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Tamales a la Chiquimamis

Kahlo, Chefmama Krysia with Tamales

Winter time is a season when our family gathers together for many things. We have quite a few birthdays that fall in December (and January!) along with the holidays. My mother is the Queen of our gatherings, of course, and being from New England we tend to have very traditional New England holiday fare for our family meals. For those of you that have read a few of our blog posts, you have probably picked up on the fact that we are also Peruvian! When Kahlo was born, I wanted to create a few food traditions with her, ones that included Latin American traditions. One of these is making tamales, or humitas, for Christmas. Oh, and who the heck is Chiquimamis? That's me, Krysia. It's my nickname from childhood. :)

Tamales are simple to the eye but quite labor intensive to make. It is the type of dish that is actually a lot more fun to make when you have a bunch of people to create an assembly line. This way you can hang out, listen to music, gossip about family members (kidding!), and finish up the process a lot more quickly. This super hands-on production is why most people tend only make these little packets of joy for special occasions. Kahlo and I have been making them together for the last 4 years (since she was 2!) and we keep getting better each year, so we thought it might be nice to share our most recent recipe. We made a smaller batch for the purposes of this blog entry but we're gearing to make more this weekend for the big day on Tuesday!

These steamed corn cakes have many different names throughout Latin America: Humitas (Peru, Chile), Humintas (Bolivia), Hallaca (Argentina), Hallaquitas (Venezuela),  Pamonha (Brazil), and, of course, Tamales (Mexico, Central America). In the Caribbean, Colombia or Panama you will find pasteles or hallacas de yuca (Dominican Republic) - even more variations! The basic tamal a dough that is made of either fresh corn or finely ground corn meal, mixed with lard or vegetable shortening and other spices, and then stuffed with various things (depending on the country of origin). The stuffed dough is wrapped in corn husk or banana leaf and then steamed or boiled. Banana leaves impart a nice flavor. For pasteles in the Caribbean, green plantains or yuca are mashed instead of using corn to make the dough, it is then also stuffed with savory fillings, and wrapped in banana leaves. Besides the ingredients, the size and shape of tamales can vary from country to country as well. 

In Peru, the Quechua word for these yummy corn cakes is Humint'a. In Mesoamerica, the word tamale comes from the Nahuatl word Tamalli (meaning "wrapped"). While we don't know who first invented these tasty hand-held foods, we do know that corn originated in southern Mexico and the first tamales were recorded in history as early as 7-5000 B.C.

This recipe we're sharing is not specifically Mexican or Peruvian but represents a little bit of who we are: Peruvian Americans growing up in Boston, surrounded by Latinos from all over, a busy working mother who sometimes needs to use short cuts, a mamachef who lived in California and developed a deep respect for Mexican cuisine, and someone who also has a profound reverence for indigenous foods and food traditions, and wishes her daughter to know the same. Enjoy!


Tamales a la Chiquimamis - Serves 10-20


Masa (Dough) 

  • 4 cups corn meal, finely ground 

  • 1 lb lard or vegetable shortening

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 2 cups chicken stock

  • 2 packets Sazon

Chicken Tinga Filling

  • 10 lbs chicken thighs, skin and bone-in

  • 1 large bay leaf or 2 small

  • 2 tablespoons sea salt

  • 1 onion, halved

  • 1 1/2 large onions, thinly sliced

  • 2 cloves garlic, whole

  • 3-4 cloves garlic, finely diced

  • 1 can chipotle in adobo

  • 4 chipotles de-seeded, chopped

  • 4 tablespoons adobo

  • 6-8 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely diced

  • 1-2 teaspoons oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 2 cups chicken stock

  • Oil

  • Sea salt to taste

Preparation, Masa

  1. In a bowl or mixer, whip lard until fluffy.

  2. In another bowl, whisk corn meal, sazon and baking powder. Slowly add chicken stock until the dough feels like a loose peanut butter.

  3. Mix lard into wet dough. Blend well. Refrigerate for at least a half hour to stiffen the dough, assisting in better formation in corn husk.

Preparation, Chicken Tinga Filling

  1. Skin chicken thighs. Place chicken,  bone-in, in pot, fill with water to cover. Add 2 tablespoons salt, 1 onion, 2 cloves, and bay leaf to pot. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for an hour. 

  2. Remove chicken and reserve chicken stock.

  3. Once cool, de-bone, and shred chicken. Put aside.

  4. Peel and de-seed tomatoes. Finely dice.

  5. Take 3-4 chipotle from can, de-seed, and finely chop.

  6. In a large pan, cook tomato, chipotle plus adobo, oregano, black pepper, and 1-2 cups chicken broth until fragrant. Place in blender and puree.

  7. In the same pan, add oil and saute sliced onion. Once translucent, add chipotle sauce. Reduce sauce for about 5 minutes. 

  8. Add shredded chicken and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add salt to taste. 

Assembling the tamales

(Best done in a pictorial demonstration!)

  1. Clean corn husks and soak in hot water for at least 1/2 hour before use.

  2. You can use a regular pot with a vegetable steamer at the bottom or you can use a pot with inserts made for tamal steaming. You do not want the tamales to touch the water. Make sure they are standing up, any gap can be filled with crumbled up tin foil or plastic bags to keep them fro falling, and cover the top with extra corn husks or plastic bags to assist in trapping the steam inside the pot. Cover.

  3. Steam the tamales for 1-2 hours. Make sure the pot does not run out of water. I place a penny at the bottom of the pot. If I stop hearing the penny jingling, then I know I need to add water.

  4. This can be served with salsa criolla (thinly sliced red onion, lime juice, cilantro and salt) as shown in the finished photo. Buen provecho, amig@s!

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