03 January 2007


As luck would have it, shortly after I finished my first blog, my mother-in-law (Carmen) sent me up the last of the Christmas pasteles. Pasteles are somewhat similar to Mexican tamales, but instead of corn for the massa we use Puerto Rican staples.

Pasteles are incredibly time consuming to make, and are therefor typically served only around the holidays, especially Christmas and Three Kings Day. This particular batch was made by Carmen's niece, who lives half a mile up the mountain from us.

Pasteles start with the massa, or paste. This is made up of grated green bananas, yautia, platanos, calabaza, and potato. All of these (except the potato) come from our property, and are our contribution to the feast. You then add achiote for color.You smear some of the massa onto a banana leaf into a rough rectangle, and spoon some pork filling into the middle. The pork filling has green olives with pimentos, tomato, garlic, garbanzos, and spices. You then fold up the banana leaf so that the massa completely encloses the filling, then tie the leaf with string.

You cook the pasteles in a pot of slowly-boiling water for about half an hour. They freeze beautifully (unwrap them first).

Here is a reasonable recipe at Rican Recipes. It's slightly different from what we do, but close enough, except they suggest using a food processor to save time. I tried that with my trusty 11-cup, and it's now in Cuisinart heaven.

You either love pasteles or you hate them. I love them; my Puerto Rican wife hates them. I can't wait until next year.

01 January 2007

About Cocina Luis

Cocina means both kitchen and cookery in Spanish. My name is Lou, but everyone here calls me Luis.

This is about food in Puerto Rico. It's not necessarily about Puerto Rican food, although there's lots of that, but more about what we eat here. Food is a challenge here for me, an Italian-American having lived in the Boston area for the last twenty years. Now that I live in Puerto Rico, I realize the wealth and diversity of ingredients I took for granted. The nearest Whole Foods is 1,400 miles away, and all my salumi and Italian cheeses come shipped over night from sympathetic family and friends on the mainland.

Not that we don't have abundant and wonderful ingredients here: we do. On our six acres alone we have pineapple, yuca, bread fruit, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, plantains, yams, and several types of bananas. All the grocery stores carry pork, beef, and chicken, but we're lucky to find Italian sausage once a month.

Why the lack of culinary diversity? I suppose it's because of the lack of cultural diversity. Nearly everyone here is Puerto Rican. We don't have Italian, Greek, Armenian, Chinese, Korean, or middle-eastern neighborhoods here, so there's no real demand for the food of those cultures.

We also don't have ethnic restaurants (I don't count the fast-food faux Mexican and Chinese places). I haven't had pizza in two years, let alone gyros, falafel, pad Thai, dim sum, bagels, lox, and many, many others. Oddly enough, I can get great Sushi.

I should mention that I live in Aguas Buenas in the central-mountain region of Puerto Rico. I'm sure many of the foods I mentioned are available in San Juan and some of the bigger cities, but we seldom go there. Caguas is the closest "big" city, and that's where we do most of our shopping. Caguas also has a lot of American fast-food restaurants, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Churches Chicken, and more, but I was never a fan of fast food; I simply won't eat that stuff.

As I mentioned, this as about what we eat here. My mother-in-law is a great Puerto Rican cook, and I have my Italian-American specialties. Now that I'm retired (at the tender age of 50), I am experimenting with any kind of food I can make with the ingredients available.