My host mother, Claudia, belongs to an association of women in Pital who make and sell a dish called pasteles. Pasteles are basically rice, vegetables, and meat wrapped and cooked inside a large leaf. Meats used include chicken, pork, turkey, rabbit, and guinea pig. Every Friday Claudia makes a batch of pasteles. Although I enjoy baking, my cooking skills are severely lacking, so this week I got the job of chopping a very large pile of vegetables, including ejotes (green beans), cebollas (onions), zanahorias (carrots), ajo (garlic), and apio (celery). While I chopped vegetables with Claudia’s mama, Claudia prepared the chicken and pork, and my host sister, Valeria, cut the stems of the leaves. Just preparing the pasteles took most of the day. We started around 10am and finished wrapping them around 6pm when the sun sets. The next morning Claudia woke up early to cook all of them. In total we made 39 pasteles.
Of course I consider a day in which I don’t learn anything to be wasted, so without further ado I bring you, things I learned while making pasteles:
- I am in fact capable of chopping vegetables for over an hour without cutting any of my fingers.
- There is a magical little tool called a garlic press, which saves the time and frustration of trying to cut garlic with a knife (seriously I need one of these for my kitchen back home).
- Garlic has a lot of juice, and sometimes when you use that magical garlic press, the juice squirts out and hits you in the eye.
- Garlic juice hurts when it gets in your eye.
- There is a difference between pollo (chicken) and gallina (hen). Pollo refers to chickens raised on large farms, and gallina refers to backyard chickens.
- Peeling carrots with a knife is much harder than it looks.
- I do not know how to properly chop a carrot.
- An improperly chopped carrot is still edible. Just laugh off the mistake, learn from it, and move on.
- Sitting on the patio snapping green beans with your grandmother feels the same whether you are in the United States or Colombia.
- Chores I don’t normally enjoy, such as chopping vegetables, can actually be fun when you’re in good company.
Overall it was an enjoyable day, filled with lots of jokes, stories, and laughter, some of which I understood, and some of which I didn’t. I still have a lot to learn about day to day life in Pital, and I still often feel lost in this sea of Spanish, but I am grateful for my very patience and generous host family, and look forward to more lessons and more Fridays of pastel making.