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Favorite Recipes

Make Your Own Tamales

Making tamales is not just "making tamales."  Making tamales is a ritual for Hispanics.  By that I don't mean that they go out and gather all the cats from the neighborhood and hang them on laundry lines.

Tamales are usually made on Christmas eve or New Year's eve, or both.  What you do is plan three to four days before the "tamalada" is started.  The first thing you do is start calling the different "molinos" (tortilla factories) around your vicinity or town.  Find out which one has the lowest price per pound of "masa preparada" (prepared corn dough).  The prepared corn dough is the easiest to make tamales with because all you do is prepare the corn husks, cook the pork roast, fill the ready corn husks with the chili-prepared pork meat and then put them in the tamales pot to cook.  That's it!

It sounds easy doesn't it?  Well, it is rather easy that way but not too easy.  Therefore, after you have all the ingredients needed to make 500 tamales you then get on the phone and invite all of your family to the "tamalada."  The idea of having a "tamalada" is not just to make tamales, but to have fun doing them.  You can even invite your comadre, compadre as well as your neighbors if you want.  During the "tamalada" everyone starts "chismiando" (gossiping) from everything from politics to the fact that some monkeys from the Philippines are making their home in Alice, Texas.

The different functions or steps in making the tamales are then delegated or divided among the people that show up to make tamales.  Everyone gets situated in the form of a circle with the prepared ingredients in the middle.  A corn husk is then spread on the palm of the hand; a tablespoon or so is then spread on the corn husk; two or more tablespoons of the prepared pork is then put on the tamal.  The tamal is then folded by folding the left and the right sides of the corn husk towards the middle.  The bottom of the corn husk is then folded from the bottom to the top of the corn husk.  The folded tamal is them placed in a tall, deep pot.  The tamales are placed in the pot in a crisscross fashion until the pot is approximately 2" from the top.

You may be able to find a pot that is specially  made for cooking tamales in a hardware store or where kitchen utensils are sold.  Sometimes some grocery stores have them in stock during the approach of the Christmas season.  However, if you cannot find the specially made pot to make tamales then you can make your own.  If you are good with woodworking you can then build a wooden base out of 1" pieces of wood wide enough to be placed inside the bottom of a wide, tall pot.  Fill the pot with approximately three to five inches of water.  Cover the wooden base with clean corn husks and then place the made tamales on top of the layered corn husks in a crisscross fashion.

The time required to cook the tamales varies according to how many tamales you were able to put in the pot as well as  how fat the tamales were made.  Place the pot on the stove over high heat until water comes to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-high heat and cover with lid. Check the tamales after 45 minutes 1 hour to get an idea as to how much time is left for the tamales to be fully cooked.  When fully cooked the masa will be firm and should pull easily from the husk.


Put pork in a Dutch oven and cover with water.  Add onion.  Bring t a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour or until meat is fork tender.  Add more water if necessary.  Remove pork from broth and refrigerate broth until fat solidifies on the surface.  When meat has cooled, shred with two forks and set aside.  Once the fat from the broth has solidified, strain over a bowl.  Broth should measure 2 cups; if not add water to make 2 cups of liquid.  Reserve pork and liquid.

Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add minced garlic and pork.  Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir constantly for about a minute until meat begins to brown.  Add ground chile, reserved broth and seasonings.  Cook over medium heat until thickened and almost dry, stirring intermittently for about 30 minutes.

Tamal Dough

Made With Masa Harina

Prepare corn husks according to package directions.

Put masa harina in a large bowl.  Add water, stirring constantly.  Add oil and salt and knead dough to the consistency of moist cookie dough.  Add a small amount of water - a bit at time - if mixture is too dry.

(Makes 3 dozen tamales)


Made With Real Prepared Masa

If you do not have a problem finding a Molino to buy the prepared masa then this is the best way to make good tamales.

(Makes 144 tamales or 12 dozen)

Now that the tamales are made you can get the husbands, and compadres off the couch who have more than likely been watching five football games in a row in TV to clean up the place, wash the dishes and tidy up the kitchen.  The kids that are still awake, if old enough, can also help tidy up the place.




Now that you have finished doing tamales you can make the famous and tasty champurrado to drink with the tamales.  Champurrado is really easy to make especially if you have the ingredients.

Champurrado is one of a family of hot drinks called atoleAtole is a corn masa gruel sweetened with raw sugar and flavored by fruit, berries, chocolate or even  chile's.  Atole has a water or milk base and can be furthered seasoned with spices such as cinnamon, vanilla or almond extract.  The fruits most always used are crushed pineapple, strawberries and blackberries.  The sugar used is piloncillo.  Piloncillo is a Mexican brown molasses formed into hard cones.  However, if you do not have access to piloncillo, you can use dark brown sugar and add a couple of tablespoons of molasses.  In addition, if you do not have access to Mexican chocolate, you can use any dark, bittersweet chocolate.  If you do not have access to real masa you can substitute Masa Harina.  Never use corn meal; real corn meal does not work.  In fact, using Masa Harina looses the taste of real champurrado, but it is close. By all means use real prepared masa.

Additionally, you have to experience with quantities since all of the contents of the ingredients to make champurrado depend largely on personal taste.  Below, my niece Roxie photographically shows some of the steps in making champurrado.


Begin by dissolving about one and a half to two cups of prepared masa in a quart of milk.  Continue adding masa to choice.  Massage the masa in the milk until it is fully dissolved.  If you are using water instead of milk you may use a blender.  However, if you are using milk do not use a blender because milk produces milk foam.

Strain the dissolved masa milk mixture making sure to remove any undissolved lumps.  Then the rest of the milk and ingredients are added (chocolate, piloncillo, cinnamon, and crushed anise).  You can break up the piloncillo's and chocolate discs into smaller  pieces before putting them in the large pot.

If you are using brown sugar instead of piloncillo, cooking should continue until the chocolate has completely dissolved and the atole has thickened enough that it will coat a spoon and gently run off.  If you are using fruits and berries rather than chocolate, add them after the atole has been cooked.  At any rate, the cooking should continue in a gentle simmer with frequent almost continuous stirring until the chocolate and piloncillo are completely dissolved.

This delightful Mexican chocolate drink called "Champurrado is the traditional drink for Christmas and New Years. Enjoy!

 This page was upgrades on: 01/10/2005 01:06 PM