Guatemalan Tamales

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There are believed to be literally hundreds of types of Guatemalan Tamales. A national favorite meal, for sure. This particular recipe is one of my favorite versions of Guatemalan Tamales.

Guatemalan Tamales

Black and Red Tamales (Photo Attributed to Author: Luisfi)

Guatemalan Tamales Recipe-

For the Salsa Colorada-
  • 1 lb. lean pork, cut into strips
  • 1-1/2 lb. tomatoes
  • 4-6 large cloves garlic
  • 4 guajillo chili peppers (dried)
  • 2 oz. pumpkin seeds
  • 2 oz. sesame seeds
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1 oz. lard
  • 1 tsp. achiote (annatto) powder
For the Masa-
  • 6 chicken broth
  • ½ cup lard or butter
  • 2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 3 cups masa harina
For the Filling-
  • 8 oz. sliced green olives
  • 4 oz. capers
  • 12 oz. roasted and peeled red bell peppers, sliced thin
  • 8 oz. raisins
To Wrap and Steam-
  • 2 lb. banana leaves (fresh if possible, but frozen is okay, too. Just unthaw them when the time comes)
  1. First make the salsa. Place garlic, bell peppers (cored, seeded and cut in half) and the tomatoes on a baking sheet and broil for a good 10 minutes or more – until well roasted. Once roasted, peel the bell peppers and cut into strips.
  2. Now toast the dried chilis in a heavy skillet (with no oil) until fragrant. Cut out the stems, place in a bowl, and pour boiling water over them until covered. Set aside for now.
  3. Using the same skillet, toast the cinnamon and pumpkin seeds and cinnamon just long enough until they emit a nutty aroma; place in a blender an pulse them enough to form a coarse powder.
  4. Add into the blender the roasted tomatoes and garlic, soaked chilis (toss the liquid, you won’t need it) and half a cup of chicken broth. Blend until smooth. If necessary, add more broth – you want to have a nice smooth and thick textured salsa.
  5. Now strain this mixture through a fine sieve. Set aside for now.
  6. Now prepare your masa. In a large cooking pot, combine the broth and masa harina. Whisk it well to remove any lumps. Bring to boil, stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, or until thickened. Add and stir in the lard, oil, and salt. Stir, and cook at a gentle simmer for another 10 minutes. You want the consistency to be about that of porridge. Set aside for now.
  7. Cut your banana leaves into squares – about 12″ by 8″. Blanch the leaf squares in a large pot of boiling water, one at a time, for about 45 seconds each. Keep them completely submerged in the boiling water, using a wooden spoon or tongs. As they get done, stack them on a plate, and cover them with a damp cloth.
  8. Now it is time to fold your Guatemalan tamales.
  9. On a clean flat surface, lay a banana leaf. Spoon about ¾ cup masa onto the center of the leaf. Top that with about ¼ cup of the salsa and a nice chunk of pork. Next, arrange any other fillings you want in the center of the masa, and then spoon a little more salsa over the top.
  10. Bring the side closest to you up over the masa, and fold the side farthest from you toward yourself in such a way as to create a long, skinny rectangle. Now fold one of the long ends under, and then pick up the tamale and tap it some to help settle the filling. Finally, fold other long end over the top. Repeat until you have assembled all the tamales (save some leaves for the next step) and set aside for now. Note! If any of the banana leaves crack during assembly, fear not. Simply wrap the tamale up in a tin or aluminum foil.
  11. Line a large pot with the reserved banana leaves and add in about one inch of water. Stack the tamales inside, with the seams placed down.
  12. Put a lid on the pot, sealed tightly, and steam for 1-1/2 hours.
  13. Allow your Guatemalan Tamales to cool down enough to handle, and serve while still nice and warm.

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