Friday, December 21

Mayan food / Tamales

Although Mayan calendar didn’t survive today’s day, we did!

Mayan culture and life will for long, obviously, remain mystery.

Mayan calendar that confuzed the world

But let’s try to unveil at least some parts from their life, for instance food. Their cooking strongly influenced modern Mexican kitchen.

I recently found couple of articles about a cooking of the ancient people of South and Central America, before Spanish arrival and influence.

The diet of the ancient Maya was, like Mexican, based on maize (corn), beans, chile peppers and squash. The Maya also raised bees for honey, and harvested eggs from turkeys and iguanas and other local wild animals. It was simple cooking, as imagined at that time, but one authentic specialty survived until these days: tamales.

Tamales are little filled masa dough pockets wrapped with corn leafs. The symbolism of "burying" the tamale in a pit and then "resurrecting" it corresponds with the ancient Maya idea of burying the dead before their transition into the afterlife.

Tamales in ancient Maya times were made with fresh corn or corn hominy, ground into thick dough called masa. The masa in this recipe is made from a combination of fresh corn and masa harina. Masa harina is a dry cornmeal that has been prepared with lime or wood-ash lye water to balance the corn's amino acids. The fresh corn found in today's supermarkets is much higher in sugar -- 2 - 4 times higher than traditional corn.

Other South American countries also have their own tamales recipes. Brazil has little a one called Pamonhas.

Pibikutz (Turkey tamale)

These tamales are traditionally prepared during the festival of Hanal Pixan, which has since become Day of the Dead in the Maya area.

4 cups turkey broth
6 2/3 cups corn masa harina
1/3 cups solid turkey fat
6 2/3 cups shredded cooked turkey
1 tsp. achiote
Salt, to taste
1 cup tomato
1 large onion
2 sprigs of epazote (parsley is a close substitute)
(optional) habanero chile, to taste
corn husks for wrapping

Boil the broth with ½ tsp achiote, a dash of salt, and a little bit of the masa harina for thickening..

Mix the corn masa with the turkey fat, salt, and achiote to make a dough. This forms the filling that will cover the shredded turkey meat. Put some of this corn dough on top of a corn husk. Make a hollow in the dough. Layer this hollow with the turkey and bathe with the broth, alternating with onion, tomato, chile, and epazote. Finally, put a covering of corn dough on top.

Wrap everything with corn husks, and then bake for an hour and a half at 375 degrees. Or, for the traditional method, bury the pibikutz in a firewood and rock pit, and let cook for 8 hours.


More modern tamales from today’s kitchen:

Chicken tamales


1 8-ounce package dried corn husks
1 lb (1/2 kg) tomatillos, husked, rinsed
4 serrano chiles, stemmed, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken (about 1 pound)
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 1/3 cups lard or solid vegetable shortening or butter
1 1/2 tsp salt (omit if masa mixture contains salt)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder (omit if masa mixture contains baking powder)
4 cups freshly ground masa dough for tamales (34 to 36 ounces), or make masa dough with 31/2 cups masa harina (corn tortilla mix; about 17 ounces) mixed with 2 1/4 cups warm water
2 cups (about) low-salt chicken broth

For filling:
Place husks in large pot or large bowl; add water to cover. Let stand until husks soften, turning occasionally, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Preheat broiler. Line heavy baking sheet with foil. Arrange tomatillos on prepared sheet. Broil until tomatillos blacken in spots, turning once, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer tomatillos and any juices on sheet to processor and cool. Add chiles and garlic to processor and blend until smooth puree forms. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add tomatillo puree and boil 5 minutes, stirring often. Add broth. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until sauce is reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Season with salt. Mix in chicken and cilantro. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

For dough:
Using electric mixer, beat lard (with salt and baking powder, if using) in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in fresh masa or masa harina mixture in 4 additions. Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups broth, forming tender dough. If dough seems firm, beat in enough broth, 2 tablespoons at a time, to soften.

