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Introduction & method

A tamal is spicy and tender pork or chicken wrapped in a soft corn flour dough. Tamales are very popular in Central and South America. It's a lot of work to make them, but well worth the effort.

Tamales Recipe

For the meat

Peel and coarsely chop the onion and add that and all other meat ingredients to a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about two hours. Leave to cool, and then remove the pork from the cooking broth. Keep the broth - you'll need it later.

For the sauce/salsa/mole

Finely chop the onion and mince the garlic. Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan, add the onion, garlic and cumin seeds and fry for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan. Stir them around for a bit, then add the taco sauce and continue cooking until the sauce has reduced and thickened somewhat. Take it off the heat and set aside.

The meat again

Using two forks (or your fingers), shred the pork. Blend the salsa to a smooth paste and mix about half of it into the meat so all the shreds are coated and you have a fairly moist mixture, but not swimming in sauce. You can some of the cooking broth if your mixture seems too dry.

For the masa (dough)

Note, the flour for this is a special one - it's not the same as the cornflour you'd use to thicken something with. Make sure the packet says 'tamales' on it, and you'll be okay.

Melt the lard. Add the baking powder to the flour and mix together. Add the melted lard a bit at a time, and stir in well. Add broth a bit at a time and stir until the mixture has the consistency of thick mashed potato.

Assembling the Tamales

Cut the banana leaves into 150cm (6 inch) squares. Place a layer of the dough on each one, about 1cm (half an inch) thick, leaving a margin of 2cm (about an inch) at the bottom and on the left hand edge. Place a dollop of the meat filling close to the right hand edge and extending the full height of the dough. Now roll the dough and banana leaf over until you reach the left hand edge of the dough. You'll probably need to loosen the edge of the leaf to make sure it doesn't get trapped between two layers of dough. Tuck the bottom edge of the leaf in to form a seal, and tie the bundle with a strip of banana leaf or string.


When you've made all of your tamales, you need to steam them. This is likely to involve some improvisation because they need to be arranged vertically inside a vessel partly filled with boiling water. I placed mine in the bottom of a small Chinese bamboo steamer with a stainless steel ring round them as a sort of collar, and placed the whole thing in a big pan. However you do it, you'll need to add some boiling water to the pan (making sure it doesn't reach the tamales), cover it with a clean tea towel, and place a lid on it. Let it simmer for one a half hours, and then they are ready.


Place one or two tamales on a plate and let your guests unwrap them. The banana leaves are not eaten. Have the remaining salsa heated up ready to pour over the tamales.

The video above is from the Keef Cooks YouTube channel. Click here to see the video recipe of Tamales on YouTube.

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Ingredients & Info

•  1 kilo boneless pork shoulder
•  1 medium onion
•  12 black peppercornss
•  4 cloves garlic, crushed
•  1 tsp cumin seeds
•  2 slices jalapeño pepper
•  2 dried red chilliss
•  1 tsp smoked paprika
•  2 litres water
•  250 grams canned tomatoes
•  1 small onion
•  2 cloves garlic, crushed
•  1 tsp cumin seeds
•  120 ml broth
•  2 tbsp taco sauce/salsa taquera
•   MASA
•  500 ml broth
•  1 tsp salt
•  .5 tsp baking powder
•  120 grams lard
•  500 grams masa harina (yellow corn flour)


Banana leaves or corn husks to wrap the tamales in. If they are frozen, they'll need to be defrosted and soaked for half an hour before you need them.

US (cups, sticks, etc)

Makes 8  - 10 tamales
Prep time: 1 hour.
Cooking time: 3.5 hours.
Total time: 4.5 hours.