The Food and Traditions of Día de los Muertos

September 16, 2017
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As I remember since I was a child back in Northern Mexico, Día de los Muertos, has always been a day of celebration. In each home, relatives came from far away to spend one night and one day honoring their “difuntos” (dead loved ones). Everywhere I turned, I remember seeing people carrying flowers, candles and food, lots of food! Many cars were parked on the street, people greeting each other, talking and laughing, the sense of fiesta was everywhere…..and the aromas coming out of my mother´s kitchen…oh my God, the aromas!!

As a kid, I remember being so excited about Día de los Muertos, because for one night, the old, scary, dusty, sad cemetery of my hometown was turned into a clean, happy, lighted, pretty, scented place!

We helped our parents light candles and put fresh flowers in water around the graves and then while they got busy visiting, my cousins and I will run all over, just having a grand time. Death became a completely different concept …for one day.

The tradition of Day of the Dead is probably one of the most representatives of our “Mestizaje” (name given to the racial mix of a person of European and Native American descent). Historians place its origin thousands of years before Spain invaded Mexico. Many nations before the Aztecs, such as the Olmecs, Teotihuacans and Mayans celebrated death as a natural part of Life.

When the Spaniards invaded Mexico, a sort of synchronism happened between the ancient Native American rituals and of those imposed by them, Day of the Dead is the best example of that.

Nowadays, many Mexican families build an “Altar de Muertos” in their homes in which they honor members of the family that are gone, decorating them with vibrant orange and purple paper, lots of “Cempasúchitl” (marigolds), which is considered the most important flower in this tradition as it is believed to guide the souls of the loved ones back home for that special day.

According to some traditions, altars must have three levels: At the top representing Heaven, they place their Saints, the middle representing Purgatory – is where the Difuntos´s pictures are placed – and at the base, representing Earth, is the place to put some of the food and beverages they liked.




The amazing and fantastic synesthesia that emanates from the Altar brings to my mind some of the Traditional foods prepared for that special day throughout Mexico; Mole, Tamales, Pibipollo, tacos, Pan de muerto, etc. But, there is one that pervades from all others as the favorite in our Nation: Tamales!

Some say we have over five thousand kinds of tamales in Mexico alone and I am gladly sharing with you, one recipe that I know, will turn you into a Tamale Lover! Invite some friends over, and let the fiesta begin!

Tamalitos de Cerdo en salsa verde

  • Masa (Dough) (makes 12 tamales)
  • 300grs Maseca
  • 100 grs lard (melted)
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • Broth (about 3 cups)
  • Relleno (filling)
  • 500 grs pork shoulder
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • ½ white onion
  • Few sprigs cilantro
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 12 cups water (Above the meat)
  • 300 grs tomatillo
  • 2 Poblano peppers
  • 4 large garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • 2 white onions
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 Serrano peppers (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. lard
  • 12 large tamales leaves (soaked in water for two hours)

Place the first eight (8) ingredients for the filling in a medium size sauce pan. Cover and let it come to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for about 1 hour (until meat is cooked) Let cool completely, take meat out, shred and set aside. Strain broth, discard the rest and set broth aside.

In a Medium size pan, place 2 tabs lard, add chopped onion, Poblano pepper in julienne and Serrano peppers if using. Let cook at medium heat for about 5 minutes, add shredded pork, garlic and tomatillo, season with salt and pepper, cover reduce the heat and and let it cook for 25 minutes. Add chopped cilantro, season with salt and pepper and let cook for two more minutes. Turn off and let cool completely.

Place the 300 grs maseca, lard, salt and baking powder in mixer, adding broth to mix well at medium speed for 10 minute to the desire texture. You will know when is ready by taking a tsp. of the mixture and comes off easily from your hand.

Take the tamale leaves out of the water and dry them with a paper towel, Put 2 tbsp. of the masa in the inside part spreading it around the middle part (this will allow you to fold the tamale correctly. Place enough meat mixture and fold sides of leaf in, then fold the bottom part and tied it together with a little stripe taken from the same tamale leaf. Continue until you make a dozen tamales (you could make twice more if you make them smaller).

Fill the steamer with water according to the instructions, cover and let it come to a boil. Place the tamales upright, making sure water is not touching them. Cover again and bring it to boil, reduce heat and let them cook for 40 minutes. Let them rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes before serving. You will know your tamale is ready, when comes off the leaf easily. Serve with salsa verde.

From the heart of my kitchen…..Provecho y Feliz Día de Muertos!