This Vegan Pastelón – a meatless version of the Puerto Rican “lasagna”- is sure to please everyone, even the staunchest carnivore. Made with fried slices of sweet plantain and a plant-based picadillo, this baked casserole is a spin on the comfort food many Puerto Ricans know and love. With quality ingredients and a step-by step guide, this recipe may even replace the traditional pastelón.
What is Pastelón?
To me, pastelón is the classic Puerto Rican dish. Made with plantains that originated in Africa and picadillo, which is a very common Latin American meat recipe, it pays homage to two of the three cultures that make up the Puerto Rican people.
The name of this dish is often contested depending on where on the island you (or your family) comes from. Most people argue that it is pastelón only if it’s made with layers of mashed plantain. Some insist on calling this piñon because the plantains are sliced and fried.
Meanwhile, I’m over here like, “First the cheese debate and now we’re arguing over the name?!?”
It doesn’t matter (to me at least) if you call this dish piñon or pastelón, just don’t put raisins in the picadillo and don’t call me late for dinner. I’m partially kidding about the raisin part, but we’ll get to that in a sec.
One thing we can agree on is that most people refer to “it” as the Puerto Rican lasagna. That, even though it doesn’t have any ricotta cheese, or pasta, or pasta sauce. I suppose lasagna is the closest thing to relate this pastelón to, in spite of the difference between the two. Instead of lasagna noodles, this dish is made with lightly fried, ripe plantains (or maduros). The meat sauce common in Italian lasagna is replaced with a ground meat picadillo here. Cheese is still present, though, some Puerto Rican-pastelón devotees would argue that cheese doesn’t belong in it. I’m of the opinion that there’s never a place where cheese doesn’t belong.
That’s an issue I’m willing to throw down over, too.
What makes this Pastelón Vegan?
Fun fact about me that has absolutely nothing to do with any of this: when I started culinary school, I followed a vegan lifestyle. No, not a vegan diet. A vegan lifestyle. Yes, there most certainly is a difference between the two. One eliminates animal products (dairy, eggs, and meat) from your diet. The other- more gangster one- eliminates the use of animal products, period. For me, that included makeup, certain articles of clothing, certain beauty and hygiene products, and certain foods as well.
Because there wasn’t a huge awareness of veganism back then, I suffered health-wise due to a lack of B Vitamins and protein. I just didn’t know how to replace them properly. My chef instructors in college wouldn’t help, either, because they all thought I was a weirdo. Thankfully, with time, the vegan diet is becoming more mainstream. Brands are keeping up with the times and, as a result, they’re putting out some fantastic meat and cheese subs to accommodate many different diets.
Vegan pastelón replaces the ground beef picadillo with a plant-based, ground meat substitute. Mozzarella style shreds replace the cheese in the traditional dish. Since eggs are an animal product, we eliminate them altogether while doubling up on the cheese. Often, it’s that simple to turn your favorite meat dish into a vegan one.
What do I need to make Vegan Pastelón?
To make this vegan pastelón, you need a meat substitute like Impossible Burger. IB does contain soy, so you can replace it with a non-soy meat substitute if you have an allergy to it. A picadillo made with brown lentils is another option if you’re not a fan of the ground meat substitutes found in stores.
The cheese layers are what bind the pastelón together in the absence of eggs. I think that Daiya Mozzarella Shreds are the closest thing to real mozzarella because of how they melt. Other “cheeses” just lay there like shreds of cardboard.
Sweet yellow plantains are the main star of this recipe. Because plantains are sold green or yellow, pay close attention to how ripe yours are. Too green and your pastelón won’t have the sweet and savory flavor it’s supposed to have.
In addition to the plantains, you need fresh onion, green pepper, garlic, and sofrito to flavor the picadillo. Season the picadillo the same way as if it were a traditional one: with adobo, sazón, oregano, black pepper, and a little bit of cumin. Olives, capers, tomato sauce, and a bay leaf finish the flavor profile.
What are the best plantains to use when making Pastelón?
Pastelón is made with sweet, or ripe, plantains.
You can tell the difference between ripened and unripened plantains by their color. Unripened plantains are green, whereas ripe plantains are yellow with black splotches. Avoid the green plantains as they are not at all sweet and won’t give the proper flavor for this dish. Choose yellow plantains that are very yellow, mottled with black, and soft. Avoid plantains with a black peel. They are too sweet to use in this recipe.
