Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmares: Los Pastelitos Pobres

While I do have the ability to read a recipe, I'm less qualified to make one up myself. This is especially troubling since the only reason why I would really try to make my own recipe would be if I ate something wonderfully delicious but was unable to find a recipe for it, mostly because it's a restaurant's specialty and they are jealous about handing out trade secrets (except with the Main Street Diner's baked spaghetti pie--those kind souls gladly obliged me). The result is I experiment to typically gruesome effect, turning a beautiful dream into lumps of unappetizing sludge (I guess sludge is always unappetizing...). Example: my terrifying and depressing attempts to recreate the little bundles of joy (not babies) that are pastelitos.

I last wrote about pastelitos in my column on the Border Cafe, the Tex-Mex restaurant that fulfills all my greatest foodie dreams and deepest foodie fantasies. They are so good I would regularly get them for lunch when I was an undergrad, even though it is always a bit weird walking into a bar at 11:30 a.m. One of the saddest things about leaving Cambridge, aside from having to say good-bye to free meals, access to 15.8 million books, and Sundae Sundays, was that I could no longer pop into the Border Cafe for a quick pick-me-up, pastelitos-style.

Luckily, I regularly come to Cambridge to visit Dave and my brother, but all that may be spoiled with Dave's plans to go to grad school, removing me from my bi-monthly excuse to indulge in Border's many splendors (he has some craazy idea about living somewhere else after 6 years. so selfish). Some time ago, foreseeing this unhappy event (if any Harvard/MIT admissions officers read this blog, might I suggest a prime candidate to your esteemed graduate programs in economics?), I decided to attempt to recreate, at home, Border's spicy-salty-tangy pastelitos.

Unfortunately, there is no way I would find online a recipe for pastelitos, seeing as they just mean "little pastries" in Spanish and are most likely a Border original. And my plan to ask for the recipe fell through when I was too embarrassed and Dave ignored my casual requests to ask for me (because I'm never in Cambridge! And his office is right next door! ...Bah). But I figured since I had eaten my body weight in pastelitos over the years, I should be able to recreate at least a passable facsimile. Le sigh.

I started by breaking down the pastelito into its basic parts: very moist, shredded chicken, lightly spiced but clearly marinated in something, wrapped in a slightly salty flaky dough, with chili verde sauce for dipping.

In hindsight, I probably made a few key mistakes. Like poaching the chicken in water, and using fried dinner roll dough for the crust. Also trying to make chili verde with just some cilantro and olive oil. It sounded nice--chicken wrapped in fried dough--and even my roommate (a far, far better chef than me. She has a mortar and pestle! puts me to shame) asked if she could try some. I felt bad about giving it to her, since it tasted mostly like gummy/burnt dough wrapped around tough little wet nuggets. It felt a little like what you would give your dog if you needed to hide a pill in some food, except probably even your dog would be all like, "Bish, plz." I boldly called them "my famous empanadas," at least aware enough that they were to pastelitos what Qterplix is to babies. I was lucky my roommate didn't laugh in my face or, you know, vomit. She's nice.

I suppose someday I could actually just ask the fine people at Border for the recipe and see if they would give it to me. However, I thought, as I scraped bits of stuck dough off my ever-resilient frying pan, there's something about the mystery of the pastelito, like they are some magic Mexican fairy food, that might be lost should I cook it for myself, and perhaps the lesson is that I should allow the pastelitos to remain behind a veil, forever unattainable except in the hallowed mecca of the Border Cafe...

ok but really if i had actually made them would have been sweeeet


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  2. I would call the place up. I have no problems calling up random people and asking things... I'll do it for you! lol.

    It's always hard to recreate something because when you do finally get the recipe or have someone explain it to you, you realize that they actually did something that you never would have thought of! Plus, most people can't really just eat something and than recreate as proven on the many crazy "reality" cooking shows on the food network. I applaud your courage to try, most people would just give up!