Every time my brother-in-law’s mother visits him, she makes him a freezerful of pasteles that she carries with her on the plane. These pasteles are hot tamales (except they’re not, technically), but I was lucky enough to try one of the traditional Puerto Rican dishes while I was visiting at Christmas by digging around the freezer in the middle of the night. Well, it was slightly more above-board than that, but I would have . . .
Masa harina, the main ingredient, surrounds shredded chicken, olives, and spices, all wrapped up in a giant, glossy banana leaf. You warm the tasty little package in the leaf and unwrap it like a present. Here’s one recipe for the treat, traditionally served around Christmas. These little numbers take a couple of days to make; in fact, there was mention of an assembly line to crank out a batch. Best to have your pasteles hand delivered off the plane.