How do I slice the plantains for this Vegan Pastelón?
Plantains for pastelón can be prepared in one of two ways: mashed or sliced in slabs and fried. In this recipe, we’re going to do the latter.
Place your hand flat over the peeled plantain. Slice the plantain into 1/8 to 1/4- inch thick slabs by carefully running the knife down the length of the banana. Typically, you can get 4 slabs out of one large plantain. Be careful after cutting a few slices. The board, knife, and plantains starts to gets slippery and you don’t want to accidentally cut yourself.
How long do I need to fry plantains for Pastelón?
Two important things to remember when frying your plantains for pastelón is: 1) don’t fry them in too much oil, and 2) don’t fry them too long.
Plantains absorb oil and the last thing you want is a greasy pastelón. Frying the plantain too long can result in charred, scorched bananas which permeate the pastelón, rendering it inedible. You want a happy medium of lightly fried, golden brown plantains.
Heat 1/2-inch of oil (about 1/3 of a cup) in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Slide 4 or 5 slabs of plantain into the oil, making sure not to crowd the pan.
Fry the plantain for 2 minutes. Carefully flip the plantain slices over in the pan: I use tongs to do this because it keeps the oil from splashing. After two minutes of frying on the second side, remove the plantains to a sheet pan lined with absorbent paper towels.
Continue to fry the rest of the slices in this way until all of the plantains are cooked to a beautiful golden brown. Because they are safe at room temperature, don’t worry about keeping them warm in the oven. Just leave them on the counter.
How do I make Vegan Picadillo?
Much the same as ground beef picadillo, the vegan version begins with browning the “meat” in a caldero coated in a small amount of olive or vegetable oil. Bring the oil to a shimmer over medium-high heat before adding the “meat” to the pot.
Use a wooden spoon to break up the “meat” and allow it to brown for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the “meat” begins to take on color, sprinkle the spices over it. Stir to coat the “meat” in the spices and continue to brown it for another 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
Now, add the aromatics- the sofrito, diced onion, green pepper, and the minced garlic- to the pot. Stir the veggies in to incorporate them into the mix.
Sauté the picadillo for 3-4 more minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent and just beginning to take on color.
How long do I cook the picadillo?
Complete the flavoring of the picadillo by adding the tomato sauce, olives, capers, and the bay leaf to the mixture. Stir them all in and allow the picadillo to come to a simmer. Reduce the heat under the pot to low, give the picadillo another stir, then cover and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes.
When finished, the picadillo will be thick, like meat sauce or a wet taco filling, and not liquidy. Turn the heat off and get ready to assemble the pastelón.
Swaps and Substitutions
Not a fan of plant-based “meat’? Make your picadillo with cooked lentils instead. Just boil the lentils according to the package instructions and build the picadillo with them instead of the “meat.
If you want a more robust “cheese” replace the mozzarella with a vegan cheddar.
Another version of picadillo that some people enjoy includes raisins. You know from earlier that I’m not one of those people. Raisins add another level of sweetness to the meat. While I’m not a fan, I won’t knock you [too hard] if you try it. Just stir a 1/2 cup of dark raisins in with the tomato sauce.
If you’re not a fan of olives, you can certainly omit them.
When assembling the pastelón, some people (like my husband) love to add a layer of French-cut green beans. Just drain a can of green beans and spread them between the picadillo and the second layer of plantains.
What is the best vegan cheese to use in Pastelón?
Because this pastelón is vegan, we can’t use the eggs that we normally would use to bind it. Instead, use a good, quality vegan cheese to bind together each of the layers. I find that Daiya is the best vegan cheese on the market because it melts almost like regular cheese does.
In a 9 x 13- inch casserole dish, create the first layer of plantain slices. I always use the “ugly” slices to form the bottom layer of my pastelón. The “ugly” slices are the rounded first cuts you make from the plantain. Instead of putting them on top- front and center- bury them on the bottom and use the flat slabs to create the final layer. It took 10 plantain slices to create the bottom layer in my pan.
Sprinkle the first layer of plantains with 1/2 cup of “cheese”. Since this is the binder, “cheese” goes on each layer to hold it together.
Now, top the “cheese” layer with half of the picadillo mixture. After that, sprinkle the meat with a 1/2 cup of “cheese”.
