There are two things I have been wanting to try here in Guatemala, and I tried them both today!
First, a quick explanation about tamales: Tamales or tamalitos are extremely common here. If you go to a restaruant that serves guatemalan food, they usually come as a side. My family serves them with every meal, and they usually have endless amounts. If you don’t know what tamales are, they are made from masa harina, which is basically like a corn flour that is made into a paste or dough, and then cooked inside corn husks. It can be boiled which gives it a softer texture. I know my family cooks them over a fire, which makes them more yellow with a harder texture.
It is possible to make the tamales from scratch with corn, but from what I’ve heard, most people now just make it with the masa harina.
After discussing typical Guatemalan food with one of my teachers she explained to me different types of tamales. There are chuchitos, which are basically more involved tamales with meat in the middle. And there are cambrayes which are sweet tamales, usually with raisins or other fruit. I had been telling her for weeks that I wanted to try these, and today I just so happened to find them.
My friend Nikki and I decided to grab a coffee at Cafe la Luna (Which is a wonderful cafe–famous for it’s hot chocolate. If anyone is ever in Xela, it’s a must go). And I just so happened to see chuchitos and cambrayes on the menu, and it was today’s speical nonetheless. It was obviously fate. So I ordered chuchitos, Nikki ordered cambrayes and we shared.
Cafe la Luna–great atmosphere, great food and drinks, and a great place to study!
They were delicious to say the least. They were very soft and light. The chuchitos had chicken in the middle and didn’t have a lot of spice but was served with a sweet sauce that resembled tomato sauce. The cambrayes were not overwhelmingly sweet, but were sweeter than normal tamales. They contained raisins and were drizzled with carmel. The best way to describe the taste of the cambrayes would be the flavor of rice pudding. They were the perfect snack!
The ones farther away are the cambrayes, the other ones are the chuchitos. So good!
I then decided to try to find recipes for both. It was easier to find recipes for chuchitos, but I have come to realize that cambrayas seem to be a regional name, because most recipes called them tamales de dulce ( sweet tamales).
However, I was happy to find these recipes because they definitely come to close to how my teacher described how to make them. I’m hoping to try and actually make either chuchitos or cambrayas, but I have realized my time here is starting to disappear. If I do, I will of course share.
Here is a recipe for chuchitos:
1 pound boneless chicken or pork
1 tablespoon oil
2 cups sliced ripe tomatoes
1 chile guajillo, seeds and stem removed
2 tablespoons water
4 cups Masa Harina
8 tablespoons margarine (at room temperature)
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh green or dried cornhusks, wet
Cut the chicken or pork into 1-inch cubes and fry in oil over medium heat for 3 minutes. Set aside.
Process the tomatoes, chile pepper and 2 tablespoons water into a smooth sauce. Set aside.
Mix the masa, margarine, 1 1/2 cups cold water and the salt together into a thick mush. Put 1/2 cup mush in each wet cornhusk, push an indentation into the mush, and add 1 tablespoon sauce and a chunk of meat. Cover the stuffing with the mush and wrap the dumpling into a sausage shape with the corn leaves. Steam the chuchitos over hot water over moderate heat for 1 1/2 hours. Unwrap and eat warm or at room temperature.
(Recipe from http://www.hispanickitchen.com)
1 pack (8 oz.) of dry corn husks
1 cup pork lard or butter
2 1/2 cups of tamal masa (corn flour)
1 1/2 cups corn flour
1/4 of cup of sugar granulated
1 tablesppon cinnamon in powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 can (14 oz.) of condensed milk carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 cup of raisins
1/2 cup of chopped walnutsCooking Instructions:
Prepare the corn husks, separating and discarding those that aren’t perfect enough.
Dip the good husks in lukewarm water at least for 1 hour or until they are smooth and it is easy to double them up.
Mix 2/3 cup of the lard in a bowl until it becomes creamy.
Mix in a medium-sized bowl the flour, the cornflour, the sugar, the cinnamon and the salt. After this, add progressively the mixture of flour, water and condensed milk to the lard, little by little. Incorportating well the ingredients after every addition by mixing thoroughly. Melts the remaining lard. Gradually, beat your masa mixture until you get the texture of dough for a cake.
Add the vanilla extract, the raisins and the nuts. Shape 1/4 of cup of masa, using the back of a spoon, to form a square in the center of a corn husk. Wrap the masa on the right side with a leaf, and then the left hand side. Wrap well the low part. Do the same with the rest of the masa.
Place all your stuffed corn husks in a small basket for steaming in a steamer (or use a real tamalera). Fill with water until it reaches just the bottom of the small basket. Arrange the tamales vertically in the small basket. Cover them with the remaining leaves and a damp cloth.
Cover them. Heat up with high heat setting until the water starts to boil. Reduce the heat and leave it this way. While steaming, make sure you never run out of water in your steamer, so add more water if it is necessary. Set your tamales to steam for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the leaves start coming off the masa.
I hope you try one of these, because it’s well worth it!