POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Mar 6, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 1:23 p.m. HST, Oct 16, 2013
She calls him "Querido" (Spanish for "darling"). He calls her Mrs. Soto. Together they are a finely tuned pasteles pair.
She does the cooking, he does the heavy lifting. Literally. He lifts the Crock-Pot, the big skillet, the juicer (and assembles it, cleans it, takes it away). He also helps find the oregano and the Latin music station that provides the soundtrack for her kitchen chores. Afterward he washes the dishes.
Making the Puerto Rican specialty was more of a solo affair for Rose Soto, she says, until Ralph, her husband of 46 years, retired. In the last decade or so, he's been her helpmate in their small Kapolei kitchen.
Which is good, because pasteles are a big job.
I know this firsthand from spending a morning with Rose and Ralph assembling her Crock-Pot version of pasteles, made with stuffed pork chops covered in the traditional pasteles sauce. Rose knew I'd been on the hunt for slow-cooker recipes, and wrote offering to share.
Traditional pasteles are single-serve packets of a pork filling layered with a "masa" made of green bananas and wrapped in ti or banana leaves.
Step 1 in Rose's method is the same as in traditional pasteles: to peel the bananas. This is no small trick, as bananas in this immature state don't easily let loose of their peels. You've got to pry them out with a butter knife. Ralph does this part. In fact, finding green bananas is no small trick (also Ralph's job). He usually gets them at Tamura's Market in Kalaeloa but sometimes has to go to Tammy's Polynesian Market in Waipahu.
The bananas are ground — Rose uses a juicer but the old-fashioned way is to use a grater. And this is just the first step in the first component, the masa.
You've still got to make the pork filling, wrap the bundles and boil them until done. In many families this is an assembly-line project involving every able-bodied person, and mostly for holidays.
Rose learned to make pasteles as a child. "My mom taught me to cook when I was 11," she says. There were times when she made 100 pasteles at a time for family and friends.
Her pork chop version saves on some of the work, but is still an ambitious kitchen project.
Based on my morning with the Sotos, I've decided making pasteles in any form is a task better left to professionals, or semiprofessionals like these two.
It took all of us working together about three hours to stuff 16 pork chops and wrap eight masa packets, then six hours in our respective homes to slow-cook them.
Dinner was great, though. Pasteles are a classic comfort food — hearty, meaty and with sprightly flavors of tomato and herbs. The chunks of masa, reminiscent of tamales, were like dumplings in this case, soft with just enough chew.
Pasteles are sometimes made into one-pot stews or baked, to save the hassle of folding the pork and masa into packets. Rose Soto’s version uses whole pork chops that she fills with a bread stuffing — a unique touch — then cooks in a flavorful tomato sauce. The cooking can be done in a large skillet or in a covered pan in the oven, but it also works well in a slow-cooker.
The masa is pre-cooked in packets (yes, you still have to make packets), then cooled, sliced and added to the pot. By the way, if the masa is your favorite part, that section of the recipe can be doubled. There will be room in the crock.
Rose’s recipe is not something you can rush through on a weeknight. It has many components, many steps and takes several hours of prep time. She often divides the task over two days to ease the load. But if you love pasteles in their many forms, clear your calendar and give it a shot.
MRS. SOTO'S CROCK-POT PORK CHOP PASTELES
7 to 8 thick pork chops (see note)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 cup EACH chopped cilantro, onions and bell peppers (red and green mixed)
2 cups chopped green onion (1 bunch)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup hot chicken broth
6-ounce can pitted whole black olives, drained
6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup hot water
1/2 teaspoon EACH oregano, cumin and curry powder
4 green bananas
1 small potato
1 teaspoon EACH garlic salt, white pepper, onion powder and cayenne flakes
1/2 cup achiote oil (see note)
6-ounce box chicken-flavored stove-top stuffing mix
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup prepared masa
To make masa: Peel bananas and cut into thirds. Place in bowl of cold water to keep from turning brown. Peel potato and cut in wedges, put in water with bananas. Grind banana and potato in juicer or food processor to make a paste. Season with salt and spices. Stir in achiote oil.
Bring a pot of water to boil. Set aside 3/4 cup masa for the stuffing. Wrap remaining masa in foil packets (place about 1/2 cup on greased sheet of foil and fold foil around masa to make packet). You should have 3-4 packets. Drop into boiling water, then let simmer 45 minutes. Remove from water and chill (this can be done the night before).
Rinse pork chops, let drain in colander, then pat dry. Drizzle with vinegar and let sit 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make stuffing according to directions on box, using chicken broth in place of water. Remove from heat and stir in reserved masa.
Cut a slit deep into each pork chop, cutting to make a pocket for the stuffing (a thin serrated knife such as a steak knife works well). Fill chops with stuffing and secure the open edge with toothpicks or bamboo skewers.
Heat oil in large skillet. Brown chops well on both sides, sprinkling with seasoned salt.
Place cilantro, onion, bell peppers, green onion and garlic in bottom of 7-quart slow-cooker. Top with chicken broth. Stand browned chops in cooker so the slit with the stuffing is at the top. Top with olives.
Mix tomato paste in hot water and stir until smooth. Add oregano, cumin and curry powder. Pour mixture over chops. Cook on low 6-8 hours, until chops are cooked through. Once mixture in slow-cooker is simmering (about 4-5 hours), remove masa from foil packets and cut in
1/2-inch slices. Add to top of slow-cooker. Serves 8 if everyone takes a chop; 12 or more if you slice them up.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per boneless pork chop (based on 8 chops): 630 calories, 28 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 140 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,200 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 16 g sugar, 47 g protein
Selecting chops: Rose prefers bone-in pork chops 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick. Boneless chops, however, are more uniform and easier to stuff. Also, it is easier to cut a slit for the stuffing if the chops are partially frozen.
To make achiote oil: Stir 1 teaspoon achiote powder into 1/2 cup hot water and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Stir to dissolve powder. Rose uses the Sa-son brand of powdered achiote, which includes ground coriander, available in some Asian markets. Plain achiote powder can be found in small packages in Asian markets and near the Filipino seasonings in many supermarkets. The powder is added mostly for coloring, so the plain type is an adequate substitute.
Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
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