Once again, repeat the plantain>”cheese”>picadillo>“cheese” layering. Finally, top the dish with a layer of plantain slices. You are going to sprinkle the remaining half-cup of “cheese” towards the end of the baking time.
How long do I bake Pastelón?
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in a pre-heated 350°F (177°C) oven for 45 minutes.
Once the 45-minute bake time is finished, remove the dish from the oven, uncover it and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of “cheese” over the pastelón in an even layer.
Return the dish to the oven- still uncovered- and heat for 10-15 minutes more, or until the “cheese” is gooey. Remember, the “cheese” won’t be as gooey as regular cheese. Look for it to be “sweaty” (for lack of a better word) and soft.
Remove the pastelón from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Can I make Vegan Pastelón ahead?
Because I spend most of my day homeschooling the twins and working on new recipes, I don’t always have time to stop and cook or assemble the pastelón. Instead, I prefer to make my pastelón the evening prior to baking and serving it.
You, too, can cook and assemble the pastelón the evening before.
Wrap the assembled dish in foil and refrigerate it overnight or up to 48 hours. When you’re ready to bake, just put it into the oven as is. Because ceramic dishes can shatter if they go from the fridge to a hot oven, I recommend setting the dish on the countertop while the oven heats up. Alternatively, you can put the dish into the oven as it heats up to reduce the chances of having your dish explode. If you have assembled your pastelón in a metal baking dish, you need not worry about it blowing up. Just put it straight into the oven.
Can I freeze this dish?
You most certainly can freeze your assembled pastelón. In fact, I used to cook and assemble multiple pastelóns when my husband was still active duty in the Army. Whenever one of his Soldiers had a newborn baby, a sick spouse, or was packing up to move to a new duty station, I’d bring over a pastelón wrapped in foil. I’d just write the thawing and heating instructions right onto the foil. I’d even send along a garden salad which they could serve with it.
Fully assemble the pastelón before wrapping it in a double-layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Keep it in the freezer for 6 months, or less. Whenever you’re ready to eat it, just allow it to thaw under refrigeration for 24 hours (or just overnight) and bake as instructed above.
How do I serve Vegan Pastelón?
The way we (and most Puerto Ricans) enjoy pastelón is served with Arroz Blanco (Steamed White Rice) and slices of ripe avocado.
As I mentioned before, a garden salad is another great side dish to serve with this recipe.
If none of these options sounds appealing, serve your pastelón by itself. It truly is a meal-in-one.
What’s the best way to store it?
Store leftover pastelón in a food storage container in the fridge for 3 days. To reheat individual portions, simply warm in the microwave on high heat for 1 1/2 minutes, or until warmed through.
You can also freeze cooked, leftover pastelón for 2 months. Wrap it well in plastic wrap and cover it with foil prior to doing so. Frozen pastelón can be thawed in the fridge overnight or go straight from the freezer to the oven and reheated at 300°F until warmed through. Be sure to remove any plastic from the dish if you’ve used it.
What are some other ways to make Pastelón?
Alternate the protein in your pastelón. If you’re not following a vegan diet, you can make yours with 2 pounds of ground beef, pork, or poultry.
Swap the cheese for a different flavor: any kind of cheddar, gouda, or parmesan will work here.
Of course, a healthier version of the dish never hurt anyone. Here’s a recipe for my Healthier Pastelón.
Try this Vegan Pastelón on for size and let me know what you think. Would you be able to tell it was vegan if you didn’t make it? Everyone I served it to was shocked to find out it was completely meatless.
Pin this recipe to your vegan or dinner boards and share it with your world.
- 9x13-inch baking dish
- 6 yellow plantains
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil plus 1/2 tablespoon for the picadillo
- 24 ounces (2 packs) Impossible Burger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sazón seasoning
- 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- kosher salt to taste
- 1 small (1 cup) white onion diced
- 1 medium (1 cup) green bell pepper diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup sofrito
- 1 cup (8 ounces) tomato sauce
- 6 manzanilla olives sliced (optional)
- 1 teaspoon capers
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 packs (24 ounces) vegan cheese separated
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C). Set out a 9x13x3-inch casserole dish in which to assemble to pastelón later.
Prep and Pan-Fry the Plantains
- Use a knife to cut off both ends of the plantains. Take the tip of your knife and cut a slit down the back of the plantain. Peel the plantain as you would an eating banana. Place your hand flat over the peeled plantain. Slice the plantain into 1/8 to 1/4- inch thick slabs by carefully running the knife down the length of the banana.
