Five steps for a successful tamalada

I adore tamales; they remind me of the holidays and various special occasions. When I smell them, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that is hard to explain. No other food gives me the same exact feeling, actually.

There were tamales at my wedding shower in Mexico (called a despedida). There have always been tamales available for birthdays and Christmas and Día de La Candelaria. In fact, on Día de Los Reyes, I’ve had the luck to get the baby Jesus figurine in my piece of Rosca de Reyes several times in the past. As tradition goes, if you get the figurine, you’re responsible for bringing tamales for everyone on Día de La Candelaria. When José’s abuela passed away, everyone came back to the house after the prayer service to have tamales, like she would have wanted us to. They’re a staple and a symbol in Mexican cuisine.

So, it might surprise you to find out that I’ve never before hosted my own tamalada—a tamal-making party. Yes, it’s true. I’ve never hosted one, but I really want to in the coming year! My favorite savory tamales are usually tamales de pollo con salsa verde and when it comes to the sweet variety, un tamal de chocolate makes my mouth water and my heart skip a beat. I’ve made tamales on my own at home but never had a party and invited friends and family to help out and enjoy them with me afterward.

One reason a lot of people don’t make their own tamales at home is because it’s a bit labor intensive. There are several steps to successfully making them, and it’s time-consuming. To make it worthwhile, a tamalada is the perfect solution because everyone gathers together at one place and forms an assembly-line style workforce to get everything finished in less time. Then you can steam them in your tamalera. When they’re done, it’s party time! There’s nothing quite like a freshly-steamed tamal, whether it’s savory or sweet.

Here are the five basic steps for a successful tamalada, according to the advice I’ve received and what I’ve observed, and that I plan to follow when I host mine:

  • Ideally, as a hostess, you’ll have the masa ready in advance. I’m not suggesting you grind your corn from scratch and all that (unless you want to). But for a modern tamalada, it’s perfectly acceptable to buy pre-made masa at a tortillería or grocery store, or use Maseca instant masa without feeling guilty.
  • Every tamal needs a little grasa in the masa! If your tamal is lacking moisture, it might because you didn’t use any manteca. You don’t have to use a lot, but it helps with the consistency and flavor. The best tamales are the ones that have light and fluffy masa that isn’t dry.
  • Depending on which region your tamales come from, you’ll use either cornhusks or banana leaves to wrap them. Either way, they need to be pliable. Cornhusks need to be soaked in water well in advance so they won’t rip. Banana leaves can be heated and soaked, too.
  • You’re going to need a filling (or a few different fillings, depending on how many tamales you plan to made). You can use shredded meats stewed in salsa, vegetables such as rajas or even sweet fillings using fruit (my favorite is strawberry). Make sure your filling isn’t too wet when it comes time to spread it over the masa, or you’ll end up with weird, soggy tamales.
  • Learn how to wrap that tamal up! It’s really easy to learn how to properly fold the cornhusk. You can even find tons of advice on YouTube with how-to videos on the subject. I like to also use a small strip of cornhusk to tie a little bow around the middle to keep the flap closed for steaming. I find that closing it up completely gets the tamal uniformly steamed with no dry spots near the top.

Check out these recipes from Maseca for all kinds of different tamales.

  • Have you hosted a tamalada? Do you have any tips for me?

This is a sponsored post through a campaign with Maseca and Latina Bloggers Connect. Though I am being compensated for participating, all opinions, recipes and stories are my own.

Google doodle celebrates Diego Rivera’s birthday

I’m a huge fan of the creative Google doodles, especially when they’ve got cultural significance. Today, the 125th anniversary of Diego Rivera’s birthday, the Google doodle teaches you a little about him! Check out the video.

YouTube Preview Image

Want to read more from The Other Side of The Tortilla about Diego Rivera?

México en tus sentidos

While I’m away this weekend traveling in Mexico, here’s a cool tourism video that I wanted to share. One of our cousins from Mexico shared it with me on Facebook this past week and I’ve got to say, it’s definitely worth watching the whole eight minutes. If it doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, put a tear in your eye, have you glued to the screen, make you want to visit Mexico ahora …you might not have a soul. Just kidding. But really, if nothing in this video moves you or gets you excited, you probably don’t love Mexico very much or don’t know enough about it to know what you’re missing! :P

Happy virtual travels! We’ll be back to the grind on Monday.

YouTube Preview Image
  • Leave a comment to let me know: What’s your favorite part? I love the voladores de Papantla (at about the 4-minute mark) and the Ángel de la Independencia (around the 5-minute mark).

10 things to love about Mexico City’s Museo Dolores Olmedo

The tiles on the wall at the Museo Dolores Olmedo read: “By the example of my mother, professor Maria Patiño Suarez, widow of Olmedo, who always told me: ‘Share all you have with those around you.’ I leave this house with all my collections of art, the product of my life’s work, so the people of Mexico can enjoy it.” —Dolores Olmedo Patiño

Last year on a visit to Mexico City during the holidays, I spent a special day with friends exploring a few places I had never been before. Thanks to the abundance of cultural activities the city has to offer, there’s always something new to discover. I was thrilled to hear that the Museo Dolores Olmedo was on the itinerary they planned since I’m a big Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera fan.

