With our 3000 mile move seriously towering over us and with a billion things left to do, I decided it was time for some prioritizing. Which led me to the conclusion that I should definitely spend half of my weekend making tamales with my Guatemalan friend, Linda. It’s something we had been meaning to do for forever, but one thing or another had always gotten in the way. But no more!
Linda took us shopping for all the ingredients the day before and I was continuously surprised by what she put in the my cart. Pumpkin seeds? Dried plums? But I figured she knew what she was doing, so I just rolled with it. She took us to a small store that sells Hispanic foods and showed us where to buy frozen plantain leaves. The lady at the register looked at me skeptically and asked me with thick accent, through an air of skepticism, “You make tamales?”. I assured her that I was going to learn.
We toasted everything under the sun for the sauce. Red tomatoes, green tomatoes, garlic, onions, cloves, cinnamon, bell peppers, dried chiles, bread, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds. Seriously, we toasted everything.
Linda assures me this is an essential part of the process. Apparently, her auntie makes the sauce without toasting the ingredients first and “es no as good”.
Once we’re finished toasting, we start blending.
And then we have to mix it all together.
Then she sifted it all through a strainer, like three times. Apparently this is also very important. The consistency of the sauce must be just so. No crumbly bits. So we mixed and we strained and we mixed and we strained. Until she finally approved.
We cooked rice, we cooked grits, we put whole sticks of butter in everything and hefty amounts of “chicken flavor”. And then we made the tamale mix. Which apparently is basically corn flour and water. That you can’t stop stirring. No matter what. Or the world ends. Or something.
So Linda turned some Shakira on her phone and we stirred and cha cha-ed it out.
Linda told us that in Guatemala the families all work together to make tamales on Saturday, to eat throughout the week. She said the ladies do all the cooking but the men do the stirring, with paddles as big as brooms. Giant vats of tamales. She said they all come together in one house to cook tamales for Christmas and everyone pitches in ingredients.
Her son called and she put him on speaker phone and prodded him into asking me “coma esta”. I manage a weak “muy bein” in return. Her son is 12 or 13 and still lives in Guatemala. She sends him phone cards to call her with every Sunday and she sends him and her daughter money every week, paying for their clothes, their school, and sending them extra gifts.
Finally, with our chicken, sauce, and tamale mix ready, we can wrap them. But not before we cut a billion plantain leaves.
Linda tells me I’m a fast learner.
At the last minute the olives, dried plum, raisins, and bell peppers soaked in vinegar go on top.
We filled two giant pots full of tamales.
When I asked how long we should steam them Linda says, “Until the leaves are cooked”. I can’t find that on my clock anywhere.
And finally, after nearly 6 hours, we had glorious, hot, tamales.
The picture doesn’t do it justice. I have to admit, they blew me away. I didn’t expect to like them that much. I expected to feel pretty passively about them. But I was oh so wrong. The sweet of the plum, the salty of the mix, the tang of the sauce. It was a fiesta in my mouth.
Also, my words don’t do the process justice. There were so many nuances in the preparation. So many little extra steps that I didn’t understand the necessity for but just kept my mouth shut because I figured if you grow up in Guatemala you know a thing or two about tamales.
Over all, I think it was an excellent use of one of my last Sundays in Georgia. Wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else. ;)