Blog > Nutrition Events Family Aid > A Guatemalan Christmas: How to Make Tamales

Tuesday, December 6, 2016
A Guatemalan Christmas: How to Make Tamales
Rudy Lopez









Written by Anna Watts, Multimedia Associate

Photo by: Anna Watts

In Guatemala, an essential part of holiday traditions is the Christmas tamale. For an entire day before Christmas, mothers and their eldest children labor over mortar and pestle, open fires, and stovetops to cook enough tamales for their extended families. Mothers reminisce about their mothers’ own tamale preparations — almost every family has their own memories of Christmas gatherings and tamale meals.

“Each year when my mother began to make her tamales, I always there next to her,” describes Doña Margarita. “Now I am teaching my own children how to make them so that in the years to come when I am not here they will already know how to make tamales on their own.”

This Christmas season, we want to share a piece of traditional Guatemalan Christmas by inviting you to learn from Doña Margarita, who has generously instructed us in tamale preparation. In the below step-by-step instructions, you will learn how to grind, cook, and wrap your own tamales so that you too can partake in a Guatemalan Christmas meal!

How to make Guatemalan Christmas Tamales:

Ingredient List:

  • 3 lbs. rice flour
  • Powdered bouillon
  • 2 chile pasa
  • 2 chile guaque
  • 3 lbs. chicken
  • 3 lbs. tomatoes
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 oz. crushed pumpkin seeds
  • 2 oz. sesame seeds
  • 3 sticks of butter
  • Vegetable oil
  • Banana leaves*

*You might find banana leaves in a specialty Asian or Latino grocery store. If you do not have access to this kind of store, parchment paper can be used as a substitute.

Photo by: Livvy Runyon

1. The first step to make Christmas tamales is to prepare the rice. If you have purchased rice flour, you can skip this step. However, in Guatemala, rice flour is typically ground from dried rice grains using a mortar. For this tamale recipe, you will need to grind 3 lbs. of rice into flour

Photo by: Livvy Runyon

2. Once you have ground your rice, toast the pumpkin and sesame seeds on a stovetop until golden brown. Pumpkin seeds, when browned, will pop — when this happens, the seeds are ready!

3. Boil a large pot of water. Once boiling, add the butter, powdered bouillon, and rice flour.

4. Stir the mixture continuously for half an hour. As you stir, the mixture will thicken until reaching a porridge or grit-like consistency.

Photo by: Anna Watts

5. Once the mixture has thickened, remove the pot from the stove and set it aside to cool.

6. Meanwhile, remove the seeds from the dried chilis. This ensures that the tamales will not be spicy, but will still have flavor. Add the chilis, bell peppers and tomatoes to a pot and cook covered for half an hour.

7. Once cooked, blend this mixture of vegetables in a blender with the toasted sesame and pumpkin seeds.

8. Cut the chicken into small pieces.

9. Add the chicken to a large pot with the blended sauce and cook until the chicken is done.

10. Now that the ingredients have been cooked and prepared, the next step is to assemble the tamales. Place the cooled rice flour mixture, the sauce with chicken, and a stack of banana leaves on a table.

11. Place a spoonful of rice onto each tamale leaf.

12. Add the chicken and sauce on top and use a spoon to fold the rice mixture back over the top.

13. Wrap the leaf over the tamale as if folding an envelope.

14. Use a thick piece of grass or leaf stem to tie each tamale tightly together.

Photo by: Anna Watts

15. In a large pot, place all the prepared tamales inside and cover with banana leaves. Steam the tamales until the banana leaves change color.

16. After allowing the tamales to cool, share them with your family members and eat your tamales! 

Photo by: Anna Watts

This recipe should make at least 25 tamales, leaving you and your family with plenty left to share! In Guatemala, families with tamales leftover from the Christmas meal will give their extra tamales to friends and family, spreading both tradition and Christmas spirit.

¡Desde todos nosotros en Guatemala, Feliz Navidad!

From all of us in Guatemala, Merry Christmas!  

Inspired by the Christmas spirit?

Help us provide a family in need with tamales for the holiday season and bring hope for the holidays to those who need it most!  

Photo by: Anna Watts

Share Share on Tumblr
Back To List
Mayan Families · +1 (619) 550-2608 · · ©2019 Mayan Families · Top Rated Charity by Great Nonprofits