Our treasured pastelle


ONE of our treasured traditional Christmas foods, pastelles, were handed down to us from the Spanish, the recipe has evolved through the years to include many variants of the traditional filling.

Every year I offer a pastelle making workshop, and through the years the student population has indeed dwindled.

I have come to realise that many persons do not enjoy pastelles as they used to, because the quality of commercially prepared pastelles are extremely low, rendering tasteless pastelles and dry cornmeal.

Many cower in fear at the thought of making their own pastelles as they perceive it to be a laborious task.

Fear not, simply make a small quantity for your virgin run and after you can increase at your desired pace.

We traditionally make pastelles with cornmeal, however most of the Spanish speaking Caribbean nations also use cassava/ yucca as their dough/masa. Corn and cassava are both indigenous crops to these countries and are easily available, although cassava may be more economical and a lot more healthy because it is not processed and used in its raw stage.

Most if not all of the corn that is grown, processed and packaged for export is genetically modified, so why not try another option.

The cassava pastelles are delicious in their own way varying mostly by texture, whereas the corn masa or dough is more tender, the cassava tends to be a bit chewy, a texture I enjoy.

Don’t get me wrong I love corn pastelles but I am also a great fan of cassava, so variety is the spice of life here.

Roucou is an indigenous ingredient used to colour foods all over the Caribbean, here we call it roucou, the Spanish refer to it as achiote or annatto.

Roucou adds a glorious deep yellow hue to whatever it is used in, which tends to elevate the appetite appeal, Easy to make, the recipe is attached, it is popping up at our farmers market both in its pod stage and in its liquid product stage, it keeps well in the refrigerator and its’ uses extend to all stews, peas, beans and fish dishes.

Cassava pastelles

1 recipe master pastelle filling, see below

Dough or masa

2 lbs peeled raw cassava

1 tbs roucou

1 tsp salt

2 tbs coconut or olive oil

12 banana leaves 12x12 inches, passed over a flame or steamed to soften.

Grate cassava or process in food processor until mushy, place into a towel-lined strainer, leave for about one hour to remove any excess water. Place into work bowl, add roucou and salt. Mix well with a wooden spoon or with your hands. Section the masa/dough into 12 sections.

Place one banana leaf onto your work surface, oil the leaf.

Place the cassava masa onto leaf, place another oiled leaf over dough and smooth the dough to a 6 inch circle.

Place 2 tbs filling onto the middle of the dough.

Bring the top portion of the leaf over to cover ½ the dough, press with your finger to release the dough. Repeat with the bottom half, and then the sides, making a neat package.

Fold over a few times into a neat package, and repeat with other pastelles. Steam for 20 minutes until cooked through.

These are best served warm. To reheat steam them do not microwave. Makes 12.

Pastelle filling- master recipe

1 lb ground (or chopped) beef or chicken

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 cup chopped chives

¼ cup chopped fresh thyme

2 tbs olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic chopped

2 pimento peppers chopped

1 tbs chopped celery

½ Congo pepper, seeded and chopped, (optional)

1 tbs tomato paste

2 tbs roucou

¼ cup raisins

4 tbs capers

3 tbs olives, sliced

2 tbs fresh thyme

Combine beef with salt and black pepper.

Add ¼ cup chopped chives and one tablespoon thyme.

In a large sauté pan heat olive oil, add onion, garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add pimento peppers, add remaining chive, pepper, and thyme, add meat and cook until brown.

Add tomato paste cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add roucou and stir.

Add raisins, capers and olives and stir to combine.

Cook for about 5 minutes more, taste and adjust seasoning.

Add 2 tbsp fresh thyme and stir to combine.

Remove from heat and cool.

Cornmeal pastelles

Cornmeal dough

2 cups yellow cornmeal

2½ cups hot water

½ cup butter, softened

1¼ tsp salt

12 banana leaves 12x12 inches, passed over a flame or steamed to soften.

Add butter to water, stir to melt.

Combine cornmeal with water mix.

Stir well and knead make a soft pliable dough.

Divide the dough into 15 balls of dough.

Cover with a damp cloth to prevent drying.

Place one piece of dough, (place some oil on your dough), on a greased fig leaf, and press to an 8-inch width.

Spoon two tablespoons filling onto the middle of the dough and fold and seal pastelles.

Wrap in fig leaf and tie into a neat package.

Steam pastelles for 45 minutes until cooked.

Makes 15 pastelles


1 bunch roucou, about 20 pods

Remove the roucou/achiote seeds by opening each pod and scraping seeds into a bowl.

Sprinkle with salt.

Cover with about one cup hot water, let stand for a few hours to draw the colour from the seeds. Your liquid should be an intense orange red colour.

Strain into a glass bottle.

I usually refrigerate my roucou.

Makes 8 ozs.


"Our treasured pastelle"

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