Pastelón is a Puerto Rican dish that I did not discover until I visited San Juan in my early 20s. Mind you, I am part Puerto Rican and quickly asked my mom why she never made it for me! Since then, I have tried to make it several times with the traditional ingredients, but find myself always dissecting it a bit. I have finally decided to add a southern twist and replace the standard seasoning with cacoa nibs, ancho chili powder, and bacon (totally optional). I encourage you to play with adding your favorite spices—maybe after you try this version once! —caffeinefueledrobot (Ciara Taylor)
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Pastelón with a Southern Twist
2 to 4 people
ripe plantains (the riper the sweeter the dish will be, so this is a matter of preference)
Cut the ends off your plantains, then lightly cut an incision down the plantain from one end to another to be able to peel the skin off. After you have peeled the skin, cut the plantains into 3 chunks. Take each chunk and cut into 4 pieces lengthwise.
Once you have your plantains cut, it's time to fry them up. Coat the bottom of a deep pan with vegetable oil. Let the oil heat up on medium heat. Add 4 to 5 plantain pieces at a time to fry, flipping as they begin to yellow. Once they have cooked evenly on both sides, remove them from the oil and put on a plate. Do this until you have fried them all. Set aside so that you can work on the filling.
Cut 4 slices of bacon. Coat a pan with olive oil and cook the bacon until crispy. Then add the ground beef, stirring and cooking until there is no more pink. Add ancho chili powder, pecans, and cacoa nibs. After everything is mixed in, strain the grease from the meat mixture. Put the meat mixture back in the pan and add the tomato sauce letting it cook over low heat.
Now it's time to assemble! Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line the bottom of an oven-safe dish with two rows of plantain pieces to cover the bottom. Cover the plantain pieces with the meat filling, then a layer of shredded cheese. Do another layer of plantain pieces, meat, and cheese. Then, one more layer of plantains and cheese. I like to have a couple of small pieces of plantains to add to the middle on top of the cheese, sprinkle a little ancho and pecans.
Bake for 30 minutes or until it's sizzling and all the cheese has melted!