During the end of the season of Advent, the church always reads the Magnificat. The Magnificat is the song sung by Mary in celebration of what was happening to her. This song is not the stuff of sentimental Christmas carols, but instead, a political manifesto.
“The mighty ones will be brought down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up.”
It is an intense war cry, noting that the baby she was carrying would eventually turn the world upside down. She saw the hungry being fed and the poor being take care of. She was a poor, unmarried handmaiden herself, without citizenship in the empire. She knew what it was like to be marginalized. Yet, what God did in her forever changed the world. She went from the margins, to the center, as “her soul magnified the Lord.” She became, as the church eventually called her—“the Mother of God.” Her day of celebration falls in August, but we recommend remembering her in the Advent season as well.
We think tamales are a perfect way to remember Mary singing her special song. Tamales are one of the most famous indigenous foods to the Americas. Native tribes from Canada to Argentina had some kind of tamales, and these where used almost universally to celebrate major festivities. Today, tamales are a core part of the Christmas menu in many countries. Guatemala is famous for making all kinds of tamales for celebrations, including dessert tamales. Today, many of these counties find themselves impoverished and on the edge of empire. Mary’s song reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news to all the oppressed and hurting peoples of the world.
This meal also could be used to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. On this day, it was reported that the Blessed Virgin herself visited the native Aztec people of Mexico to offer her blessing saying, “Am I not here here? I who am your mother?” The basilica commemorating this event, and holding a cloth that bears her image, is the most visited Christian pilgrimage site in the world.
We have chosen a celebratory picadillo filling for our tamales. This filling includes beef and pork, sweetened with apples and raises, and seasoned with Christmas spices like cinnamon and allspice. This is a similar filling to the minced meat of European Christmas pie. We are also including simple recipes for two fresh salsas, one red and one green, to add some Christmas colors to your table.
Making tamales can be a bit time-consuming. Traditionally, a group of women will gather and make enough for several families to last a week or more. Tamales keep well and are easily reheated. The fellowship and community involved with making the tamales is part of the beauty of the dish.
Feasting on tamales places us in solidarity with the Blessed Virgin and with the suffering peoples of the world. This is a meal of hope knowing that when the kingdom comes, those with no current cause for celebration will be dancing in the streets. Mary knew that day was coming and she started singing, beginning that celebration.
Pictured Above: Traditional Our Lady of Guadalupe Candle, often available at the grocery store near items needed to make tamales.
Prep Time: 3 – 4 hours | Steaming Time: 35 – 40 minutes | Total time: 4 – 5 hours | Makes 15 – 20 Tamales
Ingredient, Equipment, and Timing Notes
Check out your local Mexican grocery store for needed ingredients and supplies, if your community has one. Ingredients such as the Corn Masa Flour, Lard, Tomatillos, and Dried Corn Husks were all abundant and available at my local Mexican grocer.
Because tamales need to be steamed, a steamer pot, or large part with steaming rack, is needed for this recipe. Additionally, to make the salsas using the provided recipes below, a food processor is helpful.
A good practice before cooking is to read through the recipe completely and plan out your timing. For this recipe note that the dried corn husks need to be soaked in warm water for at least 1 hour before use and that the tamale dough needs to be refrigerated for 1 hour. Also, the process of assembling the tamales can be time consuming, especially if it is your first time. Note that the dough and filling can both be made in advance and then assembled later. Or assembled tamales can be frozen before being cooked. The salsa can also be made in advance, but tastes best when fresh.
TAMALE DOUGH AND HUSK PREP
3 cups of Corn Masa Flour
2 cups of low-sodium Chicken Broth
8 oz Lard
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
2 teaspoons Salt
Additional 1 cup low-sodium Chicken Broth
20 – 25 dried Corn Husks
- Place at least 20 – 25 Dried Corn Husks (allowing yourself some extras to use as “ties” and in case you make mistakes) in warm water and let soak for at least 1 hour. Before using, remove from water and dry thoroughly.
