While tamales are eaten year-round, they are a holiday essential, which for Mexicans extend from the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 through Three Kings’ Day on January 6. Tamales for the holidays are a requirement like the Christmas cookie.
In Mexico the most traditional of tamales are pork or beef and depending on the region they may be wrapped in Plantain leaves like in southwest Oaxaca, or the traditional cornhusk.
But the basic is the same — a corn masa is spread on a leaf wrapper, filled with meat or another dish, wrapped up tight and steamed or boiled.
The making of the tamale is just as much of a tradition as the feast itself. Women gather in the kitchen during the holiday season to prepare Mexico’s most popular holiday meal bringing together generations of women in the preparation and sharing the cultural experience with their daughter and granddaughters.
This scene plays out all around Mexican kitchens as an assembly line of sorts, each taking on a single task to complete the dish. Chatter would center on memories of the past year and events to look forward to in the coming year, making it a joyous and purposeful gathering.
After hours of hard work, the tradition manifests into a small intimate gathering of friends and family, or easily escalates into a neighborhood street party where families bring their tamales on paper plate or in plastic bags to share the tradition as a community. These events may be referred to as a “tamalada” which is a party that is all about the tamale.
If you are ready to blend a little Mexican culture into your holiday and dare to start with the tamale, here is a great recipe, but of course this time of the year it’s easy to find women selling tamales all over Puerto Vallarta. Enjoy a tamal this Christmas.
For the Dough:
- 3 cups of Masa Harina for Tortillas
- 1 1/3 cup of Lard
- 2 1/2 cups of the broth where you cooked the meat.
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
For the Meat:
- 3/4 pound of pork shoulder cut in cubes.
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 white onion
- 1 Bay leaf
- 2 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon of salt
For the Sauce:
- 2 Ancho Peppers cleaned, deveined and seeded.
- 3 Guajillo Peppers cleaned, deveined and seeded.
- 2 small garlic cloves,
- 1/3 teaspoon of fresh ground cumin seeds
- 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
- Salt and black pepper to season
- 16 Large Corn Husks plus more for the steaming pot
Instructions for the filling:
1. In a medium size pot, combine the pork meat, garlic, onion, Bay Leaf and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer partly covered, occasionally skimming and discarding fat from surface, about 1 hour or until meat is tender enough to shred. Remove onion, garlic, Bay leaf and discard. Skim the broth and when the meat is cool enough to handle shred into bite-size pieces and set aside.
2. While the meat is cooking. Soak the dry peppers in a medium size pot with warm water for about 20 minutes. Drain and place in the blender with the garlic cloves, cumin and 1/3 cup of soaking water. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium size skillet over medium heat, add the dry peppers sauce, 1 cup of the meat broth and cook for 8 minutes. Add shredded pork and season with salt and ground black pepper. Add more broth if needed. Simmer until heated through, about 5 more minutes. 3. Place corn husks into a large bowl or pot. Pour enough boiling water over the husks to cover. Place a metal lid or heatproof dish on the husks to keep them submerged. Soak for about 45 minutes. Remove, drain and set aside.
4. In large bowl, beat the lard by hand or with an electric mixer until it is light. Add salt and the masa harina and gradually the stock until dough is very light. If your dough looks dry add more broth or water.
Continue to beat until dough is well combined, light and smooth. To make sure your dough is light enough place a small amount in a glass with water. It will float when it’s ready.
5. Now comes the fun part. Assembling the Tamales. Place small amount of the dough in the center of a corn husk. Using the back of a spoon spread the dough and top it with 1 1/2 tablespoon of the meat filling. Fold the sides of the husks. Fold bottom toward the center. And place tamales standing up in your already prepared tamal steamer cover with a layer of corn husks and a dish towel, cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Add more water to the steamer if needed during that time.