“Pasteles” or “pastelitos” in El Salvador, may be different than what you’re expecting.
In middle school Spanish class I learned that “pasteles” are “pastries”, as in dessert – So years ago when my suegra told me she was making pasteles and then served meat-filled turnovers, I was perplexed.
As many of you know, (and as I found out), in El Salvador, pasteles can refer to savory empanada-like main dishes like the turnovers my suegra served, but it differs from country to country.
Served with curtido, Salvadoran pasteles easily became one of my favorite meals. Here’s my recipe so you can make them, too!
1 lb. ground beef
2 cups potatoes, cooked and diced
1 cup green beans, cooked and chopped (optional)
1/4 cup onion, chopped fine
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. achiote molido (ground annatto)
reduced sodium Worcestershire sauce, to taste
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onion and raw carrot, stirring for about 2 minutes.
2. Season ground beef with oregano, salt, pepper and achiote and then add it to the pot, stirring occasionally until brown.
3. Drain the grease once the beef is cooked, and then return to heat. Add in potatoes (and green beans if using.) Stir to combine and remove from heat. Season with a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce and additional salt to taste. Set aside and allow to cool.
3 cups MASECA masa harina
1 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon achiote molido/ground annatto
3 cups water
1. Mix the dry ingredients and then add the water a cup at a time, mixing by hand until combined. Set aside. Keep a bowl of fresh water nearby for wetting your hands as you form the pasteles.
Forming the Pasteles:
1. With moist hands, take a handful of masa, slightly larger than a golf ball, and shape it into a tortilla.
2. Put a large spoonful of filling in the middle and then bring the sides of the tortilla together like a taco and seal by closing your hand gently to form the pastel into a half-moon shape as shown below.
3. Fry pasteles in a large, deep pan with plenty of canola oil over medium-high heat, flipping to slightly brown on each side. Remove to paper towel-lined pyrex or plate.
4. Serve pasteles with curtido and salsa. Makes approximately 18 with leftover filling (which is great the next day over rice as picadillo!)
Notes on Curtido and Salsa:
While I already have two curtido recipes (here and here) – as well as salsa recipes (here and here) – I’m always experimenting and I’d like to share new versions I have for each since both turned out great. The salsa recipe, while using canned tomatoes (which I know some are opposed to) actually tastes more authentically Salvadoran in flavor than previous salsas I’ve made – much closer to what you typically get with pupusas and other dishes at Salvadoran restaurants. The new curtido recipe is great because it minimizes chopping vegetables by hand if you’re in a hurry, comes together quickly, and has a nice texture similar to coleslaw thanks to a little help from the food processor.
Salsa Roja Salvadoreña
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (and the liquid)
1/8 cup diced onion
1/8 cup diced green pepper
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
salt, pepper and oregano to taste
1. In a food processor set to mince, add tomatoes and liquid, onion and green pepper. Process until completely combined.
2. Pour tomato sauce into a pot on medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then simmer one minute. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar. Add salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Cool and serve or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Quick Curtido Salvadoreño
1/2 a small cabbage, washed and chopped in large pieces
2 large carrots, washed, peeled and chopped in large pieces
1/2 small onion, chopped
apple cider vinegar
oregano, salt and pepper
1. In a food processor set to chop, add cabbage, carrots and onion all at once. Process just until chopped. (The texture will resemble coleslaw for this curtido.)
2. Put cabbage mixture into a large bowl, add apple cider vinegar and a little warm water to taste. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Serve or keep covered in the refrigerator.