One of Roger Mooking’s most beloved family traditions is making this Trinidadian take on tamales for the holidays. The banana leaves help the filling stay moist, like corn husks would, says the chef and host of Cooking Channel’s Man Fire Food. “My family and I would spend half the day on pastelles duty!” he says. “They’re a true labor of love.”
Make the corn dough: Combine the cornmeal, coconut sugar and sea salt in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer speed to low and pour in 3 1/2 cups water, then the melted butter. Once the mixture starts to come together, increase the speed to medium and mix 5 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap, touching the surface of the dough, and set aside, 1 hour.
Turn out the dough onto a work surface and divide into 24 equal-size balls, around the size of an ice cream scoop. Place the dough balls on a baking sheet; cover with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out.
Make the filling: While the dough rests, heat a large rondeau pan or large pot over high heat. Add the vegetable oil, then the beef and pork. Cook until half-cooked, finely breaking up the meat with a potato masher, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium high, then add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the thyme, oregano and Thai chiles and cook 1 minute. Add the olives, raisins, chicken stock, tomato paste, capers and Worcestershire sauce; simmer over medium heat until almost fully reduced and the meat is a paste-like consistency. Season with salt and let cool completely.
Assemble the pastelles: Cover your prep surface with several layers of newspaper (this can be a messy job). Using an 8-inch pastelle/tortilla press, place a 16-inch-long piece of foil on the bottom of the press. Place a banana leaf on the foil and lightly coat with vegetable oil. Place a dough ball on top, rolling the ball over the leaf to coat it in oil. Brush another square of foil with vegetable oil and place on top of the dough ball. Press the dough using the pastelle/tortilla press until flat. Remove the top square of foil and save it to reuse.
Transfer the bottom piece of foil, banana leaf and flattened dough to a work surface. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling on half of the dough, making sure to leave a 1/2-inch border of dough. Fold the uncovered dough over the meat into a half-moon using the banana leaf and foil. Press the edges to seal. Wrap in the banana leaf, then the foil, to seal into a rectangular package. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add as many pastelles as you want to the water. Boil until fully cooked, about 20 minutes. Remove from the water with tongs and set aside until cool enough to handle, about 2 minutes.
Make the avocado–cilantro root puree: Put the avocado, lemon juice and cilantro root in a food processor and pulse until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a nonreactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serve the pastelles hot with the avocado–cilantro root puree.