¡Hot Tamale!

August 29, 2013

Tamales are an easy dinner and so delicious!

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Pretty tamales from Fake Food Free, which features the delicious-sounding Jerk Style Country Ham and Pineapple Tamale recipe from Ham: An Obsession with the Hind Quarter.

Does your mouth water the minute you hear the word taco? Do you find yourself hunting down street fairs just to buy an arepa?* Does the word “masa” instill your heart with hope and your kitchen with potential? Do you go to Trader Joe’s just to buy tamales?**

I do. Guys, I really, really do. I go to Trader Joe’s to buy steamed pork buns I can microwave. I go to Trader Joe’s to buy lentils ready-to-eat in the produce section. I go for their chocolate covered mango coconut bites (which should be illegal), habanero lime tortillas, and cut-rate Port Salud cheese. But mostly, I go for their tamales. Delicious, magical, hot tamales.

Tamales, for the uninitiated, are like extremely delicious hot pockets made with masa flour or cornmeal. Now everyone who has ever eaten a tamale forgive me for the dumbed-down description, because a tamale is so much more than that. It’s a vehicle for consuming delicious foods in a yummy wrapper. It’s a reason to sit down to dinner. It’s an invitation to love food.

Tamales date back to at least 5,000 B.C. As the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas took to the battlefield, they brought with them a number of women whose portable kitchens kept the warriors as well-fed as possible. Soon, everyone realized that while stew is delicious, it’s not exactly portable. Enter: the tamale. No one is sure exactly who first invented it, but what everyone knows is that as soon as there was the first tamale, everyone wanted one. Tamales came in all shapes and sizes, and every flavor possible. There were spicy meat tamales, sweet corn tamales. There were banana tamales and chocolate tamales, bean and cheese tamales, tamales with peppers. There were even tamales made with squash blossoms. I’m drooling.

And while tamales are native to South America, they have become standard fare in America. In the Mississippi delta, tamales are their own food group. Julia Reed, one of my favorite writers in general and devoted foodie, frequently waxes poetic about the tamales you can get in her native Greenville, Mississippi. Doe’s Eat Place, which was recently proclaimed an “American Classic” by the James Beard Association, sells them by the half dozen and, in Delta fashion, serves them boiled (not steamed) so that they become juicy, tender, and incredibly addictive.

Bought from a fancy restaurant, a street vendor, or even in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s, tamales are always addictive. I like mine with cheddar, beans, and chicken. Bill likes his made with sweet corn and filled with sweet peppers and cheese. What we both would like, without question, is more.

Tell me, y’all: Do you like tamales as much as we do? Have you ever tried making them? What’s the one food you just can’t get enough of?

* The arepa may be the world’s most perfect food. There is not a day where I don’t crave it. Intensely.
** Is it even possible to say exactly what we go to Trader Joe’s for? In fact, what don’t we go to Trader Joe’s for?

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tasha August 29, 2013 at 10:59 am

Oh my I’m hungry!!! The small city in which I live has no shortage of hot tamales! Our community provides so many delish options right around my corner. One special place sells until sold out and my husband often surprises me on Saturdays or Sundays as this is the only time to get the tamales. I’ve been craving them for two weeks now! No better guacamole and chips anywhere. We also have a taco truck that has been featured on t.v. and it serves some of the most fresh selections:)
I am a pizzaholic, however…never tire of trying to find the best!


2 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 11:03 am

Delicious! What kind of tamales do you like to get? I can’t tell a lie… I like all of them! Although I did read about a kind of bee tamale the Mayans used to make. I don’t really want that one so much.


3 Tasha August 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Ick! LOL – I actually just enjoy plain or chicken and add no sauce, which in my family is a BIG thing…hot sauces invade my shelves!


4 Anna August 30, 2013 at 7:47 pm

It’s getting to be that time of year for me to start making more tamales. I have been making and selling them for 4 years and have had alot of compliments and getting more customers. I make the traditional port, spicy and mild; chicken, spicy and mild; pinto bean, spicy and mild and last year had a request for vegetarian tamales. They were a great hit even with my non veggie eating son.


5 Summer August 29, 2013 at 11:17 am

Love tamales! It’s always funny to me when I meet a person that’s never had one. It’s a big tradition in Mexican (and I’m sure other) families to make tamales for Christmas. A huge group of women get together and turn them out – it’s impressive (and delicious).

My friend and I made them once, and you know, it really wasn’t that hard – It’s just time consuming (the prep work – the stuffing/cooking is pretty easy)!


6 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 11:18 am

I’ve never made them. I’m going to have to try. Weekend project!


7 Lisette Wolter-McKinley August 29, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I have always wanted to try making tamales, but I have yet to do so. Would love to see a tutorial here.


