Guatemalan tamales are quite different from the Mexican tamales you may be more familiar with. These tamales are wrapped in banana leaves for one thing, which imparts a grassy floral scent, and they are two or three times larger than tamales made in corn husks. One of these tamales is probably enough for a meal on its own!
These are fairly labor and time intensive, so I suggest you plan to spend half a day making them. The sauce (recado) must be made first — it’s a thick, mole-like salsa of tomatoes, chiles, pepitas and sesame seeds — and you can make it a few days ahead of time if you like, to save time on the Day of Tamales. The masa for these is thinner than that used in Mexican tamales and the fillings are typically pork or chicken with additional touches of capers, olives, raisins, bacon, and bell pepper. You can customize them as you like.
Guatemalan Tamales Video Demonstration
Guatemalan Tamales Recipe — Printable!
- For the Salsa Colorada:
- 1½ pounds of tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 guajillo chiles
- 2 ounces pumpkin seeds
- 2 ounces sesame seeds
- 1 small stick of cinnamon
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 ounce of lard
- 1 pound lean pork, cut into strips
- For the Masa:
- 3 cups masa harina
- 6 cups water or broth
- ½ cup lard or butter
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Sliced green olives
- Thin slices of (roasted, peeled) bell pepper
- Banana leaves, about 2 pounds, and/or aluminum foil sheets
- Make the salsa first. Place tomatoes and garlic all on a baking sheet and broil for 10 minutes or until very roasted. (if you want to roast your bell pepper for the filling, halve it and roast it now, too)
- Toast the dried chiles on a heavy skillet for a few seconds until fragrant. Cut out stems, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.
- In the same dry skillet, toast the seeds and cinnamon stick for a few seconds until nutty. Put into blender container.
- Pulse a few times to make a coarse powder.
- Now add the roasted tomatoes and garlic, soaked chiles (discard the soaking liquid) and half a cup of the chicken broth. Blend. Add more broth if necessary to make a thick, smooth salsa. It should be about the consistency of a milkshake.
- Strain through a fine sieve and set aside.
- For the masa, combine the masa harina and water in a large pot. Use a whisk to remove lumps. Bring to boil, stirring, then simmer 10 minutes until thickened. Add the lard, oil, and salt. Stir and cook over low heat another 10 minutes. It should be about the consistency of porridge. Set aside.
- Cut the banana leaves into squares about 12x8 inches. Bring a large, wide pot of water to boil and blanch the leaves one at a time for about 45 seconds each. Use tongs to help get them completely immersed in the water. Stack on a plate and cover with a damp cloth.
- To fold tamales:
- Lay a banana leaf on a clean flat surface. Plop about ¾ cup masa into the center of it. Top that with about ¼ cup of the salsa and a piece of pork. Arrange any other fillings you like in the center of the masa and spoon a little more salsa over the top. Fold the side closest to you over the masa, and bring the side farthest from you towards yourself so that you end up with a long, skinny rectangle. Fold one long end under, then pick up the package like an ice cream cone and give it a little tap to get filling settled. Fold other long end over. Set aside
- (If banana leaf cracks, wrap the package in a sheet of foil.)
- Line a very large pot with the imperfect banana leaves and add about an inch of water. Stack tamales inside, seams down.
- Cover tightly and steam for 1.5 hours.
- Cool and serve
Other Guatemalan Recipes
This radish salad might be a nice accompaniment to the tamales.
Pastel de tres leches is claimed by many Latin American countries and is often made for special occasions, such as Christmas.
This video (in Spanish) demonstrates a dessert made from ripe plantains. They are boiled in their peels with a cinnamon stick for 15-20 minutes, then peeled and mashed into a puree. The filling is pureed black beans, sugar, cinnamon and occasionally chocolate that is cooked together then cooled. Shape the plantain “dough” with oiled hands into discs about 1/3″ thick and 4-5 inches across. Fill with a small amount of the beans and fold over, pressing to seal the beans inside and form it into a torpedo shape. Fry in hot oil until browned on all sides. Once crisp, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with sugar!