Tamales: Sweet and Savory Fillings

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When it came to tamales for Christmas my grandma kept it pretty traditional. She always made spicy red chile and pork tamales for the adults and sweet raisin tamales for the children.

I’ll never forget when my grandmas’ neighbor brought over some tamales with no filling inside. I’m laughing about it now, because I remember my grandma saying, “Pobrecita mi comadre, yo creo que no tuvo nada para ponerle a los tamales.” (Poor thing she probably didn’t have anything to use for a filling). Ay, grandma. LOL!

It wasn’t until I left El Paso that I realized tamales come in all shapes, sizes, wrappings, and fillings – even “blind” tamales without a filling.

While in Oaxaca, we learned to make tamales Oaxaqueños with mother and daughter Juana and Isabel. They showed us how to make tamales filled with chicken mole wrapped in banana leaves. They were absolutely beautiful tamales.

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In my family we spread masa with a spoon over corn husks, but they use a tortilla press for a perfectly shaped dough circle. They place the thin masa round on a banana leaf and then spread mole over the masa, similar to making a pizza, then place shredded chicken over the sauce, and then wrap it in a beautiful pentagon shape.

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These ladies sell their tamales in their pueblo for about 25 cents each. They were jokingly ready to move to Colorado when I told them tamales sell for $1 each and sometimes even more.

Making tamales does not have to be laborious and intimidating when you have a houseful of friends and family to lend a hand. If you haven’t seen my tamalada video I encourage you to watch it.

Best of all, they can be made with all types of fillings and in limitless styles. In this blog post I want to inspire you to try a new filling this year. Maybe host a tamalada and ask a couple of guests to bring a unique filling. Filled with meat, they make a hearty meal or stuffed with sweets, they’re an irresistible dessert.

Red Chile and Pork Tamales

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My grandma made these delicious tamales every year for our family gatherings on Christmas Eve. Everybody loved her tamales; she made them with so much love, it was her Christmas gift to her familia. She would always say, “You have to make them with a lot of filling, or you will be eating just masa.”

Red Chile Lamb Barbacoa Tamales

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These tamales are filled with slow-cooked marinated lamb that is spicy, earthy, juicy, and tender. These tamales will melt in your mouth.

Chicken Mole Tamales

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These tamales are inspired by the tamales we made in Oaxaca. Check out the recipe by my amiga Vianney and learn all about the women of Fundación En Vía.

Chicken and Roasted Pumpkin Tamales with Manchamantel Mole Sauce

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Fluffy tamales filled with chicken, roasted pumpkin, and a sweet and spicy manchamantel mole sauce made from charred pineapple and chipotles. “Manchamantel” literally translates to tablecloth-stainer. Such a creative recipe by my amiga Kate.

Bean, Cheese and Potato Tamales

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Another delicious recipe by Vianney. This filling is economical and simple. I have a feeling my grandma would approve, especially drizzled with roasted poblano salsa.

Sweet Raisin Tamales

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Just like my grandma would make — these tamales are filled with plump raisins and syrup made from piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar) and canela (cinnamon).

Tamales de Chocolate y Nuez

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This sounds like the perfect dessert tamal. A chocolate based masa sweetened with piloncillo filled with pecans and chocolate chips. Yes please!