Pastel com diabo dentro, or pastry with the devil inside, is an authentic Brazilian turnover appetizer of fresh tuna, peppers, garlic, vinegar, and onions in sweet-potato cornmeal pastry.
This Brazilian appetizer gets its name from the hot peppers in the filling. Be sure to use fresh tuna, if available, because the hot pepper marinade permeates the raw fish and gives it a more pungent flavor. The combination of sweet potato, cornmeal, and tuna may seem strange at first, but just one bite will convince you otherwise. “Fantastic” will be your response. Double the recipe if you are planning a party. These pastries, along with soup and salad, also make a nice lunch.–Cherie Hamilton
LC DOUGH DOS AND DON’TS NOTE
With regard to the dough, any kind of cornmeal will do. As author Cherie Hamilton explains, “I have made this recipe with both finely ground cornmeal (harina) and regular cornmeal. The regular cornmeal gives a coarser texture to the dough and a more substantial pastry. The harina makes a lighter dough.” And as one of our very own recipe testers suggested, if you don’t know if you’ll like the sweet potato and cornmeal dough, you can simply swap standard empanada dough.
Pastel com Diabo Dentro | Pastry with the Devil Inside
For the pastry
- 2 large sweet potatoes unpeeled (about 2 1/2 pounds)
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal (finely ground or regular)
For the filling
- 1 pound fresh tuna finely chopped by hand, or two 6-ounce cans tuna, drained
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes or 2 chile peppers, finely chopped
- 3 large cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium yellow onion coarsely chopped
- 1 large tomato finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons store-bought or homemade tomato paste
- Vegetable oil for frying
Make the pastry
- Rinse the sweet potatoes and place them in a large pot along with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and gently simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. When the sweet potatoes are done, remove the from the pot and let them cool. Reserve the cooking water.
- Peel the sweet potatoes, discarding the skin. Cut the sweet potatoes into dice and mash until all lumps disappear. With a wooden spoon, stir in the cornmeal, 1/2 cup at a time. Continue to add the cornmeal until the mixture forms a soft dough. If the dough seems too dry, add a teaspoon or two reserved cooking water from the sweet potatoes as needed. Roll the dough into a ball, cover with a damp cloth, and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
Make the filling
- Place the tuna in a bowl. Add the salt, red pepper flakes, garlic, and vinegar and mix well. Marinate the tuna at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and transparent. Add the tomato and tomato paste, mix well, and simmer until the tomato is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tuna mixture and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes (or, if using canned tuna, until the mixture is heated through). If the mixture appears dry, add a teaspoon or two reserved cooking water from the sweet potatoes as needed. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Place a sheet ofplastic wrap on counter. Place 1 heaping tablespoonful dough, about the size of a golf ball, in the center of the plastic wrap. Press with the heel of your hand to form a circle 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Place a tablespoon filling in the center of the dough. Fold the plastic and dough over the filling to form a half circle. Pull back the plastic and pinch the edges of the dough to seal. Transfer the pastry to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining filling and dough.
- Heat 1 inch oil in a large skillet to a temperature of 350°F (180°C) or a little higher, until a teensy piece of pastry dropped in the hot oil immediately sizzles. Fry the pastries, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, until golden, about 3 minutes each side. Drain on paper towels and serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
Here this recipe has been, hiding out on this site for years, just waiting for me to find it. It may have taken me a while, but I’m so glad I finally made it. The spicy tuna filling is such a great contrast to the sweet potato shell. It's really an interesting combination that I find irresistible. I used fresh tuna, as the author suggested, and it was certainly worth the effort. While the filling is quite spicy from the chile flakes, the mild sweet potato balances it out, so the overall effect is is just a mild kick. I’ll be honest, these are a bit fussy to make. The sweet potato dough is very, very soft, which makes it hard to work. I added a couple handfuls extra cornmeal to get it a bit drier. The good news is that the method outlined in the recipe of patting out circles of dough on plastic wrap and folding them over using the wrap does work very well, so I really didn’t have any problem with the pastries falling apart. When you pat out the dough, it will help if you wet your hand first (and keep rinsing in between each one), and shape the dough using very quick, light taps with the heel of your palm.
I found I got the best frying results with the oil just a little hotter than specified, about 370°F. (Remember, the oil temperature will drop when you add the pastries.) My final yield was 22 pastries, just a bit less than promised, but I was patting mine out a bit on the large side. I did have a small amount of leftover filling, which tastes great on it’s own, so I think it would be nice tossed with some pasta for lunch. If the sweet potato crust doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I’m sure this filling would work great in your favorite empanada dough.
Originally published May 10, 2001