Colombian ‘Pasteles de Arroz’, a Christmas and New Year’s Tradition

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Many Latin American countries, including Colombia, share “Pasteles de Arroz” on Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

This recipe has been in Cartagena de Indias (my home town), for a very long time. Families get together around this wonderful recipe. I can remember the smell of Pasteles on Christmas eve, as well as the excitement the days before as my Mom hassled around the kitchen with all the detailed ‘prep’ work. My parents are no longer with us, but my siblings and I still share the memories and remember them every Christmas and New Year’s eve as we enjoy Pasteles.

Puerto Rico and the Caribbean countries share this tradition and recipe (with some unique modifications.)

Three key components make this bounty unforgettable: The seasoning, the stew and the plantain leaves. Here I share my recipe that yields 8 “pasteles.” Even though it is very detailed, time-consuming and elaborate ( I will not lie about that ), the results are well worth it! 🙂 Tips for best results: “Prep work” and fresh ingredients. Get ready for an exciting cooking experience!

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1. Start by preparing the stew the night before. You can use chicken thighs only (as I do) , or chicken thighs and pork ribs. The secret is to stay away from chicken breast as it will not add much flavor. Start by sauteing the meat and adding salt, pepper and 2 bay leaves. When the meat is brown then you can add the following: onions, sweet peppers, capers, peppercorns and tomatoes in generous quantities. Add also chicken stock (at least 1 cup) and water. You must season this stew generously with salt, pepper, cumin and paprika or achiote (anato seeds.) After the stew boils, let it simmer for at least 20 minutes.  Let it cool and then refrigerate when done, as you will use this stew the next day.

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2. Prepare the uncooked rice seasoning the night before also. For 8 pasteles: 3 cups of rice, 1 cup of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of cumin and 2 tablespoons of paprika, 1/2 cup of oil. Mix well and let it sit in the refrigeration overnight.

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3. On the day you will be making the “pasteles”, prepare containers with chick peas (1 can), olives (1 bottle), capers (1 bottle), sliced sweet peppers (about 8), sliced onions (1/4 yellow onion), sliced tomatoes (3 tomatoes), potatoes in thin slices and cabbage (3 potatoes.) Have all these ready in bowls so you can easily assemble the “pasteles.” Wash the plantain leaves with cold water and have them ready also. This can be cumbersome but it’s necessary. You will find fresh or frozen plantain leaves in Latin American food markets.

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4. Assemble the “pasteles.” The plantain leaves are sold in halves. Place 2 plantain leave halves on the working table, forming a cross. Set a cabbage piece on the plantain leaves center and then 3/4 cup of rice on top of the cabbage.The rice you see in this picture is uncooked. It was seasoned the night before as indicated above.IMG_5063Add chicken pieces (2-3), olives, chick peas, capers, onions, tomatoes, potatoes on top of the rice. Finish with a generous amount of chicken stew sauce.IMG_5064Add a tablespoon of rice.IMG_5065Cover with another piece of cabbage.IMG_5074Wrap well and tie with kitchen twine. When all “pasteles” have been assembled and are ready to be cooked, add them all at once to a pot of boiling water for 2 hours.

About the pot of boiling water: Make sure the water is truly boiling hot and seasoned before adding the “pasteles.” Season the water with: 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of vinegar. Tip: The pot of water needs to be filled three-quarters of the way, to allow the “pasteles” to fit. They will bring a lot of volume and can make the water spill out. Switch the bottom pasteles with the top half way during the cooking process. Also, add pressure to the lid ( I usually use a garden rock) to make sure the heat is contained in the pot as this helps cook the rice well.

Here is what Pasteles look like when fully cooked and ready to enjoy:IMG_5091This is what it looks like after your guests ate them… 🙂IMG_5093

“Pasteles de Arroz”, a generous way to wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year 2014! 🙂

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