Food & Drink

Try making this Brazilian street food delicacy, the pastel

The pastel is a beloved street food delicacy that dominates Brazilian food culture. (Alexandra Olsen)
The pastel is a beloved street food delicacy that dominates Brazilian food culture. (Alexandra Olsen)
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Each January, Iowans all over the state face a similar dilemma. Our New Year’s resolutions reflect the best of intentions, to make healthier and more mindful decisions during meal time.

Meanwhile, the weather outside our windows seems to suggest only one thing should be on the menu: cozy comfort food.

This month’s Bite of Brazil features a beloved street food delicacy that dominates Brazilian food culture, pastel.

Pastel is a fried pastry that is most commonly found at farmers markets and fairs all over the country. You’ll also likely stumble upon them at bakeries, airports, gas stations, grocery stores ... and the list goes on. There are even entire establishments dedicated to the art of the pastel, called “pastelarias.”

Growing up in southern Brazil, I remember pastel playing a large role in my childhood. My memories of visiting the farmers market with my grandmother are filled with the scent of pastel. Ground beef was always my favorite filling.

These delicious fried pockets of joy are so widely loved because of their versatility. They can be savory or sweet, large or small, square or round, you decide.

The fillings I am sharing are a mixture of traditional and experimental.

Ground beef is the most common and traditional flavor, and if you’ve read any of my previous recipes you’ll recognize the familiar aromatics of Brazilian cooking.

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The chicken and cream cheese filling is not super traditional but inspired by a Brazilian favorite called “catupiry,” which is a soft cheese most similar to cream cheese. This filling also includes canned hearts of palm, which is a staple in the Brazilian kitchen and, surprisingly, easily found in American grocery stores.

The fig and cheese filling is a non-traditional filling that is inspired by my love of savory and sweet, as well as my love for charcuterie.

This is the fun of this recipe, use it to experiment and have fun creating your own unique flavors. Maybe one day you’ll be able to open your own pastelaria.

Follow Alexandra Olsen on Instagram, @TheHungryGaucha.

pastel

For the dough

2 cups of all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons of oil

Salt to taste

About half a cup of warm water

For meat filling

1 pound ground beef

1 onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 green pepper, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

Oregano to taste

Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste

Salt to taste

2 hard-boiled eggs, diced

For chicken filling

1 can of hearts of palm

1 can of chicken

1 block of cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup shredded cheese

1/2 cup olives, chopped

Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste

For fig and cheese filling

Fig spread

Brie or Camembert cheese

To make the dough: Combine flour, oil and salt.

Slowly pour in water and mix with your hands until dough starts to form. Do not add too much water, dough should not stick to hands.

Knead the dough for a few minutes until generally combined and smooth. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest at room temperature until you are finished preparing your fillings.

When you are ready, flour a clean, dry surface and roll out the dough. You’ll want it to be very thin — as thin as possible while still maintaining integrity.

Cut dough into desired shapes and sizes, this is up to you, and set these aside to be filled.

Meat filling: Hard boil your eggs, chop and set aside.

Saute ground beef in a large skillet. Once browned, drain and set aside.

In the same pan, saute onion, carrot, pepper, garlic, oregano and parsley.

Turn off the heat and add your meat and eggs back into the pan, stir to combine and season to taste.

To build pastel: Add a small amount of the filling into the center of the dough, dip your finger in water and lightly coat half of the outside of the shape, fold over and press the edges with a fork.

Chicken filling: Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

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To build pastel: Add a small amount of the filling into the center of the dough, dip your finger in water and lightly coat half of the outside of the shape, fold over and press the edges with a fork.

Fig & cheese filling: Place one slice of cheese and a small dollop of fig spread in the dough.

To build pastel: Add a small amount of the filling into the center of the dough, dip your finger in water and lightly coat half of the outside of the shape, fold over and press the edges with a fork.

To fry: Fill a deep and wide pan with a neutral oil and heat on the stove at medium heat. Check that it is up to temperature by placing in a piece of scrap dough and waiting until it bubbles along the edges.

Fry each pastel on both sides until golden brown. Remove from the oil and place on a drying rack or paper towel to drain.

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.