Recipe: Trinidad pastelles

For someone from Trinidad, making pastelles is either a daunting task they hope someone else will undertake and send them some, or a yearly tradition where family gathers to press, wrap and eat the Christmastime treats.

It was the former for me—I wanted no part of what I thought was the painstaking and time consuming process of making pastelles. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it justice either.

So I brought in mom (which never fails) and we did it together.

Turns out, it’s kind of easy.

I mean, it did take several hours, a ton of dicing and by the end I never wanted to see another banana leaf (and we only made 24), but still, it was pretty easy.

The secret is getting the flavor of the meat just right. And the other secret is getting the right ratio of meat to dough. Because no one wants a meatless dough fest.

Here’s what went into the meat (mostly courtesy the every-Trini-home-staple Naparima Girls Cookbook recipe, and the rest to taste):


(Makes roughly 24)

2 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped chive

1 tsp. thyme (we used dried)

1 tsp. minced garlic

Hot pepper to taste (we used 1 whole, seeded habanero pepper)

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 tsp . salt

1 tbsp. vegetable oil (we used extra virgin olive)

1/4 cup ketchup (best if you can use ketchup from Trinidad & Tobago, it’s just different. And better)

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup finely chopped pimentos

3 tbsp. capers

2 tbsp. stuffed olives, chopped (we added 8 more olives)

1/2 cup raisins

And here’s what we used for the dough:

1 24 oz. bag extra fine cornmeal

3 cups hot water

2 tbsp. vegetable oil (we used olive oil again)

Banana leaves, cleaned and cut in 8 inch squares


1. Season beef with onion, chive, thyme, garlic, hot pepper, bla