Fill bottom of pot with steamer insert with enough water (about 2 inches) to reach bottom of insert. Line bottom of insert with some softened corn husks. Tear 3 large husks into 1/4-inch-wide strips to use as ties and set aside. Open 2 large husks on work surface. Spread 1/4 cup dough in 4-inch square in center of each, leaving 2- to 3-inch plain border at narrow end of husk. Spoon one spoon of filling in strip down center of each dough square. Fold long sides of husk and dough over filling to cover. Fold up narrow end of husk. Tie folded portion with strip of husk to secure, leaving wide end of tamale open. Stand tamales in steamer basket. Repeat with more husks, dough, and filling until all filling has been used. If necessary to keep tamales upright in steamer, insert pieces of crumpled foil between them.

Bring water in pot to boil. Cover pot and steam tamales until dough is firm to touch and separates easily from husk, adding more water to pot as necessary, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool 1 hour. Cover and chill. Before serving, re-steam tamales until hot, about 35 minutes.)

Mushroom tamales

36 large dried corn husks (3 oz), separated and any damaged husks discarded
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms (1/2 cup)
2 1/2 cups very hot water
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 small onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 lb mixed fresh mushrooms such as shiitake caps, white button, and cremini, coarsely chopped (4 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon dried epazote (optional), crumbled
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups fine-ground masa harina (dry corn masa; 9 1/4 oz)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar

Special equipment: a large pasta pot with a perforated steamer/colander insert or a deep pot and a large collapsible vegetable steamer

Cover husks with hot water by 2 inches in a large bowl and soak, kept submerged with an inverted plate, turning husks occasionally, until soft, about 30 minutes. Rinse husks, 1 at a time, under running water. Pile 24 of largest husks on a plate and cover with a dampened kitchen towel. Tear some of remaining husks lengthwise into 24 (1/2-inch-wide) strips to use as ties (keep damp as well).

Cover porcini with 1 cup very hot water in a small bowl and soak 30 minutes. Lift out porcini, squeezing liquid back into bowl (reserve liquid), then rinse mushrooms to remove any grit. Coarsely chop porcini. Pour soaking liquid through a paper-towel-lined sieve into a glass measure and reserve.

Heat 1/2 stick butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion and garlic, stirring, 1 minute. Add mushrooms (including porcini) and epazote (if using) and sauté, stirring occasionally, until liquid is released, about 3 minutes.

Add porcini soaking liquid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid is evaporated and mushrooms are slightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes, then sprinkle with pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Beat remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Sift masa harina with baking powder, sugar, and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt into a bowl. Stir in 1 1/2 cups very hot water until a thick paste forms.

Beat masa mixture into butter in 3 batches, beating until smooth after each addition. Reduce speed to low and mix in mushroom mixture until just combined.

Put 1 husk on a work surface, pointed end closest to you, and, spreading it flat, mound 3 tablespoons filling in center and flatten slightly into a rough oval (about 1/2 inch thick) with back of a spoon, leaving a 1-inch border on both sides. Bring pointed end of husk up over mound of filling to cover, and fold sides of husk over filling to enclose. Gather together open end of husk at top of filling, creating a flat pouch, and tie with a corn-husk strip. Assemble 23 more tamales in same manner.

Arrange tamales upright in 1 layer in steamer insert so they resemble falling dominoes in rows. Set steamer over boiling water in pot and cover with a folded kitchen towel (towel absorbs condensation so tamales don't get soggy). Steam tamales, tightly covered with a lid, adding more water as necessary, until filling is tender, about 30 minutes. To check for doneness, open 1 steamed tamale and if any part of filling is still gummy, steam 5 to 10 minutes more.


Brazilian Coconut Pamonha (Tamale)


Tamales are made from a type of dry corn flour called masa harina, which is mixed with liquid to create the dough used to make them. In Brazil, fresh corn is grated and juiced to make pamonha dough. Mexican tamales are wrapped in dried corn husks and then steamed to cook them, while pamonhas are generally wrapped in fresh corn husks and cooked directly in boiling water rather than being steamed.


1 can condensed milk
3 eggs
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 cup yellow corn flour
1/2 cup oil
1 drained can corn
1 heaped tsp baking powder

For the bundt cake : Preheat oven to 375ºF/190ºC
Beat everything together in a food processor (adding the baking powder last)
You can make it in a bundt cake pan, it takes about 45 minutes to bake and using a round or squared cake pan takes about 35 minutes.
Regular cooking is done in boiling water. It takes around one hour!


Oren Board said...

wow this is helpful

Zexxy's wife said...

Thanks Oren, I'm glad you liked it.
I like your cat, so cute and happy!