Growing up in a Mestizo household, these pockets of masa filled with chicken, k’ol and some veggies were a favorite for many special occasions, from birthdays to New Year’s parties. With my aunt and grandma in the lead, my cousins and I had the little tasks of gathering the plantain leaves needed to wrap the tamales and washing and chopping the onions and tomatoes needed for the sauté. I would watch in wonder at the careful process of making this one dish, and of courses, enjoyed eating them hot out of the pot when they were ready!
Fast forward two decades later, and I still remember every single step required to make tamales by heart. Since I left my hometown of Orange Walk ten years ago, I have only made tamales twice.
Just shy of the New Year I got nostalgic for the foods I grew up eating and thus, our My Beautiful Belize family decided to make tamales! It was quite an experience for Tamara, Mary and I, working in the kitchen all day while sipping on tasty, yet non-traditional cranberry margaritas.
While making tamales can be a bit time consuming, the steps are rather easy, and that’s where teamwork comes in! The ingredients are easily found at your local grocery store.
Here is our recipe so that you too, can have fun cooking with the family!
· Whole chicken, cut and cleaned
· 4 cloves garlic, peeled
· 2lb tomatoes
· 2lb onion
· 4 habaneros (optional)
· 5lbs masa (corn dough) – Note: If ready made masa can’t be found, cornflour (minza) can be used as a substitute. To make the cornflour into dough, simply knead the flour with water till it’s moist and holds up well (not crumbly and dry)
· 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
· Complete seasoning
· Red recado
· Vegetable Oil
· Steamed plantain leaves
· Aluminum foil
Chicken and K’ol
1. Season cleaned chicken with salt, pepper, Complete Seasoning or Seasoned Salt to taste. Add to pot along with garlic, half of one onion, and one tomato cut in half. Add water to completely submerge chicken as well as dissolved red recado for coloring. Boil chicken until cooked.
2. Remove cooked chicken from pot and let cool
3. Remove garlic, onion, and tomatoes from the chicken broth, reserve
4. Dissolve until smooth about one pound masa in a cup of water. Add to chicken broth and continuously stir until mixture is a thick porridge-like consistency. This is known as the K’ol – which in the Mayan language, translates to a sauce that has been thickened with masa
5. Optional – blend reserved garlic, onion, and tomatoes removed from broth with whole fresh habaneros to make a pepper sauce to add to the tamales
6. Julienne the remainder of the onions and tomatoes and sauté in oil with salt and pepper to taste
7. Add oil and salt to taste to the masa, kneading the oil into the mixture until it is properly greasy – you know it’s ready when your hands feel oily too. You’re better off with a little extra oil than not, because not enough oil in the masa mixture can mean a tough tamale in the end. Be sure to taste for proper salt ratio too; there’s no comeback from an under-salted tamale!
8. Layer your plantain leaf over an equally sized piece of tinfoil
9. Grab a fistful of oily masa, place on plantain leaf and pat out until you make a flat tortilla
10. Spread a spoonful of k’ol to the masa tortilla. Top with a piece of chicken, sautéed onion and tomatoes, and add a drizzle of pepper sauce. Pour some more K’ol on top of this mixture
11. Fold the edges of the masa as if making an envelope
12. Wrap the constructed tamale with the plantain leaf, then seal with the foil sheet to prevent water from entering this precious cargo
13. Assemble all tamales and place in a large pot. Carefully add water till all tamales are covered, then place on high heat to steam and bubble, till all the water has nearly evaporated. This can take approximately an hour to an hour and a half, depending on size of pot and number of tamales you take on.
Once you’ve turned off the flame, carefully remove the tamales from the pot and let cool. Remove foil and serve the plantain-wrapped bundles of tasty goodness as is, that way your guests have some fun unwrapping their delicious meal. Enjoy!