Saturday, June 30, 2007


Tamal is a generic name given to various indigenous latin american dishes generally made with corn flour.
Originally from Mexico, this preparation is now distributed throughout Central America and the Andean region of South America where corn is a large part of the diet. They basically consist of a paste of corn cooked rolled in banana leaves or corn husks. Mexico has the greatest variety with each state having several distinctive types. Although tamales are are found in many countries in Latin America they are thought to date back to prehispanic mesoamerian cultures in what is now Mexico. The name tamal comes from the náhuel word tamalli, which means wrapped.

In Colombia, Ecuador and other Andean nations tamales are a dish similarly made with a dough of cooked corn which surrounds a filling made with pork or chicken accompanied by onion, peas, boiled eggs, sultanas and other ingredients that vary depending on region and family traditions.
One legend say that corn was born when the sun formed grains of gold that fell on the ground: thus they are a symbol of good luck. With corn, the people prepare meals to give thanks for the season and the husks foretell happiness for the children, fertility, and abundance in the kitchen.

Salteñan tamales are traditionally made with the meat from the head of a pig but you can use whatever is available including the same meat that is inside empanadas or jerky. Due to the labour involved in getting the flesh of the head many tamales you buy in stores use other meats. The meat is lovely and rich but not super healthy due to the high fat content. It did give us an opportunity for gratuitous ingredient shots though!

Salteñan Tamales

Half a pig´s head.
1 large onion
1 large potato
200g pork fat
3 eggs
spring onions (green part only)
Pimenton (Sweet Paprika), to taste
Cumin, to taste
course ground chilli, to taste
Dried corn husk leaves

500g Cornmeal for tamales (finer than standard polenta)
100g pork lard
stock as required

First the pig's head must be boiled with a carrot, a capsicum, an onion, bay leaves, and garlic until it is cooked. The cooking time varies depending on the size. Once cooked leave to cool. The cooking liquid makes a rich stock for use in the dough or other dishes. When cool remove the meat from under the skin and outer fat and cut into small pieces.
Separately cut the onion into small dice and saute in the lard until transparent. Add the chopped meat and leave to cook a few minutes, season with pimenton, cumin, chili and salt if required. Cook a further 2 minutes then remove from heat.
The potato is prepared in the same fashion as for empanadas. First cut into small cubes then boil in a small amount of water until tender and then mix with the rest of the mixture.
Boil the eggs and mash with a fork. Cut the spring onion finely and set aside.
Pour filling into a broad dish and cover with mashed egg, the spring onion and leave to cool.
In a bowl combine cornmeal, a pinch of salt and pimentón to give color. Add the lard (melted) and stock as required to form a thick, firm dough.

To form the tamales:
Soften the dried husks in hot water. Select one large or two smaller husks. Moisten the palm of your hand. Place a ball of the dough on your hand and flatten into a disk that covers your palm. In the centre place a spoonful of filling and close the dough disk around it to form a sphere. Place on the husk and roll into a parcel and close both ends firmly with "strings" formed from tearing strips of husk.

Boil in a covered pan with a small amount of water (as for humitas) for about 35 minutes.


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