Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jun 7, 2005 02:48 AM

Incredible tamales! long post

  • m

My friend from El Salvador makes the most incredible tamales. I am not a tamale kind of girl. I don't really care for most of them. I find the dough part to be always dry and tasteless. (Except for the sweet ones of course). Anyways, she made them for me and I watched. Instead of buying the common masa flour from the market, she goes to a place called a " tortilleria", a tortilla shop and they sell " fresh Masa" in a plastic bag. The masa is made from boiled corn that is then freshly ground in the "molino". The taste is entirely different then the store bought masa.

Then she takes a big soup pot and boils it with water and chicken broth and slowly over half an hour drizzles olive oil and stirs it in. She adds a couple more things to season it up, but I can't really remember. Eventually it turns into a creamy meal, it looks like a polenta or almost cream of wheat. The smell and taste is amazing. It makes you want to just sprinkle some cinammon and sugar and eat it right there.

Then she takes the filling which is comprised of a delicious rich chicken stew wtih the red achiote sauce, but so much more flavorful then the mexican one that I am acustomed to. Not spicy at all ,just flavorful. (I'm leaving out a lot of steps, I am trying to condense this as much as possible). She takes fresh banana leaves and fills them with the masa quickly, because if you don't do it in time, the masa begins to congeal the same way cream of wheat does. Then she spoons some of the chicken stew, a couple garbanzo beans, a sliver of boiled potato and a slice of green bell pepper. She then seals the tamale.

Once the tamales are cooked, even after being in the fridge for a day or two, the masa is never dry, its so moist almost like a corn pudding but a bit firmer. It really melts in your mouth. It is savory and filling.

Ok, so here is my dilemma: I want to make a party and serve the tamales but I have no idea what to serve them with. Does anybody have any ideas what would go well with them? I don't want to have anything overpower them and they are so filling that I don't really want to serve anything to heavy with them. What do you think?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. A small bowl of sopa de gallina (hen soup) and some sweet plantains (maduros) would go well. Have sour cream available for use on the tamal and/or the plantain.

    1. How about a jicima or cactus salad?

      1. what kind of tamales do you plan to make? El Salvadorian, Mexican or other? The kind of tamal you plan to make would determine the kind of meal to serve with it. Do you plan to make them as a main dish, or as a side? Tamales can be either depending on how you make them, how you dress them up, how large you make them, etc.

        About the rest of your post... good tamales are indeed hard to find. In some places nearly impossible. However, there are some places out there that serve absolutely amazing tamales... ask on the regional chowhound board near you where you can find some... I bet you'll find some that are really good. Won't match up with the homemade ones (never will) but you'll find some that aren't dry or tasteless.

        Good luck.

        1 Reply
        1. re: adamclyde


          i am sorry i was not clear. i plan on serving my friend's el salvador style chicken tamales. btw i forgot to mention each tamale is also stuffed with a spanish green olive. to your question, yes they will be the main dish.

        2. So excited about this. Thanks.
          There is a Farmer's Market vendor in Orange County that sells very low fat tamales that are really good. But this recipe you've given lends the basics of the tamales that I can vary the filling with. The recipe seems it can be low fat if not too much olive oil is used. Is there a general amount required?

          I am going to guess I can use corn husks instead of banana leaves. And maybe add sugar for the sweeter variety (like the corn cakes at some restuarants like El Torito.) Any clue if I'm thinking along the right lines?

          5 Replies
          1. re: kc girl

            I never really thought of these tamales as being healthy or low fat, but I guess they are in comparison to the standard tamales out there usually made with hydrogenated oils. I keep telling my friend she needs to open a business and sell them, I hope you don't steal it away from her, ;p.

            About the olive oil, imo olive oil is super healthy and no need to moderate or cut back in a recipe. It has so many health promoting qualities.

            When my friend made the tamales, she told me she doesn't measure, she just kept drizzling it in the pot and stirring. She put a lot of olive oil in the pot, I was pretty shocked. She told me, it does not come out right, if you don't use a lot. I was also suprised that the mixture did not really have an olivey or fruity taste.

            My friend tells me that the banana leaves add a special flavor to the tamales, but to tell you the truth I did not really taste any difference.

            Let me warn you about the process .You have to actually watch someone make these; it's pretty lengthy and tricky. Just learning to tie the bundles of the banana leaves was pretty tricky, and folding the filing in. I also left out another tedious step. After cooking this corn meal, she then pushed the whole mixture through a cheesecloth to get any superfine lumps or the little black specks from the corn out. You get pretty buff biceps doing this if you don't have them yet and it took about half hour or so.

            As for doing a sweet version. She told me " oh that's easy". She says the sweet corn tamales only take 1 hour or so, verses the 4-5 hours that the chicken tamales take. Not to mention the cooking time. She tells me it's a completely different kind of recipe. She does not buy the fresh masa from the tortilleria for the sweet tamales. For the sweet ones, she buys fresh corn with the husk and boils it and then runs in through her food processor herself. She tells me she will come one weekend and show me how to do those. I look forward to it.

            If you do experiment, let me know how it goes!
            I hope this was some help

            1. re: madonna

              << I hope you don't steal it away from her <<

              No chance of me infringing on her venture. Keep encouraging her, if anything, for a reputable charity dinner one day to spread the news, and I'm not talking just Girls Scouts or PTA.

              We have a great recipe for Rock Shrimp Tamales with Four Pepper Cream in the little book we put togther for Entertaining By Design. I like inventing and constructing the table top design more than chefing that event. The recipe, especially the sauce, is quite labor intensive.

              Great to have friends like yours, huh.

            2. re: kc girl

              A Salvadoreno tamal is indeed much moister than its Mexican cousin. If you were to try to make this version with corn husks, I would be worried about leakage because several corn husks will have to be overlapped and folded around what is a relatively loose mixture. The banana leaf wrapped tamales that I've have used only one or two large cut sections.

              Interesting mention of using olive oil into what is like polenta. I would never have guessed it but maybe the El Salvadorean places I go to use lard.

              BTW, good tamales are made from fresh masa, not the dry masa harina flour, so it's really not that unusual for your friend to buy hers from the refrigerated counter. The Mexicano masa is finished by whipping in a bit of lard.

              What was the proportion of fresh masa to water for the OP's tamal recipe?

                1. re: madonna

                  OP == original poster