From Nonna's Kitchen: Abuela Evelyn’s Pasteles

When I started my 'Nonna Project' there was one person I knew I wanted to include - my friend Iris is probably one of the funniest, cutest people I know.  If you want to have a ton of fun and lots of laughs, she is a good person to call.  We can go months without seeing each other, but when we do, it's like we haven’t skipped a beat.  I love her sass and spunk.  She’s my soul sister.  Check out my Instagram to see us in the kitchen cooking.

In addition, she is a true Puerto Rican girl and loves spending time with her mamma Evelyn.  Iris is very proud of her heritage and really enjoys eating the food of her youth.  Her mother is a fantastic cook and most importantly, makes authentic Puerto Rican dishes taught to her by her mother Mary (Coco) Garcia, a Puerto Rican Immigrant that came to New York in her twenties. 

I was really touched when Iris and Evelyn showed up to my house, flanked with about 10 bags of ingredients from a Spanish grocery store.  They drove to Connecticut to teach me how to make their most cherished dish, Pasteles.  Evelyn told me the story of how she learned to make Pasteles, watching her mother.  Evelyn’s mom Coco was the 'Pasteles Queen' of Spanish Harlem.  She was known for these delicious little packages of pork and sold them from her freezer to everyone in the neighborhood.  She passed this cherished recipe down to Evelyn and she makes them every year for her family to enjoy at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Pasteles are very important in Puerto Rican culture.  Served at the holidays with rice, beans and tostones, they are a labor of love.  The exterior (masa) is made from unripe, green bananas.  You have to grate each one on a box grater to get a fine pudding like consistency.   The abuelas never complain, but it is labor intensive!  The filling is a delicious blend of pork and traditional Puerto Rican spices and ingredients like pimentos and olives.  The achiote oil gives it a beautiful red hue and fills the entire kitchen with a very Latin aroma. 

Evelyn is a wonderful woman who loves spending time with all her grandchildren. Iris’ daughters spend a lot of time with her and also love eating her Puerto Rican dishes.  By eating these family delicacies, traditions are passed to the new generation and the heart and soul of passed nonnas (or abuelas) lives on.

Abuela Evelyn’s Pasteles

Makes 25 individual pasteles

Prep time:         Total time: 

5 lbs pork shoulder, boneless, fat removed, 1 inch dice
Fat from pork shoulder, cut in large, 3 inch dice
2 lbs pork neck bone, cut up in large pieces
1 tablespoon Adobo seasoning
½ cup sofrito (recipe to follow)
7 oz ham steak, cubed ½ inch dice
3 tablespoons achiote oil (recipe to follow)
2 Sazon Goya packets con achiote
7 oz jar Goya Alcaparrado manzanilla olives
2 garlic cloves, minced
6.7 oz jar Goya piquillo (pimentos)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup raisins (optional)
1 can garbanzo beans (optional)

  1. In large sauté pan, combine the pork shoulder and fat and allow to brown on medium high heat for 10 minutes.  Then, add in neck bones.
  2. Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon adobo.
  3. Once meat is brown all sides (about 10 minutes), remove from heat.
  4. In a large pot, add 2 tablespoons achiote oil, ham steak, olives, garlic, pimentos, and cilantro. Saute for 5 minutes to combine flavors. 
  5. Add pork, fat and neck to the pot and add just enough to cover the meat and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes.
  6. While meat is simmering, make the masa.

8 lbs green bananas, peeled and grated on box grater
1/2 cup grated Yautian
1 small white potato, grated
½ cup pumpkin, grated
6 tablespoons milk
Achiote oil
salt to taste

  1. Mix all ingredients together once everything is grated. 
  2. In a small sauce pan, heat ¼ cup olive oil with package of Achiote seeds.  Heat for a few minutes on very low heat.  Oil will become very red.  Remove from heat before seeds begin to brown.  Remove seeds and discard.


Makes 1 cup

Prep time:         Total time: 

½ bunch cilantro, stems removed
6 whole leaves of Racao (substitute parsley if you can’t find)
1 green pepper, seed and stem removed, chopped
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
¼ lb of aji dulce peppers (about 28, they are very small)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Blend until you have a smooth consistency.  Thick but not chunky.

You can freeze the leftovers indefinitely or store it in the fridge up to a week! Use for beans, yellow rice, and stews!


Butcher Paper
1 large package banana leaves
Kitchen twine

  1. Place a banana leaf on the counter.  Drizzle a teaspoon of achiote oil on the leaf.  Spread ½ cup masa on the leaf.  Using the side of your spoon, spread into a rectangle with a small well in the middle.  Place ¼ cup of filling in the middle.  Fold the leaf up over the filing like an envelope.
  2. Wrap in butcher paper (12X18) and tie with a 36 inch piece of kitchen twine as if you are tying a gift. 
  3. Boil a large pot of water and place Pasteles in.  Boil for 45 minutes.
  4. Remove from water, drain and cut twine.  Unwrap from banana leaf and enjoy.