Guatemalan Tamales

Guatemalan Tamales

In these succulent Guatemalan tamales, fluffy masa is enriched with raisins, olives, chiles and a generous helping of romesco sauce. Soft, fragrant banana leaves, available in Latin markets, are the typical tamale wrapper in the southern Mexican states and Central America. Add shredded roasted chicken and these tamales would make a delightful holiday meal.

Makes 8 tamales


3 1/2 cups masa harina*
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups water, hot
10 ounces vegetable shortening (by weight), cold
1 cup vegetable broth, cold


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 poblano chiles, roasted, cored, seeded, and cut into strips**
2 red bell peppers, roasted, cored, seeded, and cut into strips**
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup pitted green olives, sliced
8 9-inch squares banana leaf, center stalk removed
8 10-inch squares aluminum foil
Romesco Sauce (see recipe below), for serving
Crema or crème fraiche, for serving (optional)

Combine masa harina, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer with a paddle. Add hot water and beat on medium speed until the masa mixture is crumbly. Turn the speed up to medium-high and add shortening and vegetable broth a tablespoon at a time, alternating and making sure each spoonful is incorporated before making the next addition. Continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy, about 15 minutes total. Test for lightless by dropping a tablespoon of masa into cold water. If it floats, mixture is light enough. If not, continue beating at high speed a few minutes longer. Reserve at room temperature.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft and browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add vegetable broth, raisins, poblano chiles, red bell peppers, and oregano and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in olives. Chill.

To assemble tamales, briefly hold each banana leaf square over a low burner to soften and toast. Place banana leaf squares, shiny side up, on top of aluminum foil squares. Spread a thin layer of masa over the center third of each banana leaf. Top with a heaping tablespoon of filling mixture. Fold over the sides and then the ends of the banana leaf to enclose the filling in the masa and then wrap in aluminum foil square.

Stack tamales in a steamer and cook over simmering water 1 hour, or until the masa is just set and pulls away from the banana leaves. Remove and discard the foil and open the tamales, leaving them in the banana leaves for serving. Top with Romesco Sauce and a drizzle of crema, if desired.

* Maseca, masa harina, or corn masa flour, is a dried, powder version of fresh masa. Fresh masa is a wet dough made from dried corn cooked in limewater, soaked overnight, and stoneground. If it is labeled “prepared”, it is combined with lard and other ingredients, but if you can find “unprepared” masa made with only lime-treated corn, it can be substituted for the masa harina and water in this recipe.

** Fresh chiles can be roasted over a gas flame or under the broiler. Keep turning so skin is evenly charred, without burning the flesh. Transfer charred chiles to a closed plastic bag and steam 10 to 15 minutes. Pull off charred skin by hand and dip briefly in water to remove blackened bits. Once peeled, cut away stems, seeds, and veins.

Romesco Sauce

6 piquillo peppers, from a jar or can, about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup roasted almonds
1/4 cup bread crumbs
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Add piquillo peppers, paprika, and vinegar to a blender and puree. Add almonds, bread crumbs, garlic, and salt and blend until smooth. With motor still running, drizzle in olive oil until a thick sauce forms. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve at room temperature.

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