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Luis’ Tamales from Guatemala

Guatemala tamales

This family recipe for tamales is from one of our favorite Guatemalan homecooks: Luis Yanes. ”I live in the New York area now, but I grew up in Guatemala watching my family—my great aunt, my grandmother and my mom—make these pork or chicken tamales, says Luis. ”Of course, tamales required the help of our entire family, but they were always the ’kitchen managers.’”

The very process of making tamales meant a feast was in order, Luis says. ”Growing up, we would eat them on special occasions, since they can take up to three days to prep and make. Christmas was the best time to make them since the family was all together already and more hands were readily available to help—in the prep and in eating them!

”In Guatemala, our tamales have many layers, each of which has its own unique ingredients or plays a key role in the making of the tamale. The components are the masa (dough), the recado (sauce), a protein (pork or chicken are most popular), and a few diced vegetables. We put all of these ingredients together and then wrap each one in banana leaf and steam. That is the quintessential tamale! It’s easy to transport and full of calories to prepare you for the day.

How Luis Learned to Make Tamales

”I would say my mom started me out on my path to cooking. I remember I would always watch her and check what she was doing in the kitchen. One of the earliest things that I remember making as a child was black bean soup, a staple in Guatemalan cooking. 

”Since Guatemalan food is typically very hearty, and we are all trying to stay healthy, when I am homesick for Guatemala, I usually make a simple chicken and vegetable soup with cilantro and mint. This is one of the simplest things you can make with a few veggies and the chicken provides a ton of flavor. The only real seasoning I use is salt.

”In general, I just love food and cooking. The concept that you can make something from scratch or/nothing, and have the final product be something delicious has always intrigued me. I’ve always been curious about how things work or why things are the way they are from a young age. This natural curiosity leads me to the kitchen usually, where the final product is always food! It’s just one of the many reasons my wife Sarah and I lead New York City area city and food tours through our company, Funky Experiences.

”One of the things to keep in mind when making a traditional meal is that it takes time. So you must be patient with every single step. It’s the difference between a thin soup with OK flavor and an amazing hearty stew with incredibly complex flavors. In my experience, I would say that the one thing that you should do is be patient and learn to love organization. Planning ahead is a huge part of ensuring you cook everything in the right steps. Never be impatient with food prep or cooking—it will pay off and come through in the final product.

”I technically have been making these tamales alongside my family for years, but this is the first time that I made them by myself! Let me know how you like them.”

A Celebration of Tamales Around el Mundo

Curious about tamales around el mundo—and the many names they go by?

No matter their origin or ingredients inside, if they use corn husk or banana leaves, tamales are a prized dish throughout much of Latino cultures, served on the most special of occasions. If you want to try other versions of this ancestral comida, check out Familia Kitchen’s family-famous recetas for these masa-stuffed wonders:
Liliana’s Venezuelan beef, pork and chicken hallacas
Michelle and Pat’s Puerto Rican yuca, plantain, green bananas & pork pasteles
• Doña Paula’s Belizean tamales
• Lisa’s Panamanian tamales
Nanni’s Mexican tamales with pork & guajillo chiles, and
• We even celebrate legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s red pork tamales!

If you want to go deeper, check out Familia Kitchen’s history of tamales and corn across Latino culture. When you are ready to explore more comida Guatemalteca, check out Luis’ family-famous recipe for pepian con pollo made with toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds. It’s guaranteed delicioso, he says—and the national dish of Guatemala.

For a master class in tamales making, watch Luis make his family recipe—step by step—in this cooking video he made for Guatemala Next Generation.

Ready to Make Luis’ Family-Famous Guatemalan Tamales?

Luis’ Tamales from Guatemala

4 from 12 votes
Recipe by Luis Yanes Cuisine: Guatemalan
Servings

10

servings
Prep time

2

hours 
Cooking time

1

hour 

30

minutes

Ingredients

  • For the Masa
  • 1 lb 1 tamales corn masa, about 3 1/2 cups

  • 3/4 cup 3/4 rice flour

  • 6 Tbsp 6 vegetable oil (or lard)

  • 1 Tbsp 1 consommé (or chicken seasoning)

  • 6 cups 6 warm water

  • For the Sauce
  • 1 lb 1 red tomatoes, quartered

  • 2 2 tomatillos, quartered

  • 1 1 small onion, quartered

  • 4 cloves 4 garlic

  • 1 1 guajillo chile (sometimes called chile guaque)

  • 1 1 chile pasa (the dried form of chile chilaca) or substitute ancho chile

  • 1 tsp 1 ground cloves

  • 1 1 small cinnamon stick

  • 1 tsp 1 salt

  • 1 tsp 1 ground black pepper

  • 1 oz. 1 pumpkin seeds, dried

  • 1 oz 1 sesame seeds

  • 1 Tbsp 1 ground achiote (from annatto seeds)

