A Tamale Tradition

Get wrapped up in some Latin fun!

A Tamale Tradition

For as long as I can remember, my family has made tamale’s every year. It’s a tradition in our family that I still do today. OK, my mom makes them and I eat them. The embarrassing part is that I still do not know how to make these tasty treats. Every year I tell my mom I want to do all the preparation and this is going to be the year I commit! So I planned an awesome Hot Tamale Fiesta right in my kitchen. Mom was of course the head chef and her students were ready to get wrapped up in tradition and fun.

So if you’re a fan of tamales, this may be your opportunity to try these out with family or a few friends. Go out and find all those savory ingredients and get the party started!

Latin Flair

This is a party where you’re gonna get messy, so if you’re putting on an apron, why not be a Latin Diva with this Virgin the Guadalupe apron I made.

This is an apron I made with a festive material for my Dia de los Muertos party.

What’s inside?


My mother is a cook that uses pinches of this and handfuls of that, so I kept a close eye on everything she did so I could share it with all you tamale fans. This masa (corn flour, masa harina) recipe calls for 1 bag of maseca,(4.4 lbs), 5 tablespoons of salt, 4 tablespoons arrina de roz (rice flour), and 3 tablespoons baking powder. Mix well and add 2 1/2. lbs manteca (lard) and 14 cups broth (the broth from your cooked meat, this is where all that flavor is).

My mother says it’s easier to work with liquids so she heats the broth to a warm temperature¬† and melts the manteca partially. Remember you don’t want it too hot because you’re going to be mixing with your ‘clean’ hands.

Pour in 1/2 of the manteca and mix with your hand. Add the rest and continue to mix. Now add the broth a little at a time and mix and mix and mix and mix…until you think your hand is going to fall off!

My mother knows the masa is ready by simply watching the masa fall off her hand (it looks like a thick smooth pancake batter). Well, with practice I will probably get the idea, but until then I’m using a glass of cold water and a small ball of masa. If the masa floats to the top, it’s ready!

Now, if you’re thinking this is just too much work, fear not, you can buy masa already prepared! Ask your local Latin market if they sell masa preparada for tamales. Most Latin markets do during the Christmas season.


I finally got a lesson on making chili sauce from scratch and it wasn’t as difficult as I made it out to be. Remember to wear gloves unless you can stand the heat and burning fire from the chili’s and DO NOT rub your eyes. I did once as a child even after my mother told me not to and it scarred me for life, not literally but emotionally!

2  3 oz. bags California chili pods

1 small onion quartered

4 – 5 garlic cloves

Enough broth to cover ingredients in pot.

Salt to taste

Open up each chili and clean out the seeds, vein, and steam. Next, toast your chili’s in hot oil turning once and be careful not to burn. Place in a pot and add garlic and onion. Add just enough broth to cover your ingredients. Cook on medium heat until soft. Finally blend your chili and there you have it. You’re ready to add it to your cooked meat. Cook your choice of meat… beef, chicken, pork and shred. About 3 – 4 lbs. of shredded meat. (Sorry… if this were a cooking website I would be a little more accurate but from what I saw, it was a whole pot of shredded meat, oh, and the more meat the meatier your tamales can be!) Keep the broth to make the masa. Once your meat is ready and shredded, pour in your chili sauce.

If you’re not in the mood for making chili from scratch, usea 6 lb. 10 oz. can of Red Chile Sauce (make sure not to confuse with enchilada sauce) or 4 28 oz. cans and it comes out great.


These ojas are always such a big challenge for me. I can never spread the masa and wrap them up the way my mother does so easily, but I’m learning and will master it someday!Make sure to soak them for at least 15 – 20 minutes until soft. Give it a try and don’t give up.Spread with a large spoon and not too thick. Only spread masa on the lower part of the oja so you can fold it after filled. Place a spoonful of meat on a corner and fold till wrapped. Take your pointed edge and fold up. Make sure to stand your tamales up so your filling doesn’t fall out. This may be the best part besides eating them. It’s just spread, fill, and wrap a thousand times…ok, not so many, but this batch makes about 9 dozen tamales, that’s a total of 108!!!! You can have dinner planned for the whole month, or all your tamale makers can take home with handfuls by the dozen! You can buy ojas at your local Latin store that are already cleaned and stacked. Oh and how many ojas do you need? Well, we just buy a whole stack full. If you don’t use them all, you can save for another time.


You’re almost there. In a large pot, place in a metal steamer and fill with water until it reaches the rim of the steamer. Put your tamales in open side up so all your filling doesn’t fall out. Cover with a damp cloth and put on your lid. Cook on low for a few hours, maybe 3 hours, just depends on how many you’re cooking. My mother always makes a plain tamal with just masa so it can be her tester to see if the tamales are ready. When the masa falls easily off the oja, it’s eating time!

Yeah! I finally made tamales and feel confident I can make them again next year! I’m in over my head full of tamales. We made a total of 192…16 dozen!!! I think I’ll survive ’till next Christmas.

