We can improve our brain health by expressing gratitude for the blessings we have been given. I am grateful for my family and friends. I am also grateful for those who protect us from harm: police officers, firefighters, and first responders—men and women who run toward danger to save those in peril.

My favorite recipe: You must have three things on the table for a proper Puerto Rican holiday meal: pernil, arroz con gandules, and pasteles! Here is a challenging recipe for pasteles de yuca:


Achiote oil

  • 6 tbsp. achiote seeds (annatto)
  • 2 cups vegetable oil


  • 3½–4 pounds yuca (also known as cassava)
  • ½ cup sofrito
  • 1 small beef broth cube
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. oregano
  • 2 fl. oz. water


  • 2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
  • 2 oz. (4 tbsp.) sofrito
  • 1 beef broth cube
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. oregano
  • 1½ cups water
  • 2 fl. oz. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup Spanish olives, cut in half
  • 2 tbsp. capers
  • 1 14½-oz. can garbanzos
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1 small jar pimentos 


  • 12–14 oz. banana leaves, waxed paper, and butchers’ twine


Day 1

Achiote oil

  1. Heat 1½–2 cups vegetable oil, and add 6 tbsp. annatto seeds to the oil. Allow the seeds to simmer until the oil reaches a bright red color.
  2. Strain the seeds from the oil and discard the seeds. Allow the oil to cool and store in a sealed container until ready to use.


  1. Combine all filling ingredients in a pressure cooker. Set to cook for 30 minutes. Let it come back to pressure naturally without releasing it.
  2. Uncover and set to brown/simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool and store in airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.


  1. Cut the yuca into 3–4 pieces. The yuca should be milky white; if it has dark lines, it’s no bueno.
  2. Score the skin; slip the knife under the skin and pry it away from the yuca.
  3. Cut the segments in half and expose a small root that runs down the middle of the yuca. Make a V-shaped cut around the root to remove it, like you would core a pear.
  4. Using the shredder blade on your food processor or a manual grater, grate the yuca. Place the grated yuca root into the food processor using the blade, and run the food processor until the yuca is fine and pasty.
  5. Place the yuca paste in a colander lined with cheesecloth, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator overnight to drain.
  6. In a skillet, simmer ½ cup of achiote oil and ¾ cup of sofrito for 5 minutes. Add ¼ cup of water, a beef broth cube, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and oregano, and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
  7. Add the seasoning to the grated yuca, and mix until combined.
  8. Drizzle ½ cup of achiote oil into the yuca. Mix until well combined and the yuca has an orange color; set aside until ready to use.

Day 2

Prep banana leaves

  1. Remove the ridge from the leaves. Cut the banana leaves into 12” x 12” squares, and wash the banana leaves under warm running water.
  2. Working in batches, microwave the banana leaves for 1½–2 minutes; this helps make the leaf more flexible


  1. Set up assembly station with yuca mixture, filling, achiote oil, banana leaves, waxed paper squares, and butchers’ twine.
  2. Lay out a square of waxed paper and a square of banana leaf over it, and spread 1 tsp. of achiote oil on the banana leaf. Scoop ¼ cup of the yuca mixture onto the banana leaf, and spread out into a rectangle.
  3. Place 2 tbsp. of filling down the center, and top with pimentos if you like. Using the banana leaf, fold the yuca over the filling.
  4. Bring the leaf ends together. Fold over twice to create a tight seal. Tuck the ends under. If the banana leaf splits a little, don’t stress, because you are going to fold it again in waxed paper. Do the same wrap, and fold with the waxed paper. If you use only waxed paper, I recommend double wrapping.
  5. Tie two pasteles together with butchers’ twine like a present, with the folded ends facing each other.
  6. At this point, you can get ready to boil them right away, or you can freeze them until ready to use. When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil, drop in the pasteles, and boil for 45 minutes for fresh and 1 hour for frozen.
  7. Using a pair of tongs, pick the pastele out of the water by the string and place on a paper towel. Cut the string and gently unwrap.