In my travels, I have had savory meat tamales wrapped in corn husks spiked with ground chilies, large tamales wrapped in banana leaves, smothered in Oaxacan mole, sweet little dessert tamales with cinnamon and raisins inside, Costa Rican Christmas tamales with green and red bell peppers (void of anything “picante”) to celebrate the season, a Marin County white tablecloth version overlooking the San Francisco Bay, far too many poor renditions at various Mexican-American restaurants, and then there are Grandma’s.
Anything my Grandma’s hands have touched is beyond delicious.
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She is a real-life Tita from Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate…a must read for all Foodies) – she was born to cook.
They are certainly labor intensive, but oh, so rewarding.
A few tips: The key to good tamales is to spread the masa (dough) thinly on the husk.
I never get more disgusted than when I try tamales at a restaurant that are really just logs of steamed masa, with hardly any filling to speak of.
This process is called nixtamalization and was developed in Mesoamerica, and used to sustain Aztec and Mayan warriors.
Tamal filling varies widely depending on the region, and the creation comes wrapped in a corn husk or some type of leaf.