you don't tear the leaf." Some people at this point choose to tie their pastelles with a string to boil them but Evelyn prefers to steam her pastelles so they don't need to be tied. "I rest them in the steamer for 45 minutes or so, turning them mid-way if necessary and I check them at 45 minutes to see if the pastelle is fully cooked." You know the pastelle is done from the firm, dumpling like texture it has when it's done.
After that, it's ready to serve with a glass of homemade wine, ginger beer, sorrel or ponche de crème on the side. Delicious!
Evelyn charges $10 for a standard beef pastelle and takes orders by the dozen. For more information, please call 744-4227 or 763-8860.