Costarrican Tamales


As Christmas approaches, many of our Costarrican friends are getting together with their families to prepare the traditional tamales, a dish popular in almost every Latin American country, sometimes adopting a local name.  Every country has a different recipe, and every family within a country has their own version of that recipe.  In Costa Rica it is customary to make tamales with several members of the family, as its preparation needs the help of many hands.  It is also a way to socialize and celebrate the Christmas spirit.  After tamales are ready, it is also traditional to exchange them between families, as a sort of reciprocity practice.  So when you visit friends in December, it is most likely that you will be invited to a tamales and coffee.  Someone gave us this recipe and we would like to share it with you:

• 2 ¼ lbs banana leaves
• 3 lbs pork, chicken or beef roast
• 5 cups cooked rice
• 2 ¼ lbs potatoes
• 2 lbs corn flour
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground achiote
• 1 bag of raisins or dried plumbs
• Salt
• Olive oil
• Garlic
• Pepper
• Onion
1. Chop the meat into medium chucks and brown. Season with garlic, peppers, onion, salt, cumin and black pepper. Cover with water and simmer for 2-3 hours. Then separate the meat from the broth and shred it. Set the broth aside.
2. Cook the rice. Boil the potatoes until soft and cut into cubes.
3. Add 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoon ground achiote to the dry corn flour and mix. Add vegetable oil and broth. Mix with hands to make a dough. This is called the “masa”.
4. Cut off the middle vein from leaves, briefly pass the remaining leaves over a flame to slightly smoke them. With your hands, cut the banana leaves into squares. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of masa in the center and fill with potatoes, rice, meat, 2-3 raisins, and any other extra ingredients that you choose.  For example you may add 1-2 olives, 4-5 capers, 1 prune, a tomato slice, black bean puree, to make a nice compliment.
5. Fold the banana leaves and tie with a natural fiber string called “pabilo” or with a cotton string.  Then tie the tamales in pairs into “piñas”, leaving the foldings of the leaves on the inside of the “piñas”.
6. Cook the tamales in gently boiling water for one hour.