Thursday, May 19, 2011

Banana Leaf Wrapped Tamales

Roasted Poblano, Tomato, Red Pepper, Potato, and 
Fresh herb filled Tamales wrapped in Banana Leaf
Served with a Poblano Tomatillo Salsa and Caribbean Style Black Beans

I recently came home from living on the Nayarit coast of Pacific Mexico. 2 and 1/2 months of blissful recipe experimentation. I learned many new salsa techniques and my tamale making skills advanced greatly. Mexican flavors and regional ingredients combined with outright fruit and vegetable abundance placed me in 'foodie' heaven. This blog chronicles the making of savory tamales, however, I mostly made tamales 'dulces'. Sweet mango cheesecake tamales were a favorite creation. Banana leaf wrapped tamales filled with mexican chocolate and bananas with a brown sugar and mexican vanilla infused masa dough was another sweet creation. My lovely son and his father, Chef Ricardo, happily sold my tamales to tourists and locals alike. Little did they know, a red headed 'gringa' was the tamale maker!

Step by Step...
The first step is to locate a banana tree with young, pliable leaves. Bring a sharp knife and cut it off. This is me on my roof of my casita in Mexico. From my roof, I was able to reach the empty vacation rentals' banana trees next door!

Over a wood cutting board, cut the leaf off of center spine. Then, cut the large leaf into squares approx. 10x10 inches. Wash these leaf squares well.

Spread the masa into a rectangle shape.  Place filling on upper half of masa so the tamale rolls properly.

Everyone has their own style of rolling their tamales. The goal is to 'pocket' in the filling with the masa while wrapping it with the banana leaf. Roll leaf over and tuck in one side of leaf, then continue with the roll. Keep trying until you figure out your personal style of wrapping the tamale. It is more forgiving than it looks!

A steamer pot filled with fresh banana leaf wrapped tamales. What a glorious sight! Tamales can be placed in any style steamer pot. Do not put them over direct heat, steaming is the best way to cook them. In about 30-40 minutes, the tamales are ready to eat. Buen Provecho!

*1 kilo maseca (corn flour)
1 stick Butter
2t baking soda
2t apple cider vinegar
2T sea salt

*Maseca is corn flour and is found in the mexican section of grocery stores. It is different than polenta and cornmeal. 1 Kilo equals 2.2 lbs of maseca.

Melt butter in small saucepan. In large bowl, mix maseca, baking soda, and sea salt. Add melted butter and apple cider vinegar to maseca mixture and mix roughly with large spoon. The next step is a bit tricky to explain. Just enough water needs to be added and mixed in with the maseca mixture to make a slightly sticky, yet spreadable dough. The water amount to be added fluctuates based on weather, humidity levels, etc... The goal is   a dough that has the moistness of biscuit dough. Add water 1 pint at a time, incorporating it into the maseca mixture with hands little by little until the perfect feel is achieved. At first, this may seem daunting, but with time, the feel of masa dough will be more natural.

There are endless possibilities for Tamale fillings. This is the recipe for the filling I made for the Tamales shown. 

1 roasted poblano, seeded and skinned 
1/2 red pepper, diced
2 medium sized potatoes, steamed and diced
1 ripe roma tomato, diced
1/4 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2T fresh minced basil
1T each  fresh oregano and rosemary, minced
2T spanish olive oil

Place oil in saute pan over medium high heat. Add all other filling ingredients and saute together for 3-5 minutes, until onions are glossy and the smell of garlic permeates the air.

Roasted Poblano and Tomatillo Salsa
The Poblano chile is the chile of choice on the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. When roasted, a deep and rich flavor is unleashed that can be used in a variety of ways. Please see my earlier blog article 'The Joy of Cooking en Mexico' for complete roasting and preparation instructions for Poblano Chiles. This salsa combines the earthy flavor of roasted poblano with the fresh citrus zing of tomatillos. Recipe credit goes to Chef Ricardo Barrios of Sayulita, Mexico. He taught me this recipe and my gratitude shines his way for learning this salsa.

1 roasted poblano, seeded, and skinned
8 medium sized tomatillos
1 clove garlic
1 spring onion with greens
juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
dash of cumin
dash of sea salt

Begin by husking and cleaning tomatillos. Boil them for 4-5 minutes, just until their color changes slightly. Be careful not to overcook them. In the meantime, place all other ingredients in a blender. The spring onion, called 'cebollina' in mexico, is a very small onion, but bigger than the green onions we see in the United States. They can be found at Farmer's Markets or substituted with 2 green onions. The spring onion and garlic can be roasted slightly on a comal or iron skillet, but this step is optional. Place tomatillos and all other ingredients in blender and blend till incorporated.  Delicious over everything and anything!

Caribbean Style Black Beans
This recipe is best prepared with black beans that are cooked from scratch. Canned beans can be used, however, I don't like canned beans at all. They have a tinny flavor and are hard on the digestive system. I find canned beans gross, disgusting, and lacking life force. Making beans from scratch is easiest with a Crock pot, especially recommended for cooking beans at high altitude. With a little extra effort, and planning, fresh cooked beans are a welcome staple to a healthier lifestyle.

4 cups cooked black beans
1/2 yellow onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, diced
1 thumb sized hunk of ginger, minced
2t dried thyme or 2T fresh thyme
2T fresh basil, opt.
2T sea salt or more to taste
2t black pepper
juice of one orange
1T olive oil

In medium sized saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper and saute until onions turn glossy. Add beans and just enough water to cover beans. Add all other ingredients and let simmer for at least 30 minutes so flavors fully infuse. 



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Jessica- I hope to make and eat tamales with you again one day soon!