Fun Fiesta Table

I have quite the collection of Mexican artifacts and decorations. Thanks to my mother and my dance group Ballet Solana, I have plenty of props and accessories to choose from when decorating for a fiesta.

Center Piece

I love the muralist Diego Rivera’s art work. This art piece is one that inspired my centerpiece.

Can you see the similarities?

Place Setting

Though we were ready to get wrapped up in making tamales, I still decided to have a little fun at the table so when we took a break we could enjoy the moment.

I used papel picado as place mats. Where do you find these? My aunt was at a Mexican restaurant in California and saw these hanging throughout the room. She asked the manager if she could purchase them and though he didn’t have any on hand he was nice enough to order a whole bunch for her. Score for me!

Chair Covers

This is one of my favorite ideas. Turn those ordinary chairs into a burst of fun with bright colorful revosos or shawls.

Ay Caramba…more food!

Making tamales can be lot’s of work and definitely time consuming, so in order to keep us focused I provided a few appetizers to refuel and get the job done.

I decided on a few authentic Mexican meals and found some fun ways to turn them into bite size appetizers.

Mini Tostadas

I made the tostadas by cutting mini circles from a corn tortilla. I fried them in oil and topped with beans, meat, cheese and salsa.

Enchiladas on a stick

We love enchiladas so I decided to make a regular size dish however instead of rolling the enchiladas I layered the tortillas in a baking dish. Remember to fry your tortillas for about 1 – 2 minutes on each side in hot oil, then soak in enchilada sauce before filling with cheese and placing in your baking dish. When they were ready and slightly cooled, I cut into bite size squares, topped with a dollop of sour cream and an olive, all held together with a toothpick.


Taquitos are a perfect choice for an appetizer. Just cut in half and serve with guacamole.

Chips and Salsa

You can never go wrong with a bowl of homemade chips and Salsa Fresca.

6 Roma tomatoes

1 small onion

1 bunch of fresh cilantro

1 – 2 Serrano peppers

garlic salt


1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp. cumin

Mix all together and refrigerate.

I guess I’m like my mother when it comes to making this recipe. I did my best to figure out exactly what portions I used. But remember it’s all to your taste.


These are one of my favorite Mexican treats. Light as a feather fried dough, with cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top. Instead of a full circle, try cutting into quarters for a mini bite size treat.

Pan Dulce

Your local Latin markets may have a bakery where you can get fresh Pan Dulce (Sweet Bread).

Mini Mango Muffins

Mango is one of my favorite fruits, so with that in mind, I put together some mini mango cupcakes, topped with whipped cream and bits of mango chunks.




Jarritos seem to be in most super markets in the Latin food isle. Next time you’re in, stop by the Latin isle and try a few out, from a mango flavor to pineapple.


This drink doesn’t have wide appeal, but I think it’s Oh, so good! This thick Mexican Hot Chocolate drink is traditionally served with tamales in Mexico. It kinda reminds me of Cream of Wheat with a ‘chocolaty’ taste. I’m actually the only one at home that favors this drink, so when I do make a pot, it’s all for me to enjoy!

Just in case you want to try it out, here’s a recipe that I use to warm up on a cold day!

1/3 cup masa harina mix

4 cups water

2 cups milk

1 – 2 tablets mexican chocolate (All depends on how ‘chocolatey’ you like it)

1 cinnamon stick

4 tablespoons piloncillo or brown sugar (add more if you like it sweeter)

1 tsp. vanilla

In a medium pot, pour in your milk and water. Add your masa harina and dissolve by stirring over a medium heat. Stir continuously until the masa reaches the consistency of heavy cream. Add the remaining ingredients until all is dissolved. This is where you get to taste and add for sweetness. You can also thin you champurrado with warm milk if desired.

Spice it up!

Last year I decorated a Christmas tree for my dancers. I teach Mexican folk dance (Folklorico) and love it! Again, I used what I already had on hand and I fell in love with this tree. So I decided to make this a tradition and have a little Latin Christmas tree every year. I used my dancers performance accessories as well as some ribbon and lace. Their earrings became ornaments and their necklaces became garland.

We’re hoping your next tamale party is hot and spicy!

Happy Tamale Making!


One thought on “A Tamale Tradition

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  1. Hi, I laughed until tears were running down my face at your post. I’ m of Irish descent. My (Hispanic) husband and I were married 60 years ago. I learned how to cook Mexican food (Sonora style) from my dearly beloved mom-in-law. She was a sweetheart. Your story reminded me so much of my own family: 3 sons & 2 daughters. My oldest daughter is an attorney and my youngest son is a Catholic priest. Tomorrow, the crowd is coming over to make tamales! Today, I precooked the pork and the chicken. Every year we(my husband & I) set up the snacks, beer & wine for the tamale making. It’s great fun but…… my offspring don’t have a clue about how to do it.

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