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Beyond Shepherd’s Pie: Puerto Rican Pastelón de Plátano Maduro

We’re down to the last few weeks of winter. Rather than pine for the warmer weather that’s around the corner, why not take advantage of cooler temperatures to indulge in all that’s soothing and filling? Of all the Caribbean comfort foods, plantains are the most versatile.  Even if you bring home too many, you’ll always find a use for them.  Bought green to make tostones, they can easily become mofongo.  Let them turn completely yellow, they can be steamed for a quick side dish of plátano sancochado.  Forget them altogether until they’re almost completely black, they can still be fried up to make maduros.


With a few yellow plantains on hand at the perfect mid-point — sweetly ripe but still firm enough to be boiled — I decided to make a Puerto Rican pastelón de plátano maduro.  Similar to a shepherd’s pie, the plantains are mashed together and layered with picadillo flavored with oregano, olives and capers, tomatoes and raisins then topped with cheese and baked.  The lower layer absorbs the juices from picadillo while the cheese crust balances out the sweetness from the plantains.

Of course, there are a million variations on picadillo but two ingredients in particular, recao, a flat-leaf herb similar to cilantro, and ají dulce, a sweet pepper with a little heat that doesn’t bite, are worth seeking out.  Widely available in Latin American markets, they give Puerto Rican sofrito its unique flavor and this dish a hint of warmth.

Pastelón de Plátano Maduro


1 pound lean ground beef
2 tablespoons annatto infused oil or canola oil*
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 ají dulce also known as ajicitos, chopped
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup peeled whole tomatoes, fresh or canned, crushed or roughly chopped
1/4 cup dry sherry
1-2 tablespoon raisins (optional)
1 whole bay leaf
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 recao leaves (also known as culantro), finely chopped (cilantro can be substituted)
1/4 cup red roasted peppers, chopped
1/4 cup green olives, sliced
2 tablespoons capers
4-5 plantains, mostly yellow with some black spots, trimmed and cut in half
8 cups of water
2 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted plus more for greasing
1/2 cup queso blanco or parmesan, shredded


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 13×9 inch baking dish and set aside.

To make the picadillo, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the chopped green peppers, ajicitos and onions.  Sauté until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.  Add the ground beef, breaking it up so there are no lumps.  Stir in the tomatoes, sherry, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and raisins if using.  Return to a low simmer, cover, and continue to cook an additional 15 minutes.  Add the chopped recao, red peppers, olives and capers.  Remove bay leaf, adjust seasoning to taste, and set aside.

Combine the water, salt and unpeeled plantains in a large pot.  Bring to a high simmer, cover and continue to cook an additional 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain.  When cool enough to handle but still warm, peel, place in a large bowl and mash together.  Stir in the melted butter to combine.

Add half the plantain mixture to the prepared baking pan and spread to form a smooth layer.  Top with the prepared picadillo.  Cover with remaining plantain mixture and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Bake in preheated oven until it is warmed through and lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

*Notes:  To make annatto oil, combine 1 cup of canola or olive oil and 1/4 cup of annatto seeds (also known as achiote) in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring often, until it turns bright orange, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow steep an additional 15-20 minutes.  Drain and discard the seeds.  The oil can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 months.

Still hungry? Find more recipes on Ana’s site – Hungry Sofia.


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  9. Teri posted 09/13/2012

    Texans, Georgians, Bostonians and Trailpark residents all prepare the same dishes? Really. This is just one country the U.S. where there are tons of existing ethnic enclaves within the it-i.e., Muslims (then they are from Lebanon, Egypt, Morroco, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.), Chinese, Japanese, Italians, Polish, Germans, French, Southern Blacks, Swiss, Russians, Turkish, Australians, Canadians. Everyone eats equally everyday at dinnertime? Same root vegetables, same red meats, same fish (Tennesians eat like people from Maine?-5lb lobsters smothered in a simple drawn/clarified butter served on the side in a stainless steel dipping receptacle)? The fish available to Virginians is the same fish available to Oregonians? Chitlins is eaten by the Mormons in Salt Lake City? The people of Appalachia eat what the Acadians from New Orleans eat-Jambalaya, Bananas Foster, etc.? Avocados are grown in Niagra Falls, NY enjoyed by all at all times?

  10. dauphin posted 09/13/2012

    The point was that no food is endemic to one location. Millie above tried to explain that certain dishes are Caribbean and are not linked to the rest of Latin America. This is not true. They were alterered by influences from other locales around the globe. And yes people in NY eat avacados. Look up the per pound amount eaten every holiday and on Super Bowl Sunday. My father was from Nebraska and he ate chitlins. With todays world anything is now possible. All the ways you mentioned are attainable. Not sustainable but we are able to cook what we want here in America. What you are talking about makes my point. Lechon is lechon all over the world. It is regional by what is served along side. But to say one cuisine is supperior is FALSE. And that was my point all along. Sorry you missed it. Please reread the first sentence in the post you responded to.

  11. dauphin posted 09/13/2012

    Teri, I am formally inviting you to debate the movement of food around the globe. If you are open about why people cook what they cook where they live and why that is of course. Food histiory is my forte. I am currently compiling information for my own book. It would be great if you could contribute to this subject you seem to have a passion for as well.

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