Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

“Pastelon”: Puerto Rican Shepherd’s Pie with Ground Beef and Plantains

Traditional English shepherd’s pie is made with layers of beef and mashed potatoes. In Puerto Rico, the dish is made with layers of beef and mashed plantains. If you’ve not tried plantains, this recipe is a great way to get acquainted. They’re easy to work with and add a slightly sweet note to the other ingredients. Puerto Rican cuisine isn’t spicy, but this shepherd’s pie provides a great balance of savory, sweet, and earthy.

A few tips on plantains: You can buy them with green skins (unripe), brownish yellow skins (ripe), and nearly black skins (very ripe). The riper the softer—and the easier to mash when cooked. I didn’t have black-skinned plantains for this dish, so I cooked brownish yellow ones and put them in a food processor with a little milk to help smooth them into a coarse paste. If you use the very ripe black ones, you can simply mash them like potatoes after cooking.

Ripe Plantains
One more thing: Peeling a plantain isn’t like peeling a banana. The skins are much thicker and well adhered to the flesh. The easiest way to peel a plantain is to snip off each end, slice the fruit in half crosswise, then slice each piece in half lengthwise. Now it’s quartered, and the skin from each quarter is easy to peel away.

Peeled Plantains
While plantains add a little sweetness to this dish, the other flavor highlight is the savory, earthy “sofrito”—Latin America’s answer to France’s mirepoix. French cuisine uses a mixture of sautéed carrot, celery, and onion as a base for many dishes, and Latin American cuisine uses a base of green bell pepper, onion, garlic, and fresh herbs, typically cilantro and parsley. That’s sofrito. And it adds wonderful, bright, fresh flavor to any recipe it’s added to.

Sofrito Ingredients
Some versions of pastelon include a layer of green beans along with the beef. Some forgo the cheese and top the dish with only whisked eggs. Still others add chopped green olives or raisins to the ground beef. Whatever ingredients you choose, the keys to the dish are plantains and sofrito—a sweet and savory combination that’s simply delectable.

Serves 6


For the Sofrito
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, with thin stems
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, with thin stems
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
For the Pastelon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
  • 4 ripe plantains, quartered and peeled
  • 2 tsp ground cumin, divided
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup milk, divided
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

For the Sofrito
  1. Place the cilantro, parsley, onion, bell pepper, and garlic in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
For the Pastelon
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the plantains and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin. Season with salt and pepper and fry 3-4 minutes, until the plantains begin to brown.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of milk and simmer until the plantains have softened and the milk is absorbed, about 10 minutes. (Add a little more oil if the skillet becomes too dry.) Break the plantain slices into smaller pieces as they cook. 
Plantains Beginning to Simmer
Cooked Plantains Ready to Process

  1. Remove the plantains to a processor and add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk. Process until a coarse, chunky-smooth paste forms. (Do not wipe out the skillet)
Processed Plantains
  1. Heat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Heat the same skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the ground beef and remaining 1 teaspoon of cumin and season with salt and pepper. Cook until browned, crumbling as it cooks, until most of the fat is absorbed, 7-8 minutes. Stir in the sofrito and cook 5 minutes longer.
Cooked Beef and Sofrito
  1. Lightly oil an 11 X 7-inch baking dish and spread half the mashed plantain mixture in the bottom, covering completely. (Use your fingers to press the plantain paste into a smooth layer.)
Layer 1 of the Pastelon
  1. Spread the beef mixture over the plantains and top with a second layer of the plantain mixture.
Layer 2 of the Pastelon
Layer 3 of the Pastelon

  1. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl and pour evenly over the top layer of plantains. Sprinkle the cheese on top.
Layer 4 with Eggs and Cheese
  1. Bake uncovered 30-35 minutes until the pastelon is set and slightly browned on top. Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes. 
Cut into 6 slices and divide among plates. Serve right away.
Baked Pastelon

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