Not for peanut butter sandwiches

Pastele stew. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

While the ripe, yellow version are what most consume, people can also consume bananas while they are still in their unripe, green state. But why would you want to consume green bananas, which have been described as waxy in texture with a slight bitterness and not sweet at all, when the ripe version is pillowy soft and sweet? Better nutrition, my friend. Unripe bananas consist primarily of starches that eventually convert to simple sugars as the fruit ripens. That’s why just one-half of a large ripe banana is equal to one starch portion if you are limiting your carbohydrates on a diabetes diet. But don’t those limiting their carbohydrate intake also have to count their starches? Yes. But the starches in green bananas are “resistant starches,” which aren’t broken down and absorbed like the starches in pasta, bread or potatoes, so these resistant starches in essence are dietary fibers or pre-biotics that can facilitate your gut health. Green bananas also contain pectin (which breaks down during ripening) giving you additional soluble fiber.

How to Consume Green Bananas
In the 50th, the best way to consume green bananas is in the traditional Puerto Rican dish, the pastele. Before I describe a pastele, I’ll preface it with the disclaimer that I’m not Puerto Rican. I’ll also add that an authentic pastele made in Puerto Rico is different than the version usually created in the 50th. For starters, the original dish uses green plantains, which aren’t the same as green bananas, but since plantains aren’t usually grown in the 50th and we have an abundance of banana trees, the Hawai‘i version usually uses green bananas. However, a friend from the Dominican Republic told me he prefers pastele made with green bananas instead of plantains as he felt the texture is better. And even the pronunciation of the dish varies. In the 50th, it’s usually pronounced as “pah-telleh” with a silent “s,” but a Puerto Rican patient told me that they pronounce it “pahs-telleh.” Oh well, toh-meh-toe, toh-mah-toe. The original recipe also calls for a blend of plantains and tubers (yautia or malanga) whereas the Hawai‘i version just contains green bananas as the base of the masa.

So, once you’ve decided on your use of green banana, green plantain and tuber, a pastele is basically like a Puerto Rican tamale with the banana/plantain masa in place of the corn masa found in tamales, and it’s filled with a pork-based filling seasoned with sofrito or a mixture of minced veggies and herbs. And in place of the softened corn husks used in tamales, the pastele is wrapped in flame softened banana leaves, then boiled or steamed. And almost all Hawai‘i versions contain black olives, which I’ve never encountered in traditional Puerto Rican recipes.

If pastele production sounds like a lot of work, IT IS! To make the banana or plantain masa first requires grating the fruit, which isn’t as easy as it sounds as it easily breaks if you apply too much pressure, which invariably jams your knuckles into the grater.

OUCH! So, I now employ a food processor with a grating blade. But you still must liberate the fruit from the peel and while a ripe banana is easily separated from its peel, a green banana seems to be glued to the peel. I now slice just the ends of the fruit off, then soak everything in hot water for several minutes, which makes peeling slightly easier. And because I don’t have an abundance of banana leaves at home, instead of creating individual pastele, I first made a baked pastele (pastel al horno) from a recipe demonstrated by members of the United Puerto Rican Association of Hawaii on The Electric Kitchen sponsored by Hawaiian Electric.

While this baked pastele is a lot easier and faster than making individual pastele, the baking tended to dry the mixture as I only added about one-fourth cup of oil instead of the three-fourths cup in the original recipe to keep the caloric count reasonable.

Then at some point, I switched from traditional pastele to pastele stew (which is often served at plate lunch establishment throughout the 50th). There’s no need to worry about a dry product as it’s a wet cooking method, yet still retains the traditional flavors of pastele. When peeling the bananas, you may want to wear an apron and gloves as banana sap will stain clothes permanently. The gloves also reduce than chances of getting some of the peel under your fingernails — like what happens when peeling chestnuts.

Pastele Stew

2 tbsp olive oil
3 lbs. pork, cut into bit size pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 green bell pepper, diced
4 minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp annatto powder
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
4 cups chicken broth
2 cans black olives, drained
6 green apple bananas, grated or shredded
1 bunch of chopped cilantro or culantro
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat then add the pork and brown (seven to 10 minutes). Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic then cook until the onions have softened then add the cumin, oregano, annatto, salt and pepper. When the mixture is fragrant, add the chicken stock, tomato paste and olives, lower the temperature to simmer and cook for 45 to 60 minutes until the pork is tender. Add the bananas and cilantro/culantro and simmer for another 15 minutes. Because bananas consist mainly of starch, once it starts cooking it will thicken the stew so I always keep a cup of water on the side to thin the mixture if it gets too thick.

Traditional pastele is usually made with pork butt because the marbled cut adds flavor but also adds a load of fat. Therefore, I usually use pork sirloin when it’s on sale as the price drops almost as low as pork butt without all of that extra fat. Of course, our local supermarkets occasionally reduce the price of pork tenderloin below the price of pork butt so I’ll use tenderloin in my pastele (and freeze the extra tenderloin I purchase) when it goes on sale for $1.99 per pound. I know that sounds like a sacrilege, like using filet mignon for beef stew but if the price is that low, why not? Sear some for steaks, cube some for stew and freeze some for future grilling.

The traditional side to serve with pastele stew is gandule rice or pigeon peas cooked with spices and long grain rice. Pigeon peas look like green peas but are a lot firmer even after cooked and they are available both dried and canned. I usually use the dried variety pressure cooked for about 40 minutes though I’ve also used the canned variety which is a time saving alternative.

And perchance you try this recipe but purchase too many green bananas, don’t fret.

Just let them ripen and consume them as ripe bananas or let them go past that stage and make banana bread!

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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