Tamales-a Latin American food with ancient roots. This post celebrates “Dia del Niño” or Children’s Day which takes place on April 30 in most Latin American countries.
It is after all through our children that the culinary traditions of our culture and families are carried on. This sponsored post inspired me to prepare this dish so everyone in the family could help in its preparation, especially my son who wants to study Culinary Arts.
Tamales are a Latin American and Caribbean favorite, especially around the holidays and for large family gatherings. The variations of the filling are endless as are the names throughout the countries where they are popular. Here’s what I mean, see below:
Cuba, Mexico Tamal
Central America Tamal
Puerto Rico Pasteles
The history of tamales goes back to Pre-Columbian times.
Their first recorded appearance dates back to roughly 5000 B.C. In her book Cuisine and Culture Linda Civitello discusses how tamales were an integral part of Aztec culture, with various kinds being sold in the bustling market at Tenochtitlan (the capital of the Aztec empire). Tamales were given to people at festivals. Apparently you could have as many as you could carry in one hand. If you tried to go twice to get more, you would be beaten and your tamales taken away from you. I guess it didn’t pay to be greedy!
Tamales are very popular at holiday gatherings.
Meat (pork, beef or chicken) is marinated, and slow-cooked in various spices. It is then shredded and placed on a corn husk or banana leaf over seasoned corn dough (masa). The whole thing is then carefully wrapped, tied, and steamed to perfection! In Panama, where I grew up tamales always came wrapped in giant banana leaves. Living in the northern USA, banana leaves are hard to come by so I use corn husks.
Assembly is a communal affair.
In a family everyone participates from the youngest to the oldest. Sometimes even family friends get roped into the action. In my opinion, the participation of multiple generations imparts a certain beauty on to this dish. The participation of children is key; they will carry on the traditions to future generations. Besides, if they are involved in the preparation, they are more likely to eat it. Children can be picky sometimes. I was one of those.
You are going to need a steamer and most households I would guess do not have a tamalera but I have a simple solution: Pie tins!
My husband devised a “tamalera“, or tamal steaming apparatus, with two disposable pie tins, and a skewer. Primitive? Maybe! But it worked great. It’s so easy a child can do it! If you have a pasta pot, a couple aluminum pie tins and a skewer to poke holes and you are set. Just poke some holes in both pie tins and place one face down over the water and one face up to hold the tamales in your pasta pot.
Note: The corn husks have to soak overnight. The great thing about tamales is that you can freeze them to enjoy later; keep in mind that if you are going to freeze them you first need to cook them, let them cool and then prepare them for freezing.
Buen provecho y Feliz Dia del Niño!
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Here is a Mexican traditional family recipe and one of my favorites for authentic pork filled tamales served with salsa verde. I love to make these for the holidays and gather everyone around the table!
For the tamale dough:
- 4 1/2 cups masa
- 4 1/2 cups broth (from the cooking of the meat)
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
For the filling:
(25 corn husks soaked overnight)
Serve with your favorite Herdez salsa.
- To prepare the meat: Place the meat in a glass dish.
- In a small bowl mix together salt, cumin, paprika and nutmeg.
- Rub the spice mixture all over the meat and marinate for about 4-6 hours. If you can marinate overnight, even better.
- In a Dutch oven on medium, heat the olive oil and sear the meat until slightly brown on all sides. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves and chicken stock.
- Cover and cook for about 2-3 hours hours on low or until fork tender. Turn the meat and baste it every 20 minutes or so. Add the cilantro.
- Place meat on a large cutting board and allow it to cool slightly. Shred using two forks. Place in a bowl. Add the olives and the raisins and mix well.
- Save the broth and strain it, you will need it to add to the masa. Add the strained solids back to the meat mixture and toss out the bay leaves.
- To make the dough: In a small bowl mix chili powder, salt, and olive oil and set aside.
- Place the masa in a large bowl and add the baking powder. Mix well.
- Add the cooled broth from the cooked meat to the masa and then the chili powder mixture.
- To assemble: DO NOT OVERFILL, or you will not be able to properly close up the tamales.
- Pat dry the corn husks as you use them.
- Place a corn husk in your hand with the tapered end facing you.
- With your hand, pinch off a chunk of dough and put it in the center of the husk. Flatten it out a little bit.
- Take approximately a tablespoon of the filling and place it on top along the length of the dough.
- Cover the filling with another chunk of dough.
- Fold both sides of the husk inward so they overlap. Take each end and flip inwards towards the center. You will end up with somewhat of a rectangle.
- Tie using kitchen twine, as though you were tying a parcel.
- Steam for about 35 minutes.
- To make sure tamales are ready, take one out, cut the twine and unwrap. Tamales are ready if the corn husk peels away easily.
- Serve with your favorite Herdez salsa. Buen provecho!