Guatemalan-style Tamales

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This recipe was found in the "Cooking Light" magazine. If you enjoy tomatillos, you will enjoy this.


  • 4 pounds of banana leaves (they are also available in pre-cut packages, usually frozen.)


Masa batter


Banana leaves

  1. Unfold the banana leaves and cut off the long hard sides and ends of the leaves.
  2. Check for holes and cut leaves into unbroken 12-inch segments (you will need about 36).
  3. Steam the segments for 20 minutes to make them soft and pliable.


  1. In a large pot, combine tomatoes, ½ pound of the bell peppers and 1 cup of water and salt.
  2. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered for 30 minutes, until tomatoes break apart.
  3. While tomatoes simmer, toast chiles, squash seeds and cinnamon stick in a nonstick pan for approximately 5 minutes until the chiles and seeds release their aroma.
  4. Be careful not to burn the seeds or chiles because they will make the sauce bitter.
  5. When fragrant, add sesame seeds and toast for another 5 minutes, until sesame seeds are fragrant.
  6. Add chile and seed mixture to the tomatoes.
  7. In batches, puree mixture in a blender or food processor adding water if necessary to blend into a smooth puree.
  8. Strain the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer back into pot.
  9. Bring to a simmer and add lard.
  10. Taste for salt and add if necessary.


  1. In another pot, combine masa and water, beating until water is incorporated.
  2. Add lard and bring mixture to a boil.
  3. Taste for salt and add if necessary.
  4. The mixture should have the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter.

Tamale Assembly

  1. Cut 36 12-inch pieces of butcher string or thin strips of banana leaves.
  2. Lay out a square banana leaf, shiny side up, and spread about ⅓ cup of the masa into an 8x4-inch rectangle over it toward the right edge of the leaf.
  3. An ice cream scoop is a great tool for this.
  4. Spoon 3 tablespoons of the sauce onto the masa.
  5. Place 1 cube of pork, 2 olives, 2 capers, and several strands of bell pepper into a decorative pattern on the left half of the masa.
  6. Fold over the right edge of the banana leaf, enclosing the filling in the masa.
  7. Fold over the left edge, and then the top and bottom, creating a tight square package.
  8. Loosely tie the tamales with string.
  9. Once all tamales are assembled arrange them in layers in a large pot with about 4-6 inches of water at the bottom.
  10. Bring to a boil and steam, covered, over a constant medium heat for about 1¼ hours.
  11. Watch carefully to make sure that all the water doesn't boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary.
  12. Tamales are done when the leaves peel away from the masa easily.
  13. Let the tamales stand for several minutes off the heat when done so they firm up.


The most important ingredient in the tamale process is the masa preparation. It's truly essential. fresh masa is either sold prepared or unprepared. Prepared masa has been mixed with lard and salt is heavier and greasy.