Tamales: A tamale is a traditional Latin American dish made of masa (a starchy dough, usually corn-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can be further filled with meats, cheese, vegetables, chilies, or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned.
Tamales were one of the staples found by the Spanish Conquistadors when they first arrived in Mexico and were soon widely spread throughout their other colonies. Tamales are said to have been as ubiquitous and varied as the sandwich is today.
Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC. Aztec and Maya civilizations as well as the Olmeca and Tolteca before them used tamales as a portable food, often to support their armies but also for hunters and travelers. There have also been reports of tamale use in the Inca Empire long before the Spanish visited the new world (thank you, Wikipedia).
Tamales de elote are a favorite breakfast food throughout Central America. In El Salvador they are often served as the starchy portion of a meal. The fresh elote, or sweet corn, used in Central America has a higher starch content than that in the United States. These kinds of tamales are wrapped in corn husks and sometimes after they are cooked they are fried on a griddle. Delicious!
Salvadoran tamales are also wrapped in plantain or banana leaves. The masa is usually made out of maize (non-sweet corn), such as what is known as feed corn in the U.S. A popular type of tamale made here in El Salvador from maize are tamales de gallina, which have chicken (gallina) in them and sometimes vegetables as well. These are the kinds of tamales that people serve on the ninth day after someone dies for the rosary.
I’ve made both types of tamales. I prefer the taste of the tamales de elote and I think they’re easier to make. Below are some photos that show how you make both kinds of tamales. I only recently learned how to make the tamales de elote.
Tamales de Elote
Removing the husks from the elote (sweet corn)
The husks that will be used to wrap the tamales
Removing the kernals
Next you need to rinse the corn
Cecilia took the corn to a place nearby
to be ground. This is the result.
A liquidy dough
Put some of the corn husks onto the bottom of the
pot you'll use to cook the tamales.
Put a scoop of the dough into a husk
Wrap the dough and husk into a
rectangle then fold over the end
Wrap another corn husk around the first one
A small, rectangular tamale is the result
Place each tamale into the pot
Put more corn husks on top of the tamales
Add water and boil for 1.5 - 2 hours
The finished product!
Tamales de gallina
In the bowl on the left is chicken, center is corn dough mixed
with a natural colorant and tomatoes, the right side bowl is
filled with the soupy dough made from cooked maize.
In front of the bowls are the banana leaves.
Work from right to left: Spoonful of
corn dough, colorant, then chicken
Wrap up filling in the banana leaf,
forming it into a rectangle
My first attempt
Place all tamales into a bowl
Fill up pot with leaves, then tamales, more leaves, and water
Cook them for 1.5 hours and they're ready to eat!
The finished product
Riguas: I haven’t been able to find a lot of information about riguas online. All I really know is what I’ve learned from my experience here. Riguas are made from elote (sweet corn). After the sweet corn has been removed from the cob it needs to be put through a grinder or into a blender. From there it’s fried up on a griddle or something in the like. They take a while to cook and the heat can’t be up too high or the riguas will burn. They’re basically small, sweet corn fried pancakes. Kind of like potato pancakes. Riguas are often served with beans, cheese, or cream.
The liquidy dough made from elote (sweet corn)
Make into the shape of pancakes
They take a while to cook,
but are absolutely delicious!