Dolores Olmedo Patiño, also known to many as Doña Lola, was an aggressive collector and patron of the arts and is still revered today as one of the biggest individual benefactors and promoters of Mexican art and culture. At age 17, she met Diego Rivera by chance in an elevator at the Ministry of Public Education when he was still working on the murals there (that can still be seen today), and he ended up asking her to model for him. According to the museum, she modeled in nearly 30 nude sketches and then was the subject of other later paintings by Rivera. After separating from her husband, British journalist Howard Phillips (whom she married in 1935), the well-to-do single Olmedo made a career as a partner in a construction materials firm in the late 1940s. In the mid-1950s, she reconnected with Rivera and eventually became his benefactor, caretaker and eventually, executor of his estate and that of Frida Kahlo.

In the early 1960s Olmedo acquired Hacienda La Noria, a 16th-century Spanish colonial hacienda located in Xochimilco (a neighborhood in the south of Mexico City). At the time she acquired the property, it was a shell of its original state and so she set out on a mission to restore and preserve the hacienda. In the late 1980s, Olmedo announced plans to convert her hacienda into a museum, which opened in September 1994. Olmedo passed away in 2002 but her legacy still lives on in this charming museum she left behind for all to admire just as intended.

Here are my top ten reasons to visit the Museo Dolores Olmedo
the next time you’re in Mexico City… 

Read More »

Celebrating Día de Los Muertos

¡Feliz Día de Los Muertos!

Today is a day to celebrate the lives of our deceased loved ones. We keep the tradition alive in our house by constructing an altar to honor them, and leaving ofrendas—offerings—to entice the souls home.

You can visit my Día de Los Muertos post from last year if you’d like to see the altar we made in 2010.

This holiday goes back more than 3,000 years to the time of the Aztecs. Originally, it was celebrated in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar (what is now August). When the conquistadores arrived from Spain and felt the month-long celebrations of Día de Los Muertos mocked death, and being that they wanted to convert the native people to honor their own religion, they tried to put a stop to the ritual. But they were met with resistance and instead, the ritual was moved to coincide with the Christian calendar’s All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).

Today, many who celebrate this holiday use el Día de Todos los Santos to honor deceased children and Día de Los Muertos for honoring adults. There is no wrong way to do it, though, and you can honor whomever you like on both days if you wish. In some places in Mexico, families visit cemeteries, clean and decorate grave sites and leave their ofrendas there. Many families, like ours, build an altar in their home.

There’s also no wrong way to make an altar—there are common methods (constructing three levels) and typical ofrendas (offerings that represent earth, wind, water and fire), but the point is that you make the altar personal and meaningful to you to honor your deceased loved ones.

I haven’t talked about it here on the blog, but in September, José’s last living grandparent, my suegro‘s mother, passed away in Aguascalientes. Abuelita Ana was 91 years old, and we flew to Mexico to be there with family for the velatorio and entierro. It has been a sad time for our family, but being together with everyone in Mexico made it a little easier. This year our altar is especially dedicated to her memory.

It was difficult when I was going through photos trying to decide which photo of her to use, but definitely therapeutic in a way once I was finished. This year, I even purchased special sugar skulls for my ofrenda from the famous Mondragon family of Toluca; they are one of less than a dozen families in Mexico still dedicated to the art form of alfeñique, and you can read more about them on my post from the other day.

To me, el Día de Los Muertos is one of the most beautiful and meaningful holidays not only in Mexico, but in the world. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about the individual elements on my altar and what they mean, but for today, just a few photos and a short video so you can check it out.

YouTube Preview Image
  • What do you leave as ofrendas on your altar de muertos?

Calaveritas de Mondragon para Día de Los Muertos

I recently visited the National Museum of Mexican Art, located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, on a special mission: I was hoping to buy calaveras de azúcar for my altar de muertos. But not just any calaveras—I was hoping to buy handmade and hand-decorated calaveras from the famous Mondragon family.

Sugar skulls are truly an art form and the Mondragon family from Toluca, Mexico, has been making hand-decorated sugar skulls for around 150 years, spanning five generations. They’ve been coming to the museum to make them in Chicago since 1995 as a way for people to hang on to their culture so far from home and to share Mexican tradition and culture, they told me.

Sugar skulls are often used as a decoration for an altar de muertos or given as gifts for Día de Los Muertos. It’s common to also put the names of family members on the forehead of the sugar skull. Some families only put names of the deceased, while others put names of the living on them as well.

Alejandro Mondragon Arriaga and his wife Elvira Garcia Zinzu travel with one of their daughters to Chicago to make their famous sugar skulls at the museum every year while the rest of the family stays behind in Mexico to make them there. Their family is one of less than a dozen left who are dedicated to this traditional craft, Elvira told me. At one time, she said, there were dozens and dozens of families who made them and sold them all over Mexico…. 

Read More »

Related Posts with Thumbnails