Pastelillos – my way


“Liza, you wanna pastelillo?” was music to my ears growing up. It was and still is one of my favorite cultural foods. Some people call them empanadas but my family called them pastelillos (meat turnover). With grandparents from Puerto Rico, who eventually migrated to New York, I’ve been privileged to indulge in delicious Puerto Rican cuisine all of my life. Dad was born in Aibonito, Puerto Rico and mom was born here in NYC, but she too, was well endowed with her cooking skills.  I remember when she died in 2008, mostly everyone who attended her funeral, mentioned how grateful they were for her cooking. She fed everyone, just as my grandmothers did. It’s traditional in our culture to show our love through food and we believe, there’s always enough for everyone – “¡ Dios da pa todo mundo” .. is what I always heard them say. 

I may not cook as authentically as my ancestors but I definitely cook with love and from what I understand,  that’s one of the most potent ingredients. 

Here, I share my version of pastelillos:

I start off with a package of dough (discos) and a pound of ground turkey. Traditionally, they use ground beef but you can substitute with ground turkey or chicken for a healthier version, as I do. 

I sauté sofrito, fresh garlic,  adobo, onion powder, black pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Then I mix in the ground turkey with the sofrito over medium flames until fully cooked.

Now, I sprinkle some flour on the counter top , lay and roll out the dough atop of flour, then place some ground meat in the center. 

Cheese is optional. 

Now,  I scramble an egg and dab the edges of the entire circumference, fold over the dough and begin to pinch the edges with a fork. 

Pile them up, until complete and begin to fry. (Baking is also optional)

As they’re frying, I grab a large utensil and begin to repeatedly scoop oil over the pastelillo. The dough will begin to bubble up and turn golden. After a few minutes, flip it over and do the same on the opposite side.

*Remove from oil and wait a few minutes to cool off before eating. The internal steam can burn your skin.



©2016 Liza Morales


Pastelillo (3/30)


encantan pastelillos de carne
meat sazonado en sofrito
fritura puertoriqueña
dough rolled out, folded and stuffed
forked, fried .. lo comieron
abuela’s spirit
fill their bellies
hands of love

©2016 Liza Morales

(Etheree poetry)


(Pastelillo – a Puerto Rican meat turnover, also made with chicken or seafood)

Ujamaa (Haiku)


assist in shared wealth
support your fellow artist
let’s build together.

© 2013 Liza Morales


Ujamaa – Cooperative economics is a principle that empowers families to come together around their collective economic interest and to see their economic strength in sharing resources and cooperative investing, buying, and selling. Moreover, the moral ties necessary to achieve and practice the Ujamaa principle obligate those who live in the community to support, care for and look out for each other and to see the interest of the each person as tied to the interest of the family and community. In a word, wealth and resources should be shared.

Ujima (Haiku)



prioritize common good

advance together.

© 2013 Liza Morales


Umija – Collective work and Responsibility:

To be sure, this principle cultivates the greatest sense and practice of empathy. Being empathic is not just an emotional feeling, but a critical component of our humanity. The African maxim give voice to this notion: “A human needs help.” The “imperative here is to act because our families and people deserve t be helped. This notion  is “born of an acute sense of the essential dependency of the human condition.” The African proverb underscores the concept and value of interdependency reasoning: “A human being is not a palm tree as to be self-sufficient.” Humans, therefore, at all times directly or indirectly, need the help of others.