Laura A. Diaz __ Teach Write

TEACHER, AUTHOR, EDUblogger "I want to (read and) write books that unblock the traffic jam in everyone's mind." ~J. Updike

Tamales: Guatemala y California Chica Style~ Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo!

Note: If you’re here just for the recipe, scroll all the way down to the bottom and there you’ll find it. 🙂

Ahhh, what a beautiful day! Today is what is referred to in our home as  “Tamale Day.”  The day before Christmas Eve when we get together to make our family Christmas Eve tamales.  Now, yes, I am a little biased and prefer the banana leaf Guatemalan Tamales (Tamales Colorado with a sweet/ spicy Recado sauce- Yummmmmm!)  I have learned to make this because my wonderful husband is from Guatemala.  Growing up in California, you would think that my “go-to” would be the traditional  corn husk with the spicy, chili red sauce, right?  Those are fine. In fact, two of my seven children prefer those kind.  I’ve made both.  There have been Christmas holidays in the past where you would have found both at my table. But, after 25 years of marriage, I have seen a gradual decline in the number of “traditional” Mexican  tamales I made versus the Guatemalan tamales.  We all know the huge (all day) labor of love that both kinds are for us to prepare. I suppose, I subconsciously figured I needed to make a choice, yeah?

TamalePreparedguatamalan-christmas-tamales-shuttersparks-flickrAnd, living in Nebraska, away from my childhood family, my husband I began creating our own family traditions.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that.  Something beautiful.

What I have learned over the years is that the kind of food a family chooses to make part of their Christmas celebration is less important than the kind of love a family shares with family and neighbors at this time.

So, my challenge for you, my dear readers, is be willing to open up your home to neighbors and family and to be willing to share not only your own family traditions and the love of Christ, but also to experience the traditions of others.


 From mi familia to su familia: Feliz Navidad y Próspero New Year!




Guatemalan Tamales – Tamales Guatemaltecas
Prep time: 1 hour  Cook time: 2 hours  Total time: 3 hours
Serves: 10-14


For the Salsa Colorada:

  • 1½ pounds of tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 guajillo chiles
  • 2 ounces pumpkin seeds
  • 2 ounces sesame seeds
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon achiote (annatto) powder
  • 1 ounce of lard
  • 1 pound lean pork, cut into strips

For the Masa:

  • 3 cups masa harina
  • 6 cups water or broth
  • ½ cup lard or butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt


  • Sliced green olives
  • Capers
  • Thin slices of (roasted, peeled) bell pepper
  • Raisins
  • Banana leaves, about 2 pounds, and/or aluminum foil sheets


  1. Make the salsa first. Place tomatoes and garlic all on a baking sheet and broil for 10 minutes or until very roasted. (if you want to roast your bell pepper for the filling, halve it and roast it now, too)
  2. Toast the dried chiles on a heavy skillet for a few seconds until fragrant. Cut out stems, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.
  3. In the same dry skillet, toast the seeds and cinnamon stick for a few seconds until nutty. Put into blender container.
  4. Pulse a few times to make a coarse powder.
  5. Now add the roasted tomatoes and garlic, soaked chiles (discard the soaking liquid) and half a cup of the chicken broth. Blend. Add more broth if necessary to make a thick, smooth salsa. It should be about the consistency of a milkshake.
  6. Strain through a fine sieve and set aside.
  7. For the masa, combine the masa harina and water in a large pot. Use a whisk to remove lumps. Bring to boil, stirring, then simmer 10 minutes until thickened. Add the lard, oil, and salt. Stir and cook over low heat another 10 minutes. It should be about the consistency of porridge. Set aside.
  8. Cut the banana leaves into squares about 12×8 inches. Bring a large, wide pot of water to boil and blanch the leaves one at a time for about 45 seconds each. Use tongs to help get them completely immersed in the water. Stack on a plate and cover with a damp cloth.
  9. To fold tamales:
  10. Lay a banana leaf on a clean flat surface. Plop about ¾ cup masa into the center of it. Top that with about ¼ cup of the salsa and a piece of pork. Arrange any other fillings you like in the center of the masa and spoon a little more salsa over the top. Fold the side closest to you over the masa, and bring the side farthest from you towards yourself so that you end up with a long, skinny rectangle. Fold one long end under, then pick up the package like an ice cream cone and give it a little tap to get filling settled. Fold other long end over. Set aside
  11. (If banana leaf cracks, wrap the package in a sheet of foil.)
  12. Line a very large pot with the imperfect banana leaves and add about an inch of water. Stack tamales inside, seams down.
  13. Cover tightly and steam for 1.5 hours.
  14. Cool and serve with Ponche de Navidad, Hot Chocolate, lots of music, laughter & fun! 🙂

Merry Navidad!: Christmas Carols in Spanish and English/Villancicos en espanol e ingles by Alma Flor Ada Resuenen con alegría los cánticos de mi tierra que viva el Niño Jesús que ha nacido en Nochebuena. It’s time to sing out with joy the songs that are sung in my land in praise of the precious Child born this holy Christmas evening. Come share the joy of Christmas!

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