- In a large bowl combine 3 cups of the Corn Masa Flour with 2 cups of the low-sodium Chicken Broth and mix (first with a spoon and then by hand) until thoroughly combined. Gather into a ball, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Using a mixer, combine the 8 oz Lard, 2 teaspoons Salt, and 2 teaspoons Baking Powder on medium-high speed for about 1 minute or until whipped.
- After the Corn Masa Flour/Chicken Broth mixture has rested for 15 minutes, begin adding one-fourth of the mixture at a time to the lard mixture, beating with a mixer until thoroughly incorporated.
- Slowly add 1 cup of low-sodium chicken broth to the mixture and continue mixing until the dough has a soft and spreadable texture.
- Cover the dough with plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- After refrigerating for 1 hour, remix the dough for an additional 30 seconds to return the dough to a soft and spreadable texture.
- The dough is now ready for tamale assembly.
TAMALE PICADILLO FILLING AND ASSEMBLY
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 lb Beef Sirloin, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 lb Pork Tenderloin, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 medium Onion, chopped
1 Garlic clove, finely chopped
1 (14 oz) can Diced Tomatoes, drained
1 tart Apple, chopped
1/4 cup chopped Green Bell Pepper
1/4 cup Golden Raisins
2 teaspoons Chili Powder
1 teaspoon ground Coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground Allspice
- In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons Olive Oil over medium-high heat until hot. Sauté the 1/2 lb Beef Sirloin, 1/2 lb Pork Tenderloin, 1 medium Onion, and 1 clove of Garlic over medium high heat until meat is no longer pink in the center.
- Stir in remaining ingredients [14 oz can Diced Tomatoes, 1 Apple, 1/4 cup Green Bell Pepper, 1/4 cup Golden Raisins, 2 teaspoons Chili Powder, 1 teaspoon ground Coriander, 1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin, 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground Allspice] and sauté for 10 minutes or until the apple and bell peppers are tender.
- Transfer mixture to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. (Filling can be prepared in advance.)
- ASSEMBLING THE TAMALES: Set up an assembly station including the soaked/then dried corn husks, prepared tamale dough, and the picadillo filling. Also, using kitchen scissors, cut a few of your husks into strips to use as ties for your tamales.
- One at a time, spread a corn husk out and add about 2 tablespoons on the dough in the center of the husk. Spread the dough to make approximately a 4″ x 3″ rectangle. Next spoon a few tablespoons of the meat filling down the center of the dough, being careful to not overfill the tamale.
- Fold/Roll the prepared tamale in the husk vertically to roughly envelope the filling in the dough. Next fold the bottom and top flaps of the husk, ideally tucking them inside and creating an envelope of sorts. Fine tune the fold to make sure the filling won’t leak out while steaming and then tie with a piece of your extra corn husks. Repeat the process until all tamales are made.
- Place the assembled tamales, standing vertically, on a rack in a large pot or steamer over lightly boiling water. Steam for 35 – 40 minutes or until the tamales are firm to the touch, but not hard.
- Using tongs, take out one tamale to check doneness. When opening, the dough should pull away easily from the husk. If done, remove the tamales and enjoy with salsa.
1 – 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes (or San Marzano), completely drained
3 – 4 garlic cloves, peeled and rough chopped
2 jalapeños, roughly chopped (remove seeds for less heat)
1/2 white onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. sugar
1 lime, juiced
Up to 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro (picked off the stems & rough chopped)
Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour before serving to allow flavors to develop and deepen.
1 lb fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
1/3 cup white onion, roughly chopped
3 jalapeños, roughly chopped (remove seeds for less heat)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro (picked off the stems & roughly chopped)
1 lime, juiced
2 ripe avocados, peeled and cut into
1/4 inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt.
Cut tomatillos in quarters. Combine all ingredients (except avocados and salt) in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency. Stir in avocado and salt. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour before serving to allow flavors to develop and deepen.