Tamales Are A True Mexican Culinary Adventure

It’s tamale season and just like every year, we can’t wait to unfold all the delicious flavors of our favorite tamal.  All though most of us gather during the holidays to make tamales, you really could enjoy them anytime of the year.  I wonder who started the tradition to make them during the holidays?  In fact, I became curious of how and where they came from to begin with?  So I started doing a little digging and this is what I discovered:

What are tamales

For starters, the word tamal, comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli and it means – something wrapped up.  A tamal consists of a leaf as a wrapper, the dough (masa), and filling.  The wrapping leaves can be dried or fresh corn husks, banana leaves, and sometimes chard or other leaves.  The fillings be a variety, from meats, poultry, fish, vegetables with a coating of mole or other sauces.

To make tamales, the masa dough and filling are prepared separately.  Dried corn husks are soaked to soften them, or green leaves are steamed to make them pliable.  When all the elements are ready, the leaf is spread with masa, topped with your favorite filling, and then folded over.  Then the tamales are steamed in the top of a large metal double boiler-steamer, under a layer of more leaves to prevent excess moisture from dripping on the tamales.

Tamales are made in many sizes, from small appetizer bites to giant zacahuil from the Huasteca region of Veracruz; it is so large that the masa and meats must be wrapped in layers of huge banana leaves, then secured with wire.  There are so many variety of savory tamales, there are also sweet tamales filled with different fruits and nuts.  There are commonly eaten for breakfast with hot chocolate or as a treat.  People are often surprised to learn all the different flavors when they travel to Mexico.  If you get a chance to travel to Mexico, try some of the regional tamales such as uchepos (fresh corn) from Michoacan, tamales in banana leaves from Oaxaca and Yucatán.  Having an opportunity to sample all the various tamales is a culinary adventure, because they’re not easy to find in the U.S.

Which tamales are your favorite? Share in comments below.

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