What a treat! A dear friend from Honduras called and invited me to come over for the day to make Tamales with her and her mom who was visiting from Honduras. I jumped at the chance and man oh man am I happy I did!
I think most people are familiar with Mexican Tamales. But according to my friend most Spanish-speaking countries have their own version of the savory treat. In Honduras they are typically prepared for Christmas. That’s probably because they really do take an entire day to make.
Rather than listing all the ingredients and then instructions, it will be easier for you to follow along if I break the steps up into sections. I apologize in advance for not listing specific measurements. My friend and her mom did not have a written recipe, nor did we measure anything. After generations of Tamale-making, it’s just one of those recipes they know by “feel” and “taste.”
Step One – Preparing the Pork
Start with a 3-5 pound piece of pork. We used a boneless tenderloin, but a bone-in piece is fine. Cut the meat into chunks about 2”x2”. Brown the pieces of pork in some chopped onion, crushed garlic, and oil.
Puree 4 roma tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 green pepper, 4 cloves of garlic, adobo seasoning, cumin, Worcestershire sauce, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Pour over meat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add a small can of tomato paste and continue to simmer until tender. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
Sidenote: I was super surprised they used Worcestershire sauce in their cooking. My friends actually referred to it as sauce of the English. Ha, ha!
Step Two – Brown the Rice and Potatoes
Peel and cube 1-2 potatoes into 1” sized pieces or smaller. (Not too tiny or they will fall apart in the Tamale.) In a frying pan brown 1-1/2 cups rice and the potato cubes together in butter, oil, or a bit of each until the potatoes are softened.
Step Three – Cook the Cornmeal
Pour a small bag (or half of a larger bag) of cornmeal into a large pot. In the blender, puree 4 roma tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 green pepper, 4 cloves garlic, adobo seasoning, cumin, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour it into the pot of cornmeal. Add all the juice from one jar Spanish olives and all the juice from one jar of capers. Add about 1 cup of water and 1 cup oil. Add 1-2 packets of achiote (also called annatto) powder for color. Mix by hand. Keep adding small amounts of water until it mixes more easily, but is not too soupy or runny. You may want to add another 1/2 to 1 cup of oil. This will keep it from lumping while cooking.
Taste for seasoning and adjust. It should be flavorful and not too bland.
Cook on medium heat while constantly stirring until thickened and with a slight sheen.
Step Four – Cut the Banana Leaves
Unravel a package of banana leaves and rinse them well in clean water. Pat dry with paper towels. Cut each leaf into 6-8” sections. Tear pieces of aluminum foil into 8-9” sections. Stack the leaves and foil together so that each piece of banana leaf rests on a sheet of foil. Make sure the shiny side of the leaf is against the foil.
Step Five – Line up the Filling
Pour into separate bowls a jar of olives, a jar of capers, a cup of green peas, and a cup of raisins. You’ll also need your pan of rice and potatoes as well as the pot of meat and the cornmeal mixture.
Step Six – Assemble the Tamales
Lay one banana leaf segment on its foil in front of you. Spoon about 1/2 cup of cornmeal into the center of the leaf and flatten it slightly with a spoon (or fingers). Place a small chunk of pork and some of the sauce onto the cornmeal. Add a spoonful of the rice/potato mixture, 2 olives, a few raisins, and a few capers and peas. Starting from one corner, roll the Tamale into a tight cylinder. The foil should keep it closed.
Sidenote: In Honduras they don’t use the layer of foil. There is another part of the banana plant used as string to tie the rolled banana leaves up into a tight little packet. I guess you could also use string, but the foil worked great.
Step Seven – Cook the Foil Packets
Tightly pack the foil packets vertically into the bottom of a large pot. Pour boiling water into the pot. It should come up to the top of the foil ends. Bring the pot up to a boil, lower heat and cook covered for about one hour. After an hour, open and test the inside of one Tamale for doneness. The rice should be cooked. Hopefully you will end up with so many Tamales, you’ll need to cook them up in 2-3 batches! That’s what we did.
Step Eight – The Best Step – Eating Tamales!
You can either serve your hot Tamales right away, or save them for later. I reheated mine by placing several in a baking dish and baking at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes (or until hot). They are better the next day after all the flavors have had a chance to love on one another!
We made about 40 Tamales.
My friend was right….making Tamales took us all day! But as a group activity it was a blast. We used the boiling time to eat lunch and we laughed and talked the entire time. I don’t speak a word of Spanish, but since cooking is an international language, her mom and I had no trouble communicating!
I hope you give Honduran Tamales a try. If you make a different version, feel free to share your recipe below!
Next on my bucket list is to meet up with a few friends from El Salvador and learn how to prepare pupusas!
All the best!