Banana Leaf Tamales
I’m really excited about this week recipe. Not only because I like tamales, but also because my family came all the way from Mexico to visit me, and we prepared them together. Tamales are ubiquitous in Latin American cuisine, but no other country has as much variety as Mexico. They come in different sizes, shapes and filling. Tamales are the all time original wraps since pre-hispanic times. Aztecs and other cultures such as Mayans and Olmecs ate tamales in important festivities like births, weddings and offerings.
Nowadays, tamales are part of our every day diet, but are still traditionally prepared for special occasions. I remember eating these treats in Easter and All Souls day (November 2) when I visited my grandparents. Banana leaf tamales featured here are typical from la Huasteca region in northeast Veracruz. Doing tamales is a long process, but you can make large batches and freeze them in Ziploc bags and unfreeze whenever you want to enjoy. Once prepared, they are perfect to grab when you are in a hurry. This recipe uses chicken, but you can easily make it vegetarian.
1 pound package of banana leaves; you can get them at Mexican or Latino super markets
1.5 pound chicken breast
3 garlic cloves, divided
1 white onion
2 tbsp of olive oil
4 tomatoes, divided
1 jalapeño pepper
¼- ½ tsp cumin
4-5 bay leaves
½ can of sweet peas
4 oz butter
3 ½ cups of Regular Maseca (I got mine on Whole Foods, you can also find it at Mexican or Latino super markets) If you want to go grain free, you could try preparing the dough with chick peas flour.
5 cups of water
3 dried pasilla or ancho chili pods, finely chopped
- In a soup pan, add 2 garlic cloves, ½ onion roughly chopped, 3 tomatoes (don’t chop them), the chicken breast, chili pods and 1 tbsp of Celtic salt. Add water so that the ingredients are covered, bring to a boil and simmer.
- In the mean time, finely chop the rest of the onion, 1 garlic clove, 1 tomato and the jalapeño pepper (Use a sharp knife to open up and remove the stem and seeds from the pepper).
- Heat a large skillet, and add olive oil and ingredients from step 2 and stir fry.
- Add bay leaves and cumin to the stir fry
- Chop the chicken breast in small chunks with a sharp knife
- Reserve and let sit the chicken broth and other ingredients from step 1 as we will use them to add flavor to the filling and prepare the masa
- Chop carrots in small squares
- Incorporate the chicken, carrots and sweet peas to the stir fry
- Puree 1 cup of chicken broth with the tomatoes, chili pods, garlic cloves (from step 1) and ¼ tbsp of salt
- Taste the sauce and season to taste. Pour into the stir fry. Simmer for an extra 5 minutes and let sit while you prepare the masa and banana leaves
- Melt the butter and blend with 3 cups of chicken broth, 1 tbsp of salt and 3 ½ cups of regular maseca. Knead the mixture until you get uniform dough. Makes sure the dough is moist and soft.
Prepare the Banana Leaves
Depending on where you got the leaves you might need to do some extra steps to prepare them. If they tear when you try to fold them, you need to soften them by holding them over heat for a few seconds. Once the leaves are soft, rinse them and cut them in squares of 7 x10 inches…
Before wrapping the tamales we need to prepare the stock pot. Put a steam racket at the bottom of the stock pot and add enough water to reach the level of the steam racket. Cover the racket with banana leaves and start placing the tamales in the stock pot as you assemble them.
Now we are ready to assemble the tamales!
Banana leaves have two sides, you have to add the masa and filling to the side with ridges. You also have to make sure that the stem edge is at the bottom (e.g. closer to you).
- Lay out the banana leaf and put a handful of masa in the center of the leaf and spread it with your wet palms.
- Add about 2 tbsp of filling as in the picture below
To wrap you need to take the two long sides of the leaf and tuck one edge over the other and fold again and then fold the other two sides. If is hard to fold them, you can also use a string to keep them together. Place the tamales in layers and cover with banana leaves when you have finished. Steam cook for approximately one hour.
Makes about 25 (delicious) tamales
This recipe is also participating at Our Spunky Holiday: Easter hosted by Kelly Brozyna