The Gift of Tamales

Handmade with love: Three generations of women with one more generation on the way (congrats to Emily, due in April) worked from 7 PM to 1 AM last week making 100 tamales in the style of their Central American roots. And I was one of the lucky recipients of that labor of love. Thank you, ladies!

A banana leaf is laid flat then topped with masa prepared with lard and seasonings. Pork ribs were sliced into bite-sized pieces by their butcher, then cooked with onions and spices. The masa is topped with the cooked pork, peas, garbanzo beans, unpitted little green olives, capers, and some had achiote paste.
Wrapped up in a neat little bundle with aluminum foil to hold it all together and steamed for an hour. (To reheat, simply remove the foil and warm up in the microwave). The filling was a surprise in that there were bones and pits to watch out for. Marlene tells me this is the way they have always made it, I suspect the bones enhanced the already delicious depth of flavor and I love the authenticity.

Served with a salad of sliced tomato, white onion, avocado, a drizzle of oil and squeeze of lime. The tamale was dressed with Crema Salvadoreña (Salvadorean style sour cream) and salsa roja. Muy sabroso. And the beauty of giving tamales as a gift, they are already wrapped! Muchas gracias a la familia del Figueroa.

36 thoughts on “The Gift of Tamales”

  1. Lori,
    This is a lovely little tasty package, that I will love to receive when I in dire need for some Mexican food. Your pictures are just too tasty for words!

  2. I am getting hungry the moment I open your blog. Simply can’t help it, you evoke such lovely memories. I used to frequent a small place, a whole in the wall really, near the Library of Congress, on 7th Street, they served excellant Salvadorian food.

  3. The minute I saw the first picture, I knew I wanted to read the whole story. For me, tamales are to be had at any meal…always comforting.
    I did want to clarify one thing though for anyone not familiar with tamales…not all tamales are Mexican. The ones pictured in this story are central american (specifically from El Salvador)because banana leaves are used. Mexican tamales use corn husks and the masa is completely different. Both have their unique and delicious flavors, but I prefer the moist central american ones.

  4. we have something similar known as dumpling-glutinous rice filled with pork,chestnut,duck yolk.mung bean,straw mushroom wrapped and tied tightly with bamboo leaves and boiled for 2 hours. delicious!

  5. Hi, Lori! I never make tamales, but I will! oh, my, I’m hungry…
    You have a nice, tasteful, amazing blog!

  6. Wow! Truly a labor of love. Beautiful photos, as always: they make the subject come to life. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Was it for a special occasion? I’ve never tried tamales before. Looks like a great project for a group to work on together.

  8. Mmmmm, That looks so good!I can appreciate how good these are because I have been the lucky recipent of many a homemade tamale from my girlfriend and her Mom. Delicious!!

  9. I have been envious of all the good food you have eaten, but now I am just plain jealous. I love a good tamale, sounds so good. The perfect present wrapped up in a banana leaf.

  10. I’ve had these from a Cuban cafeteria some year ago. They are remarkable! How lucky that you enjoyed them from family, artisan hands!

  11. You are very lucky! There is nothing like the taste of tamales prepared by hand by someone that cares about you! I am filled with food envy 🙂

  12. We Bengalis, from West Bengal, India call this dish “paaturi” and make it out of fish marinated well with lemon and covered with mustard and poppy paste and liberal amounts of mustard oil, chiily paste, and salt to taste!!

  13. Those are the best tamales I’ve ever seen. So moist. You’re so lucky to be invited to such a great meal and to share in that tradition.

  14. The ingredients of these tamales are very similar to the Venezuelan hallaquitas. I’d like to try this version, looks delicious!

  15. Oh how I love Tamales! I remember eating sweet cornmeal tamales with my father, under a bridge in Puerto Vallarta. They’re hard to get where I live except around the holidays… which are coming up! How happy I am that you reminded me to look for tamales soon.

  16. Tamales are one of my favorites. These look fab and reminds me that fillings for tamales can be like fillings for ravioli, anything goes with the blessing of the cook.

  17. What a wonderful gift! I’m not fortunate enough to know anyone who makes them, at least not where I live. So all I have to look forward to is el pollo loco’s once a year promotion of them! These in the banana leaves look so tender!

  18. WOW! they look like the “Hallaca” from Venezuela, maybe the same roots?? who knows…. in any case it looks delicious!!

  19. YUM! Those tamales look good!!! BTW, the singular form of “tamales” is “tamal”, NOT “tamale”. Since I know you respect food and the cultures from which they come, I thought I’d give you a heads up on that common mistake. Nevertheless, it all looks yummy!! I especially the last picture of the lone tamal with the salsa roja. UMM!

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