Cooking Homemade Tamales with Local Family in Quito

Tamales before being wrapped in Banana Leaves

There are very few things more intimate than being invited into someone’s home to share a meal. An afternoon stroll through Quito’s Old Town and a quick stop in a local hole-in-the-wall allowed me to eat next to the locals, but not with them…

I’m so grateful that a number of companies are popping up to give travelers that unique experience of eating with, not next to, natives. On our last day in Quito my family signed up for a culinary tour to discover the authentic flavors of the city and ended the day with a meal in the home of a local family.

Family at the home of a local Quito family to make homemade tamales

Collective wisdom tells us, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” When we entered the home of Señora Graciela to be greeted by a warm kiss and the smell of fresh masa we felt just like family. I will always remember Ecuador for having such friendly and animated people. They had me grinning ear to ear before I even tasted the food. Thanks to Urban Adventures Quito I learned sometimes the perfect dinner host is one you have never met before.

This delightful Ecuadorian family, with Señora Graciela at the heart of it, provides hundreds of tamales to the city’s marketplaces, and we were enjoying them fresh off their kitchen stove.

Tamales are to Latin America as sandwiches are to the U.S. The combinations of flavors are endless. Having spent the majority of my adult life in Dallas I’ve had my fair share of Tex-Mex tamales, but absolutely nothing compares to the pleasure I got from eating this savory dish in such splendid company. I’m still dreaming about this meal, and even if it might take you an afternoon to make I promise it is well worth the effort. Not to mention, it’s a perfect excuse to entertain.

Señora Graciela gave me permission to share this recipe with you. She uses 6 -8 banana leaves to steam the tamales. If you do not have banana leaves use aluminum foil or parchment paper cut into 10 inch squares. She says her family doesn’t use corn husks for this kind of tamale.

Once you have made the masa separate out balls of dough, about the size of a small lemon. Pat out with your hand until each is about 6 inches round.

Place about 1/4 cup chicken filling on each masa round. Add one piece of hard-boiled egg, one olive, bell pepper and onion and 3 raisons on top of the chicken mixture.

 Chicken mixture for homemade tamales

Fold over each round into a half-moon shape and press edges together well.

Wrap the tamale in the banana leave. If using foil or parchment paper, seal edges well. Place tamales, in batches, in steamer and steam for 30 minutes.

Wrapping homemade tamales in banana leaves

Serve with wrapper still on so each person can open their own. It was a beautiful family, country and meal and an afternoon I will never forget!

Homemade Tamales from Quito, Ecuador
Serves 6
Tamales are to Latin America as sandwiches are to the U.S. The combinations of flavors in this traditional Ecuadorian homemade tamale recipe are endless. It is a process that is well worth the effort.
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Total Time
6 hr
Total Time
6 hr
Ingredients
  1. 3 cups chicken broth (from the chicken you cook)
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 1 lb masa harina (do NOT use readymade masa, it has lime which will not work in this recipe)
  4. 1 cup butter
  5. 1 cup lard or 1 additional cup butter
  6. 3/4 cup sugar
  7. 1/4 cup peanut butter
  8. 1 tablespoon sugar
  9. 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  10. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  11. 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  12. 1/2 cup milk
  13. 1/2 cup raisins, black, soaked
  14. 3/4 cup hot water
  15. 1/2 onion, cut lengthwise into thin slices & parboiled & drained
  16. 2 tablespoons oil
  17. 1/2 onion, diced finely
  18. 1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, in jar
  19. 4 eggs, hard boiled & cut into eighths lengthwise
  20. 1 red bell pepper, sliced very thinly
  21. 1 small whole chicken
  22. 1 onion
  23. 1 garlic clove
  24. 2 sprigs parsley
  25. 1 teaspoon salt
  26. 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  27. 6 -8 banana leaves. Otherwise, use aluminum foil or parchment paper, cut into 10 inch squares.
Instructions
  1. Place whole chicken in large pot with water to cover. Add 1 whole onion, 1 garlic clove, 2 sprigs parsley, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cook on medium heat until the chicken is falling off the bone.
  2. Remove chicken from water & cool.
  3. Strain broth and reserve 4 cups.
  4. When cool, skin and bone chicken. Shred chicken meat.
  5. Add 2 tbsp oil in skillet and add 1/2 diced onion. Sauté over low heat until very soft. Add peanut butter and mix until melted, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tbsp sugar, milk and allspice. Cook until almost ready to boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
  6. In large heavy pot, place masa flour and 3 cups cooled broth. First whisk and then continue to mix with strong wooden spoon. Cook over medium high heat, do not let lumps form. Turn often with wooden spoon. When a thin dark brown crust forms on the bottom of the pot, it is done.
  7. Let masa cool in pot until lukewarm. Turn masa out onto board or waxed paper.
  8. When cool enough to handle, add butter, and lard if you are using it. Knead in by hand. Add 6 oz sugar and knead it. Taste a bit of masa for salt. If your broth was not salty, add 1/2-3/4 tsp salt. Add in the 3 eggs, one at a time. Knead well.
  9. Separate out balls of dough, about the size of a small lemon. Place in center of each banana leaf or foil or parchment paper square wrapper and pat out with your hand until each is about 6" round.
  10. Place about 1/4 c chicken filling onto each masa round.
  11. Place one piece of hard-boiled egg, one olive, 1 slice red bell pepper, 3 pieces of parboiled onion and 3 raisins on top of chicken mixture on each masa round.
  12. Fold over each round into half-moon shape and press edges together well.
  13. Fold over wrapper and tie with kitchen twine if using banana leaves. if using foil or parchment paper, seal edges well.
  14. Place tamales, in batches, in steamer and steam for 30 minutes.
  15. Serve with wrapper still on. Each person opens their own.
Notes
  1. If you want to omit a certain filling ingredient from some of the tame, tie different colors of thread around those to identify them later.
  2. If you do not have banana leaves use parchment paper or aluminum foil. Señora Graciela does not use corn husks for this type of tamale.
Zest of Zen http://www.zestofzen.com/
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