- Once the plantains have been sliced, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Slide 4 or 5 slabs of plantain into the oil, making sure not to crowd the pan.
- Fry the plantain on one side for 2 minutes. Using tongs, carefully flip the plantain slices over in the pan. Fry the plantains for two minutes on the second side. After frying, remove the plantains to a sheet pan lined with absorbent paper towels.
- Continue to fry the rest of the slices in this way until the plantains are all cooked to a beautiful golden brown. Leave the pan of fried plantains on the counter while you prepare the "meat" picadillo.
Cook the Vegan Picadillo
- In a caldero, heat a half-tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.When the oil begins to shimmer, add the ground "meat". Use a wooden spoon to break up the "meat" and allow it to brown for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Once the "meat" begins to take on color, add the sazón, adobo, oregano, cumin, and pepper. Stir to coat the "meat" in the spices and continue to brown it for another 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the onion, green pepper, garlic, and the sofrito to the pot. Sauté the picadillo for 3-4 more minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent and just beginning to take on color.
- Add the tomato sauce, olives, capers, and the bay leaf to the picadillo. Stir these ingredients in and allow the picadillo to come to a simmer. Reduce the heat under the pot to low, give the picadillo another stir, then cover and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes. Stir the picadillo every so often to keep the picadillo from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- When finished, the picadillo will be thick, like meat sauce or a wet taco filling, and not liquidy. Turn the stove off and assemble the pastelón.
Assemble the Pastelón
- Create a base-layer of plantain slices in the bottom of your baking dish. Sprinkle the first layer of plantains with 1/2 cup of the vegan cheese.
- Top the "cheese" layer with half of the picadillo mixture. Next, sprinkle 1/2 cup of "cheese" over the meat layer.Once again, repeat the plantain>"cheese">picadillo>"cheese" layering.
- Finally, top the dish with a layer of plantain slices.The remaining half-cup of "cheese" will get sprinkled over the pastelón towards the end of the baking time.
Cover and Bake the Pastelón
- Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake 45 minutes.
- Once the 45 minutes bake time is finished, remove the dish from the oven, uncover it and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of "cheese" over the pastelón in an even layer. Return the dish to the oven- still uncovered- and heat for 10-15 minutes more, or until the "cheese" is gooey.
- Remove the pastelón from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serve the pastelón with steamed Arroz Blanco (Steamed White Rice) and slices of ripe avocado.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Make the picadillo with 1 1/2 pounds of cooked lentils. Boil the lentils according to the package instructions and build the picadillo with them instead of the "meat.
- If you're not on a vegan diet, make yours with ground beef, pork, or poultry.
- For a more robust "cheese", replace the mozzarella with a vegan cheddar.
- For a conventional diet, any kind of cheddar, gouda, or parmesan will work in place of vegan cheese.
- Stir in a 1/2 cup of dark raisins with the tomato sauce.
- Omit the olives if you're not a fan of them.
- Add a layer of French-cut green beans. Just drain a can of green beans and spread them between the picadillo and the second layer of plantains.
Make Ahead Instructions:
- Cook the plantains and the picadillo as instructed.
- Assemble the pastelón completely before wrapping the baking dish in foil and refrigerate it overnight or up to 48 hours.
- When you're ready to bake, just put it into the oven as is.
- Note: Because ceramic dishes can shatter if they go from the a cold refrigerator to a hot oven, allow the dish to warm up the countertop while the oven heats up. Alternatively, you can put the dish into the oven as it heats up to reduce the chances of having your dish explode. If you have assembled your pastelón in a metal baking dish, you need not worry about it blowing up. Just put it straight into the oven.
- Store leftover pastelón in a food storage container in the fridge for 3 days. To reheat individual portions, simply warm on high for 1 1/2 minutes, or until warmed through.
- You can also freeze cooked, leftover pastelón for 2 months. Wrap it well in plastic wrap and cover it with foil prior to doing so. Frozen pastelón can be thawed in the fridge overnight or go straight from the freezer to the oven and reheated at 300°F until warmed through. Be sure to remove any plastic from the dish if you've used it.
- Completely assemble the pastelón.
- Wrap the baking dish in a double-layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
- Freeze up to 6 months.
- Thaw the pastelón under refrigeration for 24 hours (or just overnight) and bake as instructed above.