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Eat Feature

Recipe: Tamales de Margarita Santana Peñate

By Henry Hong | Posted 3/4/2009

This tamale recipe is adapted for a faster preparation. It will yield 15 tamales.

Masa Ingredients

3 cups lard
2 pounds masa harina (e.g. Maseca brand)
10 ounces condensed chicken broth
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 cans water


Lard can be found in the baking section of most grocery stores. Vegetable shortening can be substituted, but ultimate flavor will suffer. Fresh rendered pork fat is usually available at La Guadalupana on Eastern Avenue, and has much more intense pork flavor than supermarket lard.
Do not use instant tamale flour or mix; if you must, check the package and make sure the only ingredients are corn, lime, and water.


1) In a pot or large sauce pan, melt lard over low heat.
2) Add masa harina gradually, mixing as you go. (A rubber spatula works best.)
3 ) Add broth plus two cans of water, salt, and lime juice, and continue mixing.
4.) Cook and mix continuously for about 20 minutes, adding water one can at a time until the final consistency is somewhere between oatmeal and mashed potatoes; when done you should be able to barely form a soft ball with the dough.
5) Remove dough to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Sauce Ingredients

3 ancho chiles
3 pasilla chiles
2 medium tomatoes
4 tomatillos
1 large onion
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 cup soaking liquid from peppers
2 in. cinnamon stick
1 10 ounce can chicken broth plus one can of water
sugar to taste
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoons savorin (aka Sazon Goya or Accent, optional)


The sugar helps balance out the acidity of the tomatoes and tomatillos.
The final sauce should have the consistency of thin spaghetti sauce; add water to adjust accordingly.


1) Soak ancho and pasilla chiles in enough hot water to cover, until soft or about 15 minutes; remove and discard stems, reserve one cup soaking liquid.
2) Roughly chop tomatoes, tomatillos, and onion.
3) In a large pot or pan, heat a little oil over medium heat and add tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and a little salt; sauté for about 5 minutes.
4) Reduce heat to medium low and add soaked peppers, cinnamon, broth, water, and reserved soaking liquid; adjust seasoning with salt, sugar, and savorin. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until tomatillos are soft.
5) While sauce is simmering, in a separate saucepan sauté sesame and pumpkin seeds over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until they smell toasty, then reserve in a bowl.
6 ) When sauce is done cooking, add toasted seeds and purée with an immersion blender, or if using a standard blender or food processor, allow sauce to cool before puréeing. Reserve to a bowl.

Filling Ingredients

2 pounds (or approximately 5) boneless chicken thighs
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 jar olives with pimientos (optional)


1) Cut chicken thighs into thirds
2) Cut bell peppers into 1-inch by 3-inch strips


1 package banana leaves
1 box 12 inch wide aluminum foil
Reserved masa
Reserved sauce
Cut meat, bell pepper strips, and olives


Banana leaves usually come in frozen packs and are available at many Latino and Asian markets.


1) Banana leaves are very long, usually 4-5 feet, and are usually about 10 inches wide with tapered ends. Cut off tapered ends, then cut into lengths of about 12-14 inches. You should get about three per leaf; cut 15 pieces total. Reserve any small leaf pieces.
2) Tear foil into 15 sheets, each 16-18 inches long.
3) Interleave foil and banana leaves in a stack, starting with foil, and ending with the last banana leaf on top.
4) Apply a dollop of masa to center of leaf, and spread into a 1/2-inch-thick layer, in about a 5 inch by 7 inch rectangle.
5) Add a dollop of sauce to center of masa, then one piece of chicken, one piece each red and green pepper, and a couple olives.
6) Top with another dollop of sauce, and a small amount of flattened masa on top of that to sandwich the filling. The top portion of masa need not cover the filling completely.
7) Fold short sides of leaf up first, then long sides, then secure by folding foil on top of the leaf. Final size should be about that of two DVD boxes stacked. Set aside and continue until all 15 tamales are completed.
8) Stack into a large steamer, or a large pot that has been adapted for steaming. Add about 2 inches of water and steam tightly covered for 90 minutes. Check water level every 20 minutes and add as necessary.
9) After 90 minutes, allow to cool until tamales are solid enough to be wieldy, perhaps 20 minutes.

Enjoy. Refrigerated tamales last about one week. They do not freeze well. To reheat, steam in a little water for about 10 minutes, or microwave folds-side up, after removing foil, for about a minute.

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