  • 1 cup 1 water

  • For the Protein: Choose 1
  • 10 small pieces 10 chicken, each about 1 1/2 inches OR

  • 10 small pieces 10 pork, each about 1 1/2 inches OR

  • For the Vegetables
  • 1 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin long strips

  • 2 2 potatoes, large, peeled, diced into tiny cubes

  • Tamale Supplies
  • 10 10 banana leaves, 12 x 12 inches (1 package, wash and dry each leaf)

  • 10 pieces 10 aluminum foil, 16 x 16 inches each

  • 6 cups 6 water, or to cover tamales when boiling

  • For the Garnish
  • 1 cup 1 cabbage, thinly sliced

  • 2 2 limes, each sliced into 1/8ths

Directions

  • Make the Masa
  • Place the corn flour, rice flour, vegetable oil and chicken consome into a large pot or Dutch oven. Mix until fully blended.
  • Add the water ¼ cup at a time until you reach the masa’s desired consistency. You may need to add more than 1 cup. You want the masa You want the masa to be nice and wet, well hydrated—but not soaked.
  • Turn the burner to low heat. Stir the masa until all the clumps are smooth.
  • When the mixture starts to simmer, continue stirring for about 20 minutes.
  • Make the Recado Sauce
  • Making this sauce is fairly easy and can be done while you let your masa continues to simmer on low heat.
  • In a large skillet or nonstick pan, turn the heat to medium high.
  • Once the pan is hot, add the tomatoes, onions, tomatillos, garlic, chiles, spices and all the seasonings—EXCEPT the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and the ground achiote. Your goal is to char the vegetables so that they are slightly burnt on the outside but not cooked through completely. You can also char the vegetables on a grill, if you have one.
  • Lightly roast the pumpkin and sesame seeds in a separate pan on medium heat—but don’t let them burn. You just want to lightly toast them.
  • Add the toasted vegetables and both kinds of seeds to the blender. Add 1 cup of water. Blend on high until the sauce reaches a smooth consistency.
  • Add the ground achiote and pulse one last time. Set the recado sauce aside.
  • Prep the Protein
  • Cut the pork and/or chicken into small chunks about 1½ inches big each. 
  • Place the raw meat in a bowl and set aside.
  • Prep the Vegetables
  • Wash and remove the seeds of the red bell pepper. Cut into thin strips.
  • Peel and dice the potatoes. Set both vegetables aside in separate bowls.
  • Put It All Together—It’s Tamales-Making Time!
  • First, place the pieces of aluminum foil on your kitchen work surface.
  • Wash and trim, if needed, the 12 banana leaves so that each one’s border is at least 1 inch smaller than the foil.
  • Place one banana leaf on the tinfoil.
  • Place about 1 cup of the masa on top of the banana leaf.
  • With a spoon, make a small indentation in the masa, about the size of your fist.
  • Add about ¼ cup of recado sauce in the masa indentation.
  • Place 1 piece of the raw pork or chicken, centered, on top of the sauce.
  • Top with about 1 Tbsp of diced potato and 2 red pepper slices.
  • Time to wrap the tamale! Fold the tin foil and the banana leaf in half. Join the top borders of both and bring the two edges together. Fold over the top 1/2-inch edge of both together.
  • Fold the top 1/2 inch edge over again. WIth your hands, crimp the middle seam to gently seal the foil and banana leaf. Fold the sealed edge over one last, third time. Press the folded area flat against the tinfoil square. Your tamales will look like a slim envelope with a plump middle (This is where the masa and filling are.).
  • Gently nudge the edges of the masa dough toward the center of your package . Tuck under the two long, flat ends. Your tamal should be wrapped snugly enough that the filling won’t sneak out when you are steaming them, but not so tight that it completely flattens the masa and doesn’t let it steam.
  • Fill a large pot with the 6 cups of water, or enough that it will cover the tamales (when you add them). Bring the water to a gentle boil.
  • When the pot is boiling, place the wrapped tamales in the water. The water should cover the tamales.
  • Steam for 1 1/2 hours. Keep an eye on the water level and add as needed to make sure the liquid covers the tamales.
  • After 1 1/2 hours, your tamales are ready! Serve each person a tamales, garnished with fresh limes and thinly sliced cabbage for extra crunch.

Notes

  • Be sure to wash and pat dry the banana leaves in the package. They sometimes are a little dusty.
Luis and his mom making tamales.
Luis Yuanes learned to love to make these tamales and many other traditional dishes by closely watching his mom, growing up in Guatemala.

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