Tamales are often made at a family gathering called a tamalada. It’s a party where the women of the family get together to prepare a massive amount of tamales and spend some quality time together. It’s a great chance for multiple generations of one family to gather, the elders passing down a lot more than just the family recipe. They also get to share their family history and heritage.
We had an excellent teacher for our tamalada. Marvella showed us everything from preparing the banana leaves to steaming the tamales. She makes about 400 tamales a week at el Ponce, so she definitely knows what she’s doing. TheAnna was super helpful with translating. My sister Rosa got the place looking snazzy and a whole lot more, her business partner Jarina came up with some awesome cocktails, and Kaitlyn and Kellyi provided a whole lot of swag from Milagro tequila and Hendrick’s gin. I developed the recipe for the filling, which you can find below. Here’s a picture of our team, right before all the magic happened.
And if you are going to be a total badass and wrap your tamales in banana leaves, here’s how you get them soft enough to work with. Can you see the color changing in the second picture?
Start by making the mole. Heat a kettle with water and bring to a boil while you preheat a dry cast iron skillet on high heat. Remove the stems from the chiles and add the guajillo and ancho peppers to the skillet. Toast for a few moments on each side, until they start to become pliable. Place the peppers in a heat proof bowl and pour the water on top of the peppers until they are covered. Let them soak for about 45 minutes until they are completely soft, then strain them from the water.
In the meantime, process your banana leaves by heating them on the stove as shown in the pictures above. Cut your banana leaves about 10 inches wide and remove the thin, woody seam that runs along the bottom of the leaf. Place the rough side of the banana leaf down directly on the flame and move it as it changes color to a bright green. If you are using corn husks soak them in water instead. Toast your pecans and sesame seeds in a 325˚ oven for 15 minutes if they are not already toasted.
Preheat a saucepan on medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and garlic. Cook them until they start to become tender, about 8 minutes. Next add the cranberries, cooking until they begin to burst, about 4 minutes.
Place all the mole ingredients in the blender and blend until well combined.
Preheat a saucepot to medium heat and add 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the sauce to the pot and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Make sure to really scrape the bottom and sides of the pan so the mole doesn't burn.
To make the masa, place the cornmeal and a pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the water in batches, mixing to form a dough with your hands, getting it to a consistency where it feels moist but doesn't stick to your hands. Next knead in the oil. Once the dough is formed you are ready to build your tamales.
Start by placing the cooked banana leaf in front of you. Make sure you cut off the hard edge. The lines should be running vertically, up and down. If there is a brown edge it should be facing you and the smoother surface of the tamale should be facing you. If there are any rips in your banana leaf, double it up or else the masa will seep through.
Grab a ball of masa about the size of a lime. Roll it into a ball and then place it in the center of the banana leaf. Slowly press it out from the center, creating a thin, round layer of masa. There should be no holes and the dough should be of even thickness, slightly more than a quarter inch.
Add about a quarter cup of shredded turkey and place in the center of the masa circle. Next spoon a couple tablespoons of mole onto the turkey.
Working quickly, fold the banana leaf to seal the filling inside the masa. Fold the banana leaf again, then tuck the sides in. Rest the tamale with the creased side down so it stays folded. Repeat with the rest of the tamales.
At this point you can freeze your tamales in a ziploc bag for about a month. When you are ready to cook your tamales, create a steam bath with a pot that has a lid. A broccoli steamer works pretty well for this. Just make sure your tamales aren't touching the water, but are elevated above it with a lid on top. Steam the tamales for about an hour and a half, you can check after 45 minutes to see if the masa is cooked. You'll know the masa is done when it pulls cleanly away from the banana leaf.
Serve hot. To enjoy, unwrap and discard the banana leaf. Eat with extra mole if desired.
Here’s Marvella spreading the masa and adding the turkey.
If this post got you all hot and bothered for some tamales and you just don’t have the time to make them, Marvella has you covered! Stop on in at El Ponce and get you some. El Ponce is located in Atlanta, Georgia at 939 Ponce de Leon Ave NE. They are open from 11 to 11 on weekdays. They open at noon on the weekends.
And be sure to follow my blog for more fun recipes. Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed this post!