Trini Christmas, 101: How to Make Pastelles, Black Cake + Chow Chow

December 24, 2013



Pastelles are steamed cornmeal pies, wrapped in banana leaves or pockets, and stuffed with your favorite savory filling. Although versions are seen in Spanish culture, this dish is thought to date back to the pre-Colombian period and the indigenous peoples of the islands. Shrimp, shredded fish, soya or crab meat can also be used. Prepare as indicated below, or switch it up and make your filling taste just how you like it.

For the filling:

1.5 lb mixed ground meat (pork/beef/veal)
2 onions, chopped
2 tablespoon thyme
1/2 habanero or scotch bonnet pepper
2 pimento peppers
2 chadon beni leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 piece of ginger
1 tsp black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
ยผ cup ketchup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp capers (optional)
2 tbsp olives, chopped
ยฝ cup raisins

For the cornmeal outer layer:
2 cups yellow cornmeal
3 cups lukewarm water
4 tbsp. vegetable oil or coconut oil
ยผ lb butter, unsalted
1ยผ tsp salt

For the wrapping:
2 -3 large fig (banana) leaves
Strings to tie



Season meat with onions, thyme, pimentos, garlic, chadon beni and Worcestershire sauce. Leave for about 15mins to marinate. Heat oil, garlic and ginger in a large skillet. Add meat and turn continuously, ensuring you break up all lumps of meat as finely as possible. Mix in ketchup, black pepper and salt. Place scotch bonnet pepper in whole (Careful not to burst it!!). This pepper will also be removed whole and discarded when you have finished cooking the meat. Once meat is cooked, add the chopped capers, olives and give it a good stir. If you have raisins, add them now as well. Allow this to cook for a couple minutes, then turn off the stove and leave to cool while you prepare the cornmeal.

Cornmeal Dough

Combine cornmeal, water, salt, and butter to make a soft pliable dough. Divide the dough into small balls and cover with damp cloth to prevent drying. Cut the fig leaves into 9″ square, stripping the midrib. Singe the leaf over a low fire on the stove and wipe clean. Dip the cornmeal dough ball in the oil and place on an oiled fig leaf using a wooden press to help flatten out the dough (if you do not have one, simply press into an 8″ square). Spoon about 2 tbsp meat filling to the center of the dough. Fold the fig leaf and tie along length and breadth using the string. Place in a pot of water and boil for 15-20 minutes. When cooked, drain the water. Let cool and freeze until you are ready to eat. To defrost, steam over a pot of boiling water for 10-15mins.