8 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Ooooh, what a brilliant idea Lisette!


9 Susan August 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I did a tamale making session with my 7yr old’s class in England. As they had been studying Mexico their last term, I jumped at the chance to make some Mexican food (it is the food that I miss most from the U.S.). The kids loved making and eating them. Funny thing was, not a single parent or teacher had ever heard of tamales! I think I need to start a tamale truck here!


10 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm

a tamale truck would be the coolest thing ever.


11 Mandi August 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Now you’ve got me craving arepas! Thanks a lot. I spent some time with Latinos from all over when I lived in Florida and I loved being in the kitchen with them as they showed me their traditional foods. I love tamales but arepas, especially the thick Venezuelan kind, are my favorite.


12 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm

arepas must be what they serve in heaven. i see no other explanation for them.


13 Hot Tamale August 29, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I’ve never had Trader Joe’s tamales, but those Habanero Lime Tortillas are addictive.

Rushed in the am? Want something delicious while you brave my nemesis (yup, I95 in the eastern corridor) to stave-off hunger as you race to a 8am client conference? Habanero Lime Tortillas!

No time to leave the office for lunch, a delicious cheese nuked in, yup you got it, Habanero Lime Tortillas.

Anytime munchie attack? Toasted Habanero Lime Torillas with a good salsa.

And now all this talk about tamales. I think I’m a convert; so long Habanero Lime Tortillas. My head’s been turned by the promise of a tamale’s deliciousness.



14 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Those tortillas are really delicious!


15 Robin August 29, 2013 at 1:29 pm

The only reason I could read this without going crazy with desire is that I am currently eating a huarache al pastor. My beloved worked near one of our favorite Mexican places today and brought home the luscious loot. He’s a keeper!
We have a friend who road-trips to New Mexico for chilis and roasts them in the back yard over a fire, then makes tamales from them. They are the best I have ever had. The masa is perfect. I crave those.


16 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 1:43 pm

This made me so hungry.


17 Jules August 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm

We are getting a Trader Joe’s in Austin on September 20. My friends and I are counting the days. I’ve been making a list of favorite TJ products from blogs and will definitely add these to the list. Thanks!


18 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Oh my goodness. Their frozen food (speaking as a new mom who relies embarrassingly much on frozen lunch) is delicious. The bibimbap bowl? YUM.


19 Sally August 29, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Help me out here. A friend from Guatemala once made us tamales at Christmas time-sent us home with a bag of them. So sweet of her. We had never had them before. They were wrapped in corn husks(?). We didn’t know if we were supposed to eat the corn husks or not and we didn’t want to hurt our friends feelings by asking how to eat them. So of course we tried to eat them with the husks on which we found a bit too fibrous. Help me out here. Are they cooked in the husks and then removed for consumption? So glad I can finally ask this question anonymously.


20 Robin August 29, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Yes, they are cooked(usually steamed) in the husk to keep them together and moist, then you peel them of to eat. I can only imagine home-made Guatemalan tamales!! Yum!


21 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 7:20 pm

You could ask that question with your full name and address and I’d still think you’re great. We should all be asking questions whenever we can! There’s so many tasty things we’d miss out on if we didn’t ask. : )


22 Christina August 29, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I’ve actually had some of those Mississippi tamales and while pregnant (and living in another state) I was very tempted to jump in the car and drive until I had some in front of me! Last Christmas, on a whim, my mom and I made our own and it made for good food and a few good laughs! She’s ready to make more next Christmas.


23 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I think we need to start this tradition as well. Christmas always warrants delicious food, and I think this could be the best tradition ever.


24 susan August 29, 2013 at 4:01 pm

You live in NC, right? If you find yourself in Raleigh, you’ll want to eat at Guasaca, home of some A-mazing arepas! I had never had them before and I think my family ate there three times in quick succession after our introduction.


25 salley August 30, 2013 at 7:57 am

Yes to this! Guasaca is amazing!


26 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 31, 2013 at 6:21 am

okay okay. guasaca. never been there BUT we do have to drive through raleigh (well, close-ish) whenever we go to my mother’s… so now we can go and STOCK UP ON AREPAS! “don’t mind me, mama, but do you have room for these forty arepas in your freezer? oh nevermind, im going to eat them all ALL RIGHT NOW!” yum yum yum. thanks for the tip, y’all!


27 Colleen August 29, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I love homemade tamales! Don’t get too grossed out here, but from time to time I actually buy the canned variety. My dad got me hooked on them as a kid. I’ll have to try the Trader Joe’s kind!


