Every January, Iowans across the state face a similar dilemma. Our New Year’s resolutions reflect the best of intentions, for making healthier, more conscious decisions during mealtime.

Meanwhile, the weather outside our windows seems to suggest only one thing should be on the menu: cozy comfort food.

This month, Bite of Brazil features a beloved street food that dominates Brazilian food culture, pastel.

Pastel is a fried pastry most commonly found at farmers markets and fairs nationwide. You will probably also encounter them in bakeries, airports, gas stations, grocery stores… and the list goes on. There are even entire establishments dedicated to the art of pastels, called “pastelarias”.

Growing up in southern Brazil, I remember that pastel played a big role in my childhood. My memories of visiting the farmer’s market with my grandmother are filled with the smell of pastels. Ground beef has always been my favorite side dish.

These delicious fried pockets of joy are so widely loved because of their versatility. They can be savory or sweet, big or small, square or round, you decide.

The toppings I share are a mix of traditional and experimental.

Ground beef is the most common and traditional flavor, and if you’ve read any of my previous recipes, you’ll recognize the familiar flavors of Brazilian cuisine.

The chicken and cream cheese filling is not super traditional but inspired by a Brazilian favorite called “catupiry”, which is a soft cheese very similar to cream cheese. This filling also includes canned hearts of palm, which are a staple in Brazilian cuisine and, surprisingly, easily found in American grocery stores.

Fig and Cheese Filling is a non-traditional filling inspired by my love of salty and sweet, as well as my love of charcuterie.

That’s the fun of this recipe, use it to experiment and have fun creating your own unique flavors. Maybe one day you can open your own pastelaria.

Follow Alexandra Olsen on Instagram, @TheHungryGaucha.

pastel

For the dough

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons oil

Salt to taste

About half a cup of lukewarm water

For the meat filling

1 pound of ground beef

1 onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

Oregano to taste

Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste

Salt to taste

2 hard-boiled eggs, diced

For the chicken stuffing

1 box of hearts of palm

1 can of chicken

1 block cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup grated cheese

1/2 cup olives, chopped

Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste

For the fig and cheese filling

FIG jam

Brie or Camembert cheese

To make the dough: Combine flour, oil and salt.

Slowly pour in water and mix with your hands until the dough begins to form. Do not add too much water, the dough should not stick to your hands.

Knead the dough for a few minutes until it is generally homogeneous and smooth. Wrap in cling film and let stand at room temperature until you have finished preparing your toppings.

When ready, flour a clean, dry surface and roll out the dough. You’ll want it to be very thin – as thin as possible while still maintaining its integrity.

Cut the dough into the desired shapes and sizes, it’s up to you, and set them aside to fill.

Meat Filling: Hard-boil your eggs, chop and set aside.

Brown the ground beef in a large skillet. Once browned, drain and set aside.

In the same skillet, sauté the onion, carrot, pepper, garlic, oregano and parsley.

Turn off the heat and return your meat and eggs to the pan, stir to combine and season to taste.

To build the pastel: Add a small amount of the filling to the center of the pastry, dip your finger in the water and lightly coat the outside half of the shape, fold over and press down the edges with a fork.

Chicken Filling: Mix all ingredients well.

To build the pastel: Add a small amount of the filling to the center of the pastry, dip your finger in the water and lightly coat the outside half of the shape, fold over and press down the edges with a fork.

Fig-cheese filling: Place a slice of cheese and a small spoonful of fig spread in the dough.

To build the pastel: Add a small amount of the filling to the center of the pastry, dip your finger in the water and lightly coat the outside half of the shape, fold over and press down the edges with a fork.

To fry: Fill a deep, wide skillet with neutral oil and heat on the stove over medium heat. Check that it is up to temperature by placing a piece of dough and waiting for it to bubble along the edges.

Fry each pastel on both sides until golden. Remove from oil and place on a drying rack or paper towel to drain.

Pastel is a beloved street food that dominates Brazilian food culture. (Alexandra Olson)

Pastel chicken and cream cheese filling is inspired by a Brazilian favorite called “catupiry”. (Alexandra Olson)

Ground beef pastel is the most common and traditional flavor. (Alexandra Olson)

Pastel is a stuffed and fried puff pastry filled with everything you can imagine, including cheese and figs. (Alexandra Olson)

Pastel is a beloved street food that dominates Brazilian food culture. (Alexandra (Alexandra Olsen)

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