Tamales – A Southwest Traditional Holiday Dish

Tamales – A Southwest Traditional Holiday Dish

Tamales are a cherished Mexican recipe handed down from generation to generation.

It is so famous that it is prevalent in many households during the holiday season.

Fortunately for those of us without the time or know-how to prepare this dish, many restaurants offer holiday Tamales to eat in or take out. The history of the Tamale is well rooted in Mexico. It is a staple dinner item in both Mexican and American dining tables.

In the Southwest, Tamale mixes are found in supermarkets along with the equally famous Mexican foods such as Tacos and Chimichangas.

While Tamales span a vast culinary region, they belong here in Arizona and are a very common local specialty in restaurants in Arizona. This Southwestern comfort food is a traditional dish made of starchy dough usually corn-based which is steamed or boiled in a corn husk or a leaf wrapper. It can be filled with seasoned meats, fruits and vegetables, cheese, chili or any preparation according to your liking.

Making Tamales can be complicated, but one does not need to be intimidated. It can be simple if made from corn tamale mixes or kits. The key thing is to plan things out. With a simple list of ingredients and instructions along with extra help from your family and friends, making Tamales can be fun, exciting and a great bonding time with friends and family.

Here is a quick recipe for Arizona’s favorite traditional Tamale holiday dish:


  • 4 lbs. Pork or Beef
  • ½ onion
  • 7 lbs. prepared Masa
  • Salt to taste
  • Green Chilies
  • Bay Leaves

Preparing the Meat: Place meat, bay leaves, granulated garlic, salt and onion into pot and add enough water just to cover the meat and ingredients. Cook meat and spices until tender. When done, remove and shred meat. Set aside 3-4 cups of the broth and bay leaves for preparing the chilies.

Preparing the Corn Husks: Soak corn husks for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Preparing the Chili Sauce: Place the chilies in a separate pot. Cover chilies with water and bring to boil. Drain chilies and remove stem and seeds. Place the chilies in a blender.

Preparing Masa for the Tamales in the Corn Husks: Gently remove the husk and individually spread one corn husk. Place two tablespoons of masa flour into the center of the husks.

Using a spoon, flatten the masa spread evenly around the husks until it is about 4.5 square inches. Spread 1-2 rounded teaspoons of meat sauce in the center of the masa and fold the husks and the masa. Allow the masa to completely surround the meat sauce.

Fold the bottom of the husk and place in a steamer pot with open end of husk upright. Place lid on the pot and steam tamales for 1½ to 2 hours. Tamales are done when the masa easily separates from the husks. It should be soft, firm and not mushy.

In no time, your kitchen will be enveloped with the beautiful aroma of the mouth-watering Tamales. Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are fast approaching, and anticipate the holiday season when we can have a taste of a hot, flavorful and mouth-watering traditional holiday Tamale dish anytime we crave it!


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