So all five of us packed up and went to New Orleans last week. In short, it was awesome. Mimi (Bill’s grandmother) turned 100. Yes 100. And not the type of 100 that makes you want to cringe, the type of 100 you want to be. Someday, that is. She still plays with her great grand-kids and has a mind as sharp as she did 70 years ago. For real.
Aside from 8 days of great memories (including a Saints pre-game in the Superdome and a French Quarter-filled evening with just me and my Good Man) I came home with a family tradition and recipe for pasteles (Honduran meat pies) taught to me over the course of 6 hours (not kidding) by the women in the family. It was an awesome day. Of course I’m going to do the unorthodox and substitute quinoa for the meat next time, but that’s what I do. And I won’t be telling Mimi. And she doesn’t know what a blog is. So I’m safe.
First, chop 1/2 yellow onion, 1 sweet bell pepper (color of your choice) and 3 cloves of garlic. Saute in saucepan until soft. Add to the pan 2 lbs. cubed red meat of your choice-not too fatty-salt and pepper. No need to saute the meat, just add 3 cups water, cover, bring to a boil and simmer for an hour.
Here is Yehe, Mimi’s cousin, on the left. Mimi in the middle. Argel, Yehe’s daughter on the right. I say it again, 100 years old.
Next, strain the meat, reserving the water!! Take the meat/veg mix and run it through a food processor in batches to make a bowl of tiny, flavored meat shreds. I love tiny, flavored meat shreds.
Now in the same saucepan add 1/2 chopped yellow onion, 1 chopped bell pepper (color of your choice) and 3 more cloves garlic. Saute until soft then add 1 chopped tomato. Saute until water is absorbed. Add the tiny flavored meat shreds, a dusting of oregano, paprika, salt and pepper. These are now Out-Of-This-World-Shreds.
This next step is the most crucial. It consists of turning that ‘meat water’ you reserved into an amazing sauce so good it has it’s own name “Recado“. Being what my husband lovingly calls a “Yankee-Hippie“, I thought these tiny Spanish ladies were saying “Ricardo“, as in a man so wonderful, so sought after, that the sacred sauce made to tie the billion ingredients of a pastele together was named after him. I thought to myself how wonderful it was to experience this recipe, with these women, with all of the romantic intricacies and cultural history…. Yankee. Hippie. It’s just a name and they had no answer to my prying questions about Ricardo. It would be like someone asking me where the oh-so romantic word “gravy” came from.
I had to mention that Mimi is missing from this next happy picture for a reason I did not know at the time. Apparently all three ladies got in an argument about how the Recado is made. So much so that Mimi left and went and stood in the bathroom for a while. Not speaking Spanish I missed out on this juicy little family tiff. Each woman was taught this recipe by their grandmother and personally made it numerous times over their lives, so apparently the intricacies of the recipe are fraught with controversy. Love it. These two look rather triumphant wouldn’t you say?
I digress. Back to Ricardo. So, add to the meat h2o a big pinch of cloves, nutmeg and powdered thyme. Then add a teaspoon each of paprika, cinnamon and dried achiote molido (powder from ground annatto seeds) and get this; 6 tablespoons sugar. Bring this to a low boil. Take 1/2 cup cold water and mix 8 teaspoons cornstarch until smooth. Add this very slowly to the low boiling water, stirring until thickened. Taste. Unbelievably delicious. Very unique.
So while that meat was boiling a while back you should have been putting in a bunch of different little bowls: capers, raisins (soaked in water for 1/2 hour), chopped hard boiled eggs, peas, cut green beans, pimiento stuffed green olives, boiled chopped potatoes (drizzled with caper water) & julienned green bell pepper. Add to this collection a bowl of the Meat Shreds and a bowl of our beloved Ricardo. Look at that combo of flavors, so well balanced it’s like Donna Karan put them together.
Now it’s time to go for the dreaded crust. Simple enough, though: 1/2 cup shortening, 6 cups flour, 2 tsp. salt, 5 tsp. sugar, 4 eggs and here’s the clencher-1 1/2 cups orange juice. Yummm. Just work it all together with your hands. Take a look at Mimi, 100 years old, working the dough.
Work that dough, work, work, work it into two logs and cover it with towel.
Finally it’s time to assemble the pasteles. Everyone has to have a glass of wine. For real. Rounds are cut from the dough logs and flattened into perfect discs. Then they are passed on to be individually, meticulously filled with each ingredient, in a specific order. First goes the Recado in a perfectly thick circle, then a couple tablespoons of the meat, 6 peas, 4 capers, 6 green beans, 5 potatoes, 2 olives, sprinkling of eggs, 4 raisins, one bell pepper slice then more Recado to top. Press down a second disc on the top, carefully folding around the entire edge to seal tightly. Each pastele takes a painfully long time, but not if you keep drinking and talking smack (well, kind of) with your radical Hispanic in-laws.
Once you have about 4 large platters of pasteles and you’d rather stick hot needles in your eye then make another, it’s time to brush them all with an egg wash and bake them at 400 for about 25 minutes or until a deep, golden brown around the edges. They are delicious. Really, really, deeply delicious.
After I finished taking notes, checking and double checking amounts with the ladies and snapping annoying, crappy photos, Flor (my mother-in-law and Mimi’s daughter) gave me a pretty book to have the recipe organized in for safe keeping. Flor shopped for us but hates all things in the kitchen and would have nothing to do with our day of pasteles. Seriously, she is awesome.
I was excited to be the first person ever to document what actually goes into this recipe. The ladies were into this, really into getting all the details perfect for the record. They were laughing that it took a non-Spanish speaking Yankee to document the family recipe. Love it. Love them. Here’s the first page they wrote for me in Spanish. Stretches on as far as the eye can see.
I don’t know how Mimi and I communicate as well as we do, considering she barely speaks English and I barely speak Spanish. Getting to spend so much time together made heading back to Seattle especially brutal. It was one of those goodbyes where your inner dialogue is begging yourself to pull it together, desperately grasping for something to help keep the gusher at bay. Nothing worked. Maybe it was because I recently lost my grandfather and I coudn’t help but think this could be goodbye to Mimi forever. But really, that could be the case with anyone, anytime. Then again, nothing is forever. Right?