To a Costa Rican, the mental picture created by the delectable, ‘Tamale’, conjures up a special treat. The Spanish and Costa Rican spelling of that word is ‘Tamal’, and two of them are called, ‘dos Tamales’. It is thought to originate from the Mesoamerican, Nahuatl tribe which is used the spelling, ‘Tamalli’. The Tamalli has a history dating back to at least 8,000 B.C when it was mentioned during the Mesoamerican reigns of the Aztec, Maya, Olmeca, and Tolteca civilizations, long before the Spaniards came to the region. Whatever the spelling, it is a tasty dish common across Central America and Mexico that has become popular internationally.
In Costa Rica the Tamal is also an extra special Christmas treat enjoyed by most families. Families gather a few days before to begin preparing Tamales, the main dish on Christmas day.
At the Blue River Resort & Hot Springs’ Tiki Bar & Restaurant order the Tamales by special order from our head chef Yorbis. Keep in mind, that after preparing, it takes about 2 hours to be ready. Time passes quickly when you sit back, soaking in the hot springs with a cool beverage overlooking the Rincon de la Vieja.
The outer part of a Tamale is a dough that holds the main ingredients together. The dough is made of masa (corn flour), ground cornmeal, and sometimes a little white flour. The dough is mixed with the stock that remains after the meat has been cooked; a little chicken, beef, or fish broth can also be used. Then liquid and corn flour are mixed to form a paste, a little tacky but not sticky.
Everything inside a Tamale depends on the cook’s personal preferences. The dough contains and binds all the fillings enclosed in its center.
Next, the pocket is packaged in either green banana/ plantain leaves, or foiled wrapped waxed paper. Mexican Tamales are shaped to fit in a corn husk, so they are longer than wide; Costa Ricans wrap their Tamales in the broader green leaves of the plantain or green banana plant. They are more rectangular than their Mexican counterparts.
Once the Tamales are watertight and securely tied inside the wrappers, they are then submerged into boiling water for approximately 2 hours until completely cooked (which depends on how cooked the ingredients are when packaged). Traditionally a coal-fire stove is used and the boiling water is seasoned.
When finished, the Tamale is removed from the boiling water, unwrapped, removed, and is now ready be eaten. The Costa Rican Tamales are not as spicy as their Mexican counterparts. But this can easily be changed by topping it with condiments.
Once you have the principles of the dough and the wrapper perfected you are ready to create your personal favourites.
Several Banana or Plantain Leaves (properly washed) and cut into squares; with the hard central vein discarded. In desperate situations, aluminium foil, carefully wrapped around waxed paper can be substituted for the leaves.
Main Filler Protein
• 2- 3 lbs. of Chicken, Fish, Pork, or Beef; some persons combine their favorites. Remove all flesh from bones and discard bones. Cube the protein into ½’ squares; season (see ingredients below) and cook completely, this saves time in the boil.
• Retain the excess liquids to mix with corn flour to form dough mixture (mentioned above).
Seasoning for Main Filler
• Salt, Black Pepper, Onions Garlic, Cumin, Hot Peppers, Soy Sauce (Include whatever gives your meat the taste you enjoy)
• Coconut, olive or vegetable oil to cook meat and add a dash to the dough.
• 2 lbs. Corn Flour, or 2 lbs. Corn Meal, or a mixture of All Purpose White Flour and a corn preparation to make 2 lbs. (Corn flour is preferred)
• If White Flour is used as part of the dough mix then add –
¼ to ½ teaspoon Baking Powder to the mix and a little Coconut, Olive or Vegetable oil.
• The dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky when mixed with the reserved cooking liquids and oil.
• 3 Cups cooked rice, seasoned with onions, sweet peppers, chicken broth, salt, black pepper.
• 2 lbs. Washed, boiled, and peeled and cubed potatoes, boiled in salted water, and cilantro.
• 1 Cup each-
Cubed Carrots, Cubed Beets, Green Beans, Chic Peas, Pineapple Chunks.
• ½ Cup each-
Celery, Onions, Tomatoes, Green Peas, Raisins, Green Olives, Sweet-Peppers.
Whenever you plan to cook the Tamales, place a large pot with enough water to cover the Tamales when inserted. After a batch are made, carefully insert them and boil slowly for 2 hours.
Chop the meat into ½” chucks, season and brown to near doneness. Season with garlic, peppers, onion, salt, and anything you fancy. Cook to a fair degree of doneness or it will reduce the time required for cooking theTamales. Separate the meat from the broth and set the broth aside to mix a little into the dough batter.
Combine the cooked rice and cubed potatoes, add seasoning like cumin, salt and black pepper to taste set aside in a bowl.
In a separate bowl mix the corn flour mixture, reserved liquids and a little sugar to create the pasty dough.
Place a square of clean banana leaf, glossy side down, and then place 3 generous table-spoons of corn dough in the center. Flatten to about ¼” thickness. Then place select chunks of meat, rice and potatoes, in the midst. Add a teaspoonful of cubed carrots, beets, green beans, chic peas, pineapple chunks or other. Then add a ½ teaspoon of celery, onions, tomatoes, green peas, raisins, green olives, sweet-peppers, cheese or whatever you like.
Close the dough to form a pocket. Bring up opposite sides of the leaf to close the sides by folding together; rolling the ends inwards to complete the leaf-package. Using cotton (or non synthetic) string to tie the four sides, closing the Tamale ensuring that it is leak-proof when submerged.
Centuries ago, Tamalli were eaten on the road away from home, one of mans first take-out-meals. Today, in modern kitchens, extra Tamales are made, wrapped in waxed paper, tied and stored in the freezer for use month’s later. Defrost the packages and reheat in a microwave before serving.
Perhaps, a cooking lesson to learn how to make a Costa Rica Tamale at the foot of Rincon de la Vieja at Blue River Costa Rica Resort & Hot Springs will be of interest? Please notify us and we’ll see what can be done. Imagine being outdoors in the cool rainforest jungle amoungst toucans and hot springs! When enjoying one the Eco-adventure tours like the Zip Lining Tour, check out what the locals are growing on their farm and backing in the kitchen. We are only 90 minute drive away from Liberia, Guanacaste.