Tamales are a traditional dish of Mesoamerican cuisine that consists of a starchy dough, called masa, that is filled with various ingredients and then wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf before being steamed or boiled.
Tamales are typically served as a main course and are often enjoyed as a festive or special occasion food. They are a staple in Mexican, Central American and some South American countries.
Tamales and their Long History
Tamales have a long history and are believed to have originated with the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations. The word "tamale" comes from the Nahuatl word "tamalli," which means "wrapped." Tamales have been a staple food in Mesoamerica for thousands of years, and continue to be a beloved dish in many parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America.
Tamale Preparation and Filling Variations
Tamales are made by first preparing the masa, which is a dough made from corn that has been treated with lime to soften the kernels and make them more suitable for grinding. The masa is then mixed with lard or other fats, as well as seasonings such as salt, baking powder, and sometimes chicken or pork broth.
Once the masa is ready, it is spread out onto a corn husk or banana leaf, and a filling is placed in the center. The filling can vary depending on the region, but some common fillings include pork, chicken, beef, cheese, beans, or vegetables.
Some fillings can be spicy and can include different type of chili peppers, like chipotle, guajillo, or ancho, each one providing a different level of spiciness and flavor. The husk or leaf is then wrapped around the filling and the tamale is folded and tied to keep it securely in place.
Mexican cuisine has a vast amount of regions and each one have their own variations of Tamales, and some traditional fillings, like mole tamales, a filling made with mole sauce a complex sauce made with different type of chili pepper, spices, nuts and fruits.
Tamales are then steamed or boiled, typically for about an hour, depending on the size of the tamale. They are often served with a sauce or a salsa. Tamales can also be made sweet instead of savory, by adding sweeteners or fruits to the masa, and is commonly known as sweet tamales.
Tamales are often consumed as street food, at festivals, family gatherings or any special occasion, but also can be found in restaurants or can be made at home.
Tamales can be stored in a variety of ways, depending on how soon you plan to eat them and whether or not they have been cooked.
If you have freshly made, uncooked tamales, you can store them in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for up to several months. To freeze tamales, simply place them in an airtight container or freezer bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing.
It's important to note that the texture and quality of the tamales can change slightly if they are frozen, as the moisture in the masa and fillings can cause the tamales to become slightly dryer when reheated.
When you're ready to eat them, you can thaw the tamales in the refrigerator overnight or in the microwave. If you have leftover cooked tamales, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to four days.
How to Reheat Tamales
There are a few ways to reheat tamales, depending on your preference and the equipment you have available:
- Steaming: One of the best ways to reheat tamales is to steam them. Place the tamales in a steamer basket or colander over simmering water, and cover with a lid. Steam for about 10-15 minutes, or until heated through.
- Microwaving: You can also reheat tamales in the microwave. Place the tamales in a microwave-safe dish and cover with a microwave-safe lid or plastic wrap. Heat on high for about 1-2 minutes, or until heated through. Be careful not to overheat the tamales, as they can become dry.
- Oven: If you have left over tamales that are already wrapped in aluminum foil, you can reheat them in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and then place the tamales in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until heated through.
- Grill: You can also reheat tamales on a grill, this can be a good method if you want to have a little bit of char and smoky flavor, just wrap the tamales in aluminum foil and place them on the grill for about 15-20 minutes.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to check the tamales often to ensure they don't overcook or burn.
Tamales are a delicious and versatile dish that offers a variety of flavors and textures. They are enjoyed as a main course and are often consumed as street food, at festivals, family gatherings or any special occasion. Tamales can be stored in different ways, depending on how soon you plan to eat them. If you want to store tamales for a longer time, you can vacuum seal it and store it in the freezer for up to 6 months. Reheating tamales can be done by steaming, microwaving, oven or grill.
Meet Iris Janine Freeman, a freelance copywriter and food blogger from the East Coast. When she's not busy crafting the perfect words for her clients, Iris can be found experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen or planning her next travel adventure.