Photo Copyright Sandra Gutierrez, 2008; All Rights Reserved.
Every culture, every country has its own culinary traditions. For most of Latin America, the Christmas celebration would not be complete without tamales. Tamales are steamed dumplings, that are always steamed inside a leaf wrapper. The dumpling itself can be made out of many ingredients. The most recognizable ingredient used to make tamales is corn, which is used either in its fresh form or transformed into masa (made when corn is first "nixtamalized" and then ground into a fine dough) and others still, made with cornmeal mush and corn flour (not to be confused with cornstarch, please, the corn flour I refer to is also used to make arepas). There are hundreds of renditions of corn tamales in Latin America, that include the tamal colorado of Guatemala city (pictured above), the humitas of Peru and the hayacas of Venezuela. Tamales can also be made out of rice , potato and other root vegetables, such as the Central American paches and nacatamales.
In Puerto Rico, for instance, tamales are called "pasteles" and are made with a mixture of plantains and root vegetables, and filled with a sofrito-based sauce. Some tamales are wrapped in dry corn husks, such as the ones below:
Others are wrapped in fresh corn husks, and yet others--usually the most intricate to make--are wrapped in banana leaves. What follows below is a sequence of pictures depicting the process of making the Christmas Tamales Colorados that are traditional fare on Christmas Eve in Guatemala.
The masa for these tamales, is first cooked (other tamales use raw masa as a base) with pork broth and lard. These are made with pork but it is also customary to find tamales stuffed with turkey and chicken. Tamales are so different from country to country, and even within regions of each country, that giving you full descriptions of them all here would be close to impossible. The sauce covers the center of the tamal and the meat in question.
When opened, tamales are presented like little presents at the table. Notice the beautiful Christmas colors of these tamales .
This holiday season, a multitude of Latin cooks are making pots filled with steaming tamales. Feliz Navidad, everyone!
Copyright. Sandra Gutierrez, 2008;All Rights Reserved.