A Harmony of Flavors

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dreaming of Tamales

I posted the recipe for Guatemalan "Tamales Quetzaltecos" on my website today, and while I was typing - and it is a l-o-n-g recipe - I started wishing for them. I lived in Guatemala for just about 12 years, from early 1970 to late 1981. I was married to a Guatemalan man, and had all four of my children while down there.  I learned to speak the language very well, and learned to cook many of the foods, including Tamales.

While the marriage didn't last, the memories of the country, the people, the food, and all I learned down there stays with me always. I learned to cook down there. All from scratch, too. My older 3 children remember the foods very well. The youngest was just turning 3 when we moved back to the States. She recalls the foods because of what I have continued to cook. Food memories are very strong, and they really evoke the feeling of time and place, so whenever I make something Guatemalan, I am at once back there in memory. I have a lot of very lovely memories of my time there, and am eternally grateful that I had the chance to experience that culture.

The recipe for tamales that got me dreaming today is the one traditonally made at Christmas time. There are savory tamales and "sweet" tamales, for Christmas. The savory ones have a red sauce over top (made red by free use of annato seeds), and the sweet ones have chocolate added to their sauce. When I first went down there with my Dad, I tried them, but didn't much care for them. Too different, to a not-quite-twenty-year-old.  The sweet tamales were passable. As time went on, and I learned to make them and ate them more and more often, I swung over to loving the savory ones far more.
Making Tamalitos de Elote

Tamales are just about anything wrapped into packets and steamed. In Guatemala, "tamales" are generally thought of as the ones I just posted the recipe for, but other things are also tamales, such as "Paches", which are a potato based tamal, rather than corn and or rice.  Then "Tamalitos de Elote", which are tiny sweet tamales made from not quite dry field corn, ground and folded into the same green corn husks - delicious!  I finally got an opportunity to get some field corn last year and made them for the first time in over 30 years.  I photo documented every step of the way.  And then forgot to get a photo of a finished tamalito, unwrapped. 

Some tamalitos (meaning "little tamales") are just corn masa dough, and my ex father-in-law was particularly fond of "Tamalitos de Chipilin".  Chipilin is a weed/herb used mainly in Mexico and Central America. It is sometimes mixed into the plain corn masa dough. One last type of tamal is called a "Chuchito", and it is the most similar to what we in the States know as Mexican tamales. Read more about my interesting story on Chuchitos in my website, under Guatemalan Food.

So, I spent the day reminiscing and longing for some of the foods I ate while in Guatemala. I wish I could share them with all of you!

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