Is it Christmas yet? I am craving my parents tamales. The famous Tamal stems down to our indigenous roots and spreads all over Central, South America and the Caribbean. Funny how we use the same base cornmeal but each tamal can taste so different by the diverse ingredients we top them with. Tamales, hallacas, pasteles…all equal YUM!
Distinctly to Colombia the preparation varies from Region to Region. The traditional wrapping that holds it all together is green sturdy plantain leaves. If those happen not to be available we can use corn husks or even aluminum foil.
Amongst the variations are:
Tamal Cucuteno (Hallaca)
Tamal del Arriero (Antioquia y eje cafetero)
Hallaca Araucana (Llanos Orientales)
Tamal de Piangüa (Costa Pacífica)
Tamal Santafereño (Región Cundinamarca)
Pastel de arroz con cerdo y gallina (Región Caribe)
Tamal de Pipían (Cauca)
Bollitos de corazón de fríjol
Envueltos o bollos de mazorca
Bollo limpio (Región Atlántica)
Bollo de yuca (Región Atlántica)
Bollo de Angelito (Región Atlántica)
Yellow cornmeal is the most popular but in areas like Santander we use white corn meal as the foundation. In Colombia, there is a true argument to this day on which City makes the better Tamal. I can still hear my mom in the kitchen fussin’ about the ‘Tolimenses’ blasphemous addition of rice inside the tamal, rice is a side dish!
In Colombia, tamales are symbolic to special occasions especially as an intricate part of Christmas/New Year’s Dinner. I guess because of its laborious preparation and this item definitely being a ‘slow food’ dish. Prepare ‘la masa’, cook the meats, saute the ‘Hogao’, cook the carrots and potatoes and assemble the layers: Leaf, masa, meats, a slice of carrot a slice of potato finish off with Hogao, wrap and boil. Who has the time for all this?!
My modern Chef Elizabeth variation:
-make a creamy polenta seasoned with cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper
-cook some short ribs with onions, peppers and tomatoes
-top with sliced carrots, a drizzle of EVOO and a sprinkle of cilantro and viola!
Mind you it’s not the real thing, but trust me this dish will encompass all the flavors and it will feel like Christmas!