28 Tiffany August 29, 2013 at 9:54 pm

LOVE tamales!!!! When we do “Mexican” (that whole term in reference to restaurants kind of makes me laugh……) I ALWAYS get a tamale if they are made fresh. I cannot resist. It is in my top 10 I think. My great grandmother, Grandma Concha, was from Mexico City. Although I don’t remember any but one occasion, my extended family made tamales with her relatively often. I remember the ONE occasion. It was at my house as a young child. Maybe 8. Oh the POTS!!! HUGE!!!!! And my Aunt Joanie, since I was very young makes sweet corn tamales generally on an annual basis. YUM!

Two years ago I stumbled across Gma’s tamale recipe and developed this insatiable desire to try it. I read up on the history (learned that a gathering where tamales are made is generally called a “Tamalada”) and decided to throw a Tamalada myself. It was a TON of work and we didn’t have enough helpers so it took ALL day. But OH! It.Was. Worth. It! All those tamales in my freezer made me so happy!

So, one of the reasons I wanted to try the recipe was to see if I could condense it down to a “12 Tamale” recipe instead of 200 tamales! (maybe that’s exaggerating a little. I don’t know. I never counted. I just know that my sister, my neighbor and I all had freezers FULL).

I have it all measured and calculated but haven’t tried the small version yet…….maybe you’ve inspired me!


29 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 30, 2013 at 6:38 am

This made my day. (It’s only eight thirty here, but whatever. Day has been MADE.) I want to have a tamalada too! I think this may be our new Christmas tradition… the Duttweiler Tamalada! Now I need to figure out how to make 12. Or maybe 200… because I think I’d kill all but 12 myself. (One day I’m going to be ten thousand pounds and you’re all going to nod and say yep, that was bound to happen. And I’ll say but! I’m so full and happy!!!) Mmm tamales.


30 Tiffany August 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Raleigh-Elizabeth- email me and I’ll send you both the large AND the condensed if you would like (but not guaranteeing the condensed since I haven’t tried it yet). I’m a “yahoo” girl named singinggoldielocks.

And as far as eating them after freezing…………..I just steam them in my handy dandy steamer/rice cooker……………


31 Summer August 30, 2013 at 10:57 am

Hahaha, it felt like we had 200 tamales too! Supposedly it’s because there’s so much work/prep involved that when women made them, they MADE them. No use in doing all that work for just a few. But I agree….even just, say, 36 would be nice. ;)


32 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 30, 2013 at 6:40 am

Hey y’all! If you’ve made tamales before and FROZEN them, how did you go about defrosting and serving? (This may be my new freezer/new baby/condolences/hey I like you here’s some food food!)


33 Summer August 30, 2013 at 10:57 am

I seriously just microwaved them. *Shrugs shoulders* In the husk and all.


34 Modfrugal September 2, 2013 at 7:53 am

If you don’t have a microwave re-steaming them is a great way to heat them as well. My rice cooker has a steamer and I also have one of those folding flower petal style steamers that fit in the bottom of a pan.


35 Sarah August 30, 2013 at 7:27 am

I really enjoyed this article! I am from Guanajuato Mexico, but grew up in the Bay Area. Tamales are so interesting and yes very laborsome! BUT, when my mother used to make them, we used to get together with my aunts and cousins and have a tamale party! My family does not use lard to make the maza soft, but instead, my mother uses vegetable oil and the chicken stock. A tamale specific to our region is Tamal de Cacahuate. The maza is prepared with purple maiz, then mixed with a red sauce, then on a large stone, the maza is layed out, then a layer of a peanut butter, then another layer of queso fresco. Then the entire thing is rolled into a large roll and then cut into pieces. The pieces are then stuffed onto the corn husks and they are put into a large steamer. Absolutely delicious!


36 Kristen E August 30, 2013 at 10:11 am

Oh my. Tamales are pretty much the most perfect food. I went to a baby shower at a tamal shop in Ann Arbor, MI a few months ago and seriously, BEST TAMALES EVER. Also, best baby shower I’ve ever been to! I’d love to learn how to make them someday. We don’t have a Trader Joe’s where I live (*SOB!*), and I haven’t found any really good tamales here either. I am bereft of tamales and it’s a horribly sad thing.


37 Tasha August 30, 2013 at 10:44 am

I want to give “props” to my Hudson Valley taco truck which
chef Anthony Bourdain visited while here and raved about – it’s Ixtapa in Newburgh, NY in case you’re wondering…


38 Willa September 4, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Tell Gabby that in Oakland (right close to the Berkeley border) some of the best tamales are supposedly found at Tamales Unicos de Cuernavaca. Here’s their yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/tamales-unicos-de-cuernavaca-oakland There’s more on the menu besides tamales but bear in mind, there’s no seating.

I’m kicking myself that I never made it there before leaving the area!


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