Puerto Rican Pastelón – A Naturally Gluten Free Dish

Pastelón de platano maduro is a Latin-American layered dish made with ripe plantains and a meat filling. Popular in both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, I was introduced to the Puerto Rican version first through my fiancé and fell in love. Who knew Latin America had so many gluten-alternative dishes and ingredients readily available to explore? Our version of the pastelón recipe is packed with flavor while minimizing the unhealthy fats. It is an all-in-one dish that is sweet, savory, and hearty– a perfect 1-pan dish to serve a whole family.

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But First, About Plantains

If you aren’t familiar with plantains, a plantain is a tropical tree fruit that is common in Latin American countries, having originated from West and Central Africa. It looks very similar to a banana, but anyone who has ever handled a plantain can tell you they are very different foods. Plantains are a lot starchier than a banana and must be cooked to eat. When peeling, you often need a knife to cut through the peel, which is also a lot harder and stiffer than a banana’s. The taste and culinary uses are also different as well.

The fruit is used in many dishes and is eaten in both its green state and yellow state. When the plantain is green, it is starchier and not sweet. It is commonly fried in to plantain chips or tostones or boiled into a masa. Ripe yellow plantains are sweeter. When fried, the sugars within the ripe plantain caramelize, turning a golden-brown color, making a delicious dessert all on their own. Ripe plantains are also boiled into a masa, but it comes out softer (and of course sweet).

Like a banana, as a plantain ripens, it goes from green to yellow to black, getting sweeter as it changes color. For a pastelón, you want yellow to black plantains (but of course, this is a pretty flexible dish). The blacker they are, the sweeter (and softer) they’ll be. The sweeter the plantain, the more it will provide a sweet contrast to the savory filling.

Our Method

Pastelón starts with ripe plantains as its primary starch. Traditionally when cooking the Puerto Rican version, you cut the plantains lengthwise into flat slices and fry them first before laying the slices into a single starch layer. This method gives more texture, flavor, and gives the plantain a softer bite, but also makes the overall dish heavier since it’s frying. So instead, we boil and mash the plantain, then scoop and press the mash into an even layer for the base and the top of the pastelon.

Our version also does not use cheese or bechamel sauce, which is typically added as a top layer to the dish. A cashew cream sauce would be a good alternative to the bechamel, but for simplicity’s sake we simply do not add it and instead include a generous side of garlicky mayo ketchup! For the cheese, you could substitute with a store bought vegan cheese shred, but keep in mind most of those contain coconut. I personally haven’t missed the cheese in this recipe since the meat filling used is incredibly flavorful already. To make up for the lost moisture though, we make sure the plantain masa is slightly wetter than standard. In our case, we add pumpkin to the masa, but you can optionally just add more liquid instead.


As a layered casserole dish, the recipe for Pastelón can get pretty complicated, but when it comes to the steps they actually aren’t too difficult. You can also vary up the fillings if you like. Add mushrooms or onions into the beef filling for added vegetable content. Too much variation and you’ll move away from this being a true Pastelón, but hey. As long as it tastes good and feels good, who’s really complaining?

Rectangular slice of Pastelon served on a white plate

Pastelón (Gluten and Dairy Free)

A Puerto Rican and Dominican inspired pastelon made healthy with mashed ripe plantains, ground beef, and no dairy or gluten
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours
Course Casseroles, Main Course
Cuisine Dominican, Latin American, Puerto Rican
Servings 8


  • 1 9×12 casserole Dish glass or ceramic
  • 1 large pot for boiling plantains


Plantain Masa:

  • 4-5 Ripe yellow plantains the blacker the better
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree to add moisture and more nutrients
  • 1 tbsp dairy free butter or cooking spray or oil, for greasing the baking pan

Beef Filling:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil or other cooking oil
  • 2 tbsp sofrito If you can't buy sofrito, see below
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce check the label, some brands include corn starch or corn flour for thickening!
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup sliced olives
  • 2 tsp adobo spice blend Goya brand is traditional, but see below for a separate adobo recipe
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves

Additional ingredients:

  • 3 eggs optional, but helps "glue" everything together
  • 1 cup green beans optional, but adds nutrition and texture

Garlicky Mayo-ketchup

  • 3 tbsp ketchup make sure you get one without corn syrup!
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise add more or less to taste
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar if using white vinegar, reduce to 1-2 tsp
  • 2 tbsp sake can sub with water
  • 2-4 garlic cloves we like it really garlicky, so adjust according to taste


Make the Plantain Masa

  • Cut off the ends of the ripe plaintains and slice open the plantain skins lengthwise from end to end. Peel back the skin to reveal the white plantain fruit (it looks a lot like a banana but is much starchier). Roughly cut the plantain into chunks for boiling.
  • In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the plantains and let simmer over medium heat, about 20 mins. Test with a fork for doneness. If the fork easily pierces the plantain, it's ready (this is similar to how you would boil potatoes).
  • Drain the plantain pieces, then with a fork or potato masher, mash the plantains. Add the pumpkin puree and then continue to mash. Optionally add 1-2 TBSP of water until desired consistency (like a mashed potato, not overly wet. You want it to maintain some substance by being slightly dry).

Cook the Beef Filling

  • Add oil to a pan and gently sauté the sofrito over medium-low heat (careful! sofrito is wet so may splatter). Add the ground beef and break it apart with a spatula.
  • Add the tomato sauce, red bell peppers, adobo spice, oregano, bay leaves, and olives, stir to cook. If it's too dry, add a splash of water or sake. Cook under the liquid is mostly gone.

Assemble the Pastelón

  • Prehead the oven to 350ºF.
  • Grease a 9×12 baking pan
  • Scoop half the plantain masa into the pan. Spread it around and press it down into an even layer
  • Remove the bay leaves from the beef filling, then spread all of the beef filling overtop the plantain layer. It should completely cover the bottom in an even layer.
  • Scatter the green beans overtop the beef filling.
  • Crack 3 eggs and beat well. Gently spread 1/2 the beaten egg overtop the beef & green bean layer evenly across the dish. Use a basting brush to even out the spread as needed.
  • Add the rest of the plantain masa to the top of the dish, being careful to spread it evenly and press it into a flat layer. Then gently spread the remaining beaten egg overtop this plantain layer, again using a basting brush to even out the spread as needed.
  • Optional: Sprinkle ground achiote (can sub paprika) as a garnish
  • Bake at 350ºF for 45 min.
  • Once finished, remove from oven and let it sit for 10 min before slicing. Enjoy!

Make Mayo-Ketchup condiment

  • Mince the garlic or mash in a mortar to draw out the most flavor
  • Add ketchup, mayonnaise, vinegar, sake, and garlic to a bowl and mix completely until fully incorporated. Serve on the side with the pastelón.


If you can’t find sofrito, you can make some yourself, but if that’s too cumbersome, just add minced culantro (or cilantro if you also cannot find culantro), onion, and garlic. 
Pastelón is a great family meal dish, but it also can be made ahead and served as leftovers. Pastelón also freezes really well for meal prep!
Keyword casserole, dairy free, family meal, gluten free, layered bake, plantains

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