I found a very old one for tamales in a book called “Golosinas” by Ramona Ballate Cruz that was published sometime in the ’30s. The “easy Cuban tamale” recipe included here has been adapted from it.
I just came back from Cuba. And while the main purpose of the trip was to see my mother, who is 83 years old, and spend time with her and my friends, I also used the time constructively to collect recipes.
Speaking of recipes, I found a very old one for tamales in a book called “Golosinas” by Ramona Ballate Cruz that was published sometime in the ’30s. The “easy Cuban tamale” recipe included here has been adapted from it.
Why would I need a tamale recipe, you may ask, when there are so many around and I have even shared some in the Taos News? Ah, but the Cuban tamales, my dear readers, are not exactly like the Mexican (and New Mexican) ones. Let’s start unwrapping a couple of tamales to find out how they vary.
They are both corn-based, but the way corn is treated (or not) accounts for the difference. The main ingredient in Mexican and New Mexican tamales is a dough called masa harina made from hominy – hominy, in turn, is made from corn kernels that have been soaked in a lye or lime solution. You can buy masa harina in most supermarkets.
As for Cuban tamales, they are made using the kernels from fresh corn. Though you can use frozen corn instead, as stated in the recipe, most cooks would rather not, to keep the “fresh corn” taste.
The filling of Mexican tamales consists of chunks of chicken or pork that have been cooked apart and later mixed with the masa. Cuban tamales, however, are filled with a mix of fried pork and seasoning evenly distributed throughout the dough.
Mexican tamales are served with red or green chile. Chicken tamales can also be accompanied with a mole sauce. There are also the sweet kind, tamales dulces, filled with pineapple or strawberry and sprinkled with honey. Their Cuban cousins aren’t usually served with any kind of sauce.
All tamales are wrapped in cornhusks, though in some tropical areas – like Cancun in Mexico or Baracoa in Cuba – banana leaves may be used for wrapping. When that happens, in the case of tamales dulces, a ripe banana is often added to the filling.
So Cuban or Mexican? Both are delicious in their own way. I can’t pick a favorite. Try them, and let me know which one you prefer.
The Spanish version of this story is
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