Tamales are the traditional Christmas food in Guatemala. You make a huge batch and send some home with all your family members and friends that come visiting. It’s a great gift; They’re even wrapped like little presents! And yesterday I had the privilege of learning how to make these corn-based parcels of joy.
I got home a little too late to learn the ingredients in the “masa” or corn mash, and the red sauce, although I know it contains several different types of chilies (which is not to say that this is a spicy dish– Guatemalans don’t like spicy food.) But I did get to learn how to assemble them, which to me had always seemed the most daunting part.
Take a large plantain leaf, place it upside-down on a small dish and put a section of softer plantain leaf that has been soaked in water in the center. Here throw on a generous scoop of “masa” and add a ladle-full of red sauce. Mix this with a spoon and then put a chunk of raw pork in the center. Cover it up with the “masa” as if you were burying a small piece of treasure (you can think of the cooked tamale as the treasure chest, if you want– however as far as barriers to treasures go this is a really good one to have, for it is easily dispatched and decidedly delicious). Grab both edges of the plantain leaf and roll them down like the top of a cereal bag, then bend one end of the leaf back so that you make a pocket, tap it on the dish to make sure all the “masa” settles into the pocket before folding down the top end and then tying it with a piece of dried vine, as I said before, like a little present. Now you simply put it in a pot of water so that it will boil and cook the meat
Fina and I made 70 tamales. With glee, I later overheard her telling her sister that she was surprised that I got the hang of it on the very first try– she had been expecting to show me how to do it, and then just have to re-do my tamale for me. Thank goodness I’m a better tamale maker than I am a tortilla-maker, otherwise my cooking reputation here would be utterly dismal.