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.