Holiday Tamales

Shh! Don’t tell anyone but I have a freezer full of tamales. Our friends Mary and Alex and their son Sandro (and his sons) came over before Christmas to make Guatemalan tamales with us.

This is not the first time we’ve made Christmas tamales together. Here’s a 2001 photo of Alex and I  mixing tamale masa under the supervision of Alex’s mom.


In Guatemala tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, which are steamed before use.  That year Alex’s mom prepared our leaves.


This year it was my husband Dave, Alex, and Sandro who pre-cut the leaves before steaming.

Banana Leaf2013

We steamed them in a really large steamer so we could do them all at once.

While they steamed, Sandro mixed the masa.


Alex’s mom is no longer here to guide us so Alex checked her hand-written recipe  as they worked on getting the consistency of masa right. This is the trickiest part.

Meanwhile Mary and I shredded the pork and chicken we’d simmered and cooled.


Then Alex started working on the sauce, using a variety of chilis he’d gotten at the Vallarta Market in Oxnard.


He pan fried the chilis along with sesame seeds, pepitas, and spices to bring out their aroma and flavors.


Then he spun them up in the blender with tomatoes and bell peppers. He fried the mixture in lard and simmered on the stove top until it was thick, fragrant, and delicious.


We formed an assembly line to fill, wrap, and tie our tamales the way Alex’s mom had shown us:


When we finished wrapping and tying, we put them into the steamer for 3 hours while we visited and snacked on  tortillas filled with black beans and queso fresco.

At 7 pm friends started arriving for my son Shaun’s birthday celebration. Our kitchen quickly became packed with people  so I don’t have photos of the finished tamales. But I do have a photo of the ones we made in 2001 for reference.


As you can see these are meal-sized tamales with a moist masa and a hearty meat filling. When I asked Mary about putting vegetables in the tamales she told me, “Real tamales are made with MEAT and LARD!” Hey, I can’t argue with that and I really don’t want to.