For a lot of people, you can't spell Christmas without tamales. “Tamalada” is a Christmas-adjacent tradition that has been celebrated for generations, allowing families to spend time together and share in the task of tamale-making, which they can then eat and enjoy together. Like most food traditions, Tamalada is not just about the eating. There is a mythology that's developed around tamales and tamale-making customs that reflects the intense relationship and history that the Inca, Mayan, and Aztec people had with maize, which we now recognize as corn. The humble tamale also illustrates the importance of community, as groups of women share the labor that comes with the complex and time-intensive process of making tamales.
We used a combination of traditional ingredients with modern techniques to bring us three different types of tamales. There are endless possibilities for what to use for fillings, since tamales can be either savory or sweet, but a tamale isn't a tamale unless you use masa harina. This is a finely ground corn meal that's been nixtamalized, or processed with slaked lime, which helps unlock the nutritional value that's buried deep in the kernels of corn. Tamales are traditionally mixed with lard, but we opted to use coconut oil so that we could vary our fillings and make some vegetarian and plant-based. After mixing your masa to make a type of paste, spread the masa onto some soaked corn husk, available in the specialty foods aisle at most supermarkets, or online. Folding the corn husk is much easier when it’s been soaked in hot water, and you’re looking to create a type of pocket; if you’ve ever eaten a hot pocket with the sleeve its cooked in folded up, it’s similar to that. Then put the filling in, and line up the tamales in a steamer basket or a colander suspended over boiling water. If you want to go high-tech, you can use an Instant Pot. It doesn't make sense to only make a few tamales, so remember, they freeze beautifully and last for three months in the freezer.
We did tamales three ways: 1) refried beans 2) shredded cheese and 3) chicken, all seasoned with our Manzanillo Mexican Seasoning. Manzanillo Seasoning is one of our all-star blends, a customer favorite that happens to be salt free. It contains Ancho chile powder, ground Pasilla peppers, Black Pepper, Garlic, Chipotle chile powder, Onion, Coriander, Mexican Oregano, and Cumin. If you’re a person who loves recipes that give you a ton of options, try tamales!! You can make them with pork, beef, chicken, beans, cheese, chocolate, cinnamon, honey, dulce de leche… encased in your masa, the filling is like a tiny present hiding under a pillow.
We ate our tamales with a Red Enchilada Sauce, and you can find that recipe here. It is a smoky sauce, slightly sweet, and spicy enough that it helped brighten up the taste of the tamales and give them a little punch. This worked as great complement for all three of our savory options.
Please note: The nutritional information below is for the highest calorie option we tested (chicken). You can find and print the recipe and nutritional information for our chicken, cheese, and bean tamales here.
- Place the cornhusks in a stockpot and cover with warm water. Weigh them down with something if they tend to rise to the surface. Soak for 30 minutes.
- In a large bowl, add masa harina, salt, and baking powder. Combine well. Add oil, and mix well. You may use a stand mixer, or use your hands. Gradually add vegetable stock. If using a mixer, mix for 10 minutes on low, or until smooth. Cover bowl with a damp towel when finished.
- Prepare you filling. You’ll need about 3 cups. Mix 1 tsp Manzanillo Seasoning per cup of filling, and add sauce as needed.
- Now we’re ready to assemble the tamales. Place a cornhusk on a cutting board. Spread about ¼ Cup of the masa onto the cornhusk. Use a spoon, or your fingers to spread a rectangle out.
- Add a heaping Tablespoon of filling to the center of the masa.
- Fold the cornhusk in half vertically. Carefully, fold the husk so that the masa wraps around the filling. Continue folding the husk completely around the filling, sort of like a burrito.
- Using the skinny end as the top, fold it down. Using strips of cornhusk, tie the folded end securely.
- Place tamales in a steamer basket over a pot and steam for 25-30 minutes. The masa should separate easily from the husk.
- Serve with Red Enchilada Sauce.