Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Up to my elbows in Pastelles

This afternoon I gained greater appreciation for the sophistication of Hispanic food. I learned how to make one thousand pastelles from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Before I arrived at the church, I had no idea whether a pastelle was a dessert or an entree. I was given a knife and a hairy potato-like squash to shave. We would be carving many root vegetables. The hairy potato looked so odd and barely edible and it produced a purplish color that made it look a little bruised. We diced three industrial-sized boxes of these potatoes (papa.)

Dicing the bananas was easy, but I only had one to do before I was given an autumn squash that had an exterior that was (muy dura) very hard. My fingers are raw from cutting so many of those roots. I could tell the mujeres (women) allowed me to do a little more on my own. They took the easier roots.

After two hours of dicing, we cleaned those massive bins of diced vegetables before running them through a grinder that created huge bowlfuls of goop. Then we added lots of salt, paprika, pork sauce, beef broth, and lots of other previously-unknown-to-me spices. My job? Mix those bowls well.

My elbows were covered in goop as I mixed six of those bins. I could hear the suppressed laughs while the women admired my technique. If I had been in Amman, the Filipinos would not let me do a thing, but these Spanish-speaking women have no problem doling out jobs. I stirred and stirred until they said "basta." My biggest surprise was they did not use eggs.

What they did next was very interesting to me. They laid out waxed parchment paper, applied a few spoonfuls of the mixture onto paper, added a little pork mixture, and topped it with olives and garbanzo beans. They then folded the mixture into a rectangle and then wrapped it as if they were gift-wrapping it with string.

The process from that point gets fuzzy. I think they are freezing the pastelles until Saturday's Spring Fling, but eventually these items have to be dropped into boiling water for 45 minutes to an hour. If water seeps in, the pastelle is tasteless, but these are so elegantly wrapped that no water will touch the mixture.

I can't wait to see how they turn out on Saturday. The mystery of it intrigues me. I liken them to a British or Australian meat-pie (pasties.)

Well, I had done much of the cleaning and it was abundantly clear that the master chefs had taken over so I simply said, "See you on Saturday" and returned to the Jesuit residence. I now appreciate the extraordinary effort to make these pastelles because so much hard work is needed. These women are certainly proud.

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