Stuffed Cornmeal Balls

In Puerto Rican cuisine there is a popular dish known as pastelitos, or meat pies. This dish entails the use of plantain leaves. A portion of cornmeal and meat filling is place on a leaf, which is then folded to give the meat pie its shape. Lastly, the meat is carefully removed from the plantain leaf and then deep-fried, hopefully retaining its form. We Nuyoricans found this time consuming and developed out own way of cooking this cornmeal dish. Nuyoricans, by the way, is the term applied to Puerto Ricans born or raised in New York. It was initially a derogatory term used by the islanders to described this populace. We then took the term as our own and as a measure of pride.

Our pastelitos omit the plantain leaf. We shape the cornmeal mixture with the hands or, better still, using two spoons and then deep-fry the mixture. In my family we never used the term pastelitos. To us these were simply Rellenos de Harina de Maíz or stuffed cornmeal balls. To this day they make a great appetizer or an entree served with vegetables or over yellow rice. The recipe enclosed is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Books - Thunders Mouth Press) .

         (Stuffed Cornmeal balls)

1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter or margerine
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 packet sazón accent (or sazón goya)
1 cup lean ground beef, about 3/4 pound
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Boil water in a small saucepan and add the salt and butter.
2. Combine cornmeal and flour in a bowl. Add the boiling water, mixing well to form a soft dough. Set aside and let stand for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet or cast iron pan. Add sazón and ground beef. Saute over medium heat until meat loses its color.
4. Stir in tomato sauce. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
5. Using a serving spoon (like a big rice spoon), scoop out a handful of cornmeal mix. Smooth out the mixture so that it's level with the spoon. Place a teaspoon of beef filling atop the cornmeal. Cover filling with another tablespoon filled level with the cornmeal mix and shape the whole cornmeal ball into an oval. Keep the spoons slightly wet while doing this. Some cooks prefer to shape the cornmeal balls by hand. Use whatever technique works for you.
6. Deep-fry in hot oil until golden.
    Yield: About 8 stuffed cornmeal balls.

Photo: courtesy of Grain Plain Foods---online store
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