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No Longer an Exclusive Holiday Mexican Tamale by Kenia Cueto | The Balanced Mom Magazine

No Longer an Exclusive Holiday Mexican Tamale by Kenia Cueto

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Holiday Tamale

by Kenia Cueto

Can you imagine this coming holiday without your family’s traditional dish? Some would say the special occasion would lose much of its significance without the meal. Whether traditional meal items carry a religious or traditional mean- ing, foods tend to elevate the occasion to another level of significance. As music changes the ambiance of an event, so does food. Aromatic flavors travel throughout the house during the preparation stages telling us our special holiday is here. The process of diligently following the recipe is also critical in order to keep with tradition. For the sake of tradition, cultural or religious meaning, the taste must remain the same. One thing for certain, changing the recipe or neglect- ing to make your traditional dish will put you in “hot water”.

Universal traditional holiday recipes could be traced back generations while others follow more of a cultural trail. One great example is the Mexican Tamale. While the tamale is a traditional Mexican holiday menu item, it also includes distinct ingredients carried through family recipes. Abuelita’s tamales may not taste good to Johnny down the street because he is used to his own abuelita’s tamale recipe.

Aside from its provincial nuances in tastes and traditional making techniques, the tamale has evolved. With the advent of the Food Channel and Food Network shows the likes of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Chopped, Urban Rajah and Barefoot Contessa, new recent trends have given way to creative organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free recipes. For example, substituting olive oil or canola oils instead of using lard and adding roasted peppers, carrots, spinach and or cheese have excited even the most skeptical of eaters. Fusion of cultural tastes has also created unique diverse flavors. Adding sofrito, a Caribbean and Latin American sauce of tomatoes, chopped onions, peppers, garlic, and herbs into the filling welcomes multiethnic pride to the table. With California’s multicultural population and fusion of culinary dishes, the tamale is no longer exclusive to the Latino community, it has found its way across the U.S. border and welcomed into the homes of families from all over the world.

2 large roasting chickens
2 large onions
Salt to taste
8-10 garlic cloves
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped carrots

Water enough to cover chicken Cut, skin, and rinse chicken before placing large pot. Add ingredients and bring to boil. Cover and lower to medium heat for approximately 20-30 minutes. Let cool and manually shred chicken. Place in large bowl and cover until ready to prepare. This process can be done one day before the party. If you decide to cook one family pack, cut the recipe in half.


2 large onions
5-6 crushed garlic cloves (to taste)
1 chopped green bell peppers
2 chopped yellow or orange
bell peppers
1 1/2- teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
salt to taste
1/4 cup olive oil (enough to lightly cover the pan)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, bell peppers oregano and cumin. Stir until vegetables are tender, 5-6 minutes. Add crushed garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes. If you do not have a large enough pan, divide the recipe in half.


Once the sofrito is complete, add the shredded chicken and mix in the large skillet for approximately 2-3 minutes. If you feel there is too much sofrito, leave some out.

Place in a large bowl. Cool for 1 hour then refrigerate. Do this the day of or the day before the TAMALADA. Note: This filling could also be used for tacos, burritos or enchiladas.


15 large dried chilies (such as Anaheim, New Mexico, California, or pasilla)
4 -5 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
salt to taste
Chicken broth from boiled chicken (enough to cover chiles)

Use rubber gloves to remove stems and seeds from the chile pods. Place chiles in a saucepan with 2 cups of water, garlic, cumin and salt to taste. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, then remove from heat to cool. Transfer the chiles and to a blender and add chicken or pork broth and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture, stir in salt, and set aside. Shred the cooked meat and mix in enough to add color to your meat. Add chili sauce to your masa to give it a rich orange color. This gives the masa an added rich flavor.


2-3 large bags of corn husks (Latin super market)
5-6 lbs of “masa preparada” (prepared masa with lard) from local Mexican market

Soak the corn husks in kitchen sink full of warm water for about and hour.

Spread the dough thinly and evenly over the entire bottom 3/4 of the corn husks with a small spatula, spreader or spoon. Place 1-2 tablespoons of the meat or cheese filling into the center. Fold the sides of the husks in toward the center and place in a steamer. Steam for 1 to 1 1/2 hours depending on the amount of tamales you will be steaming.

Remove tamales from husks. Top with sour cream and salsa and serve with rice and beans.

Recommended YouTube Tips for Basics on How to Make Tamales: Homemade-Tamales/


1 lbs. pinto beans
1 Tbs. salt or to taste
3-4 large fresh garlic whole cloves
1 medium yellow or white onion (cut in fourths)
1/2 cup of freshly graded Monterrey cheese
1/4 cup of Corn or Canola oil

First Step: Double rinse the beans in colander. Place beans in large pot and add enough water to cover beans by about 2 inches. Add salt, whole garlic and onion and allow boiling in high heat. Once at a vigorous boil, make sure 2 inches of water remains in pot. If not, add more water and wait for boil. Lower heat to medium low or low and cover. The water should be slowing boiling. *You MUST check the beans every 15-20 minutes to make sure there is enough water. Keep on adding water to the 2” mark until beans are soft.

Second Step: Add oil in large frying pan. Make sure pan is covered with oil. Allow to heat before placing half or less of the amount of beans and liquid from your pot. *Be very careful, oil will begin to splatter when hot. Allow to boil briefly then lower heat to low. Add cheese and stir periodically. Watch beans thicken in consistency. Add water from pot if too dry. Once the consistency looks creamy (about 5-10 minutes) begin to mash beans with potatoes masher. Serve immediately.

Note: All ingredients are approximated amounts. Please feel free to add more or less to your recipe.

Beans can be store shelved for years making the beans hard and old. When purchasing beans make sure to go to a Latino market or a specialty store such as Whole Foods. For better freshness, purchase beans from bins instead of packages.

If feeling a bit wild, fry bacon and use oil for a great different taste. Want to get hot? Add one sliced jalapeno to the mix.

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3 thoughts on “No Longer an Exclusive Holiday Mexican Tamale by Kenia Cueto

  1. Enjoyed reading my sister in laws article. Can’t wait to make & eat these amazing tamales, & fry them up with an egg for breakfast the next day! Yea, tamales for days

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