Trinidad pastels are similar to tamales of latin america: savory ground meats encased in a cornmeal dough and steamed to perfection. Pastelles are a staple on the Trinidad christmas menu; it a proud expression of the spanish influence on the country. As soon as we were old enough to help, my sister and I were recruited in the pastel-making ritual. And a ritual it is. First of all, during the week before Christmas, my father would gather bananas leaves. Since he owned agricultural estate at the time, it simply a matter of cutting a few leaves from a few banana trees. Then those leaves has to be washed, dried, and individually steamed to make them malleable enough to use as a wrap. These days, many grocery stores on the island sell pre-cut leaves.Here in Minnesota, I have opted to use parchment paper ( I can almost hear the collective gasp of my "Trini" relatives and friends) in place of the banana leaves because well frankly, I started this process way to late to find a way to locate these leaves in Minnesota. But dear friends, I find that parchment paper does the job just as well, and is much less work. Where would I have found the time within the past two hectic weeks to clean and steam banana leaves?
Another characteristic of pastelles is that the meat filling is typically ground beef. My version however uses ground chicken. Ninety five to five percent meat to fat ratio to be exact. Thanks to the Gold and Pump chicken company of Cold Spring Minnesota who has generously sent me samples of their new chicken products, I am using ninety five to five percent lean ground chicken.
Be it chicken or beef pastelles, making this dish always takes me back to a true island Christmas. A time of family, friends, great food, and warm weather; memories I welcome while looking out my window at the six inches of snow (and counting) that’s coming down.