When the holiday season comes to its end on January 6, the person who was lucky to get the toy of baby Jesus in her piece of Rosca de Reyes (the traditional pastry served during Epiphany day in Mexico) is in charge of hosting a feast on February 2, when tamales and atole are served. It is a follow-up of Epiphany day (or Día de los Reyes Magos, how it is called in Mexico) and has mixed roots in pre-Hispanic traditions and Catholic beliefs.
Where the celebration comes from?
February 2 is known as “Día de la Candelaria” or “Presentation of the Lord”. By the Jewish law, all the babies were supposed to be taken to the temple 40 days after they were born. So 40 days after Christmas, on the exact February 2, Mary took Jesus to the temple along with candles. Until these days, there is a tradition in Mexico to bring the images of baby Jesus and candles to the church to be blessed.
Pre-Hispanic Mexicans also had the tradition of paying a tribute to the rain god and clouds to pray for their agricultural activity. They dressed up the children and making them cry as an augury of water abundance. It is most likely the Spaniards linked those two traditions when they were spreading the catholicism in Mexico.
Why are tamales so important for Mexicans?
February 2 is also known as Tamales day among foodies. It is the day when you are allowed to eat as much as tamales as you can! Tamales were traditional meal among the Mexican natives which was often connected with agricultural celebrations. Tamales are made from corn and the corn was the most important ingredient in the pre-Hispanic Mexican cuisine. Its importance in the modern cuisine did not change much. Corn tortillas, bread, and tamales are the base of every Mexican person’s diet.
Traditionally, tamales are made by hand so you will need to work for them. They are not hard to prepare, you just need to get ready for some serious kneading because the corn-based dough requires it. Once you learn the technique, you will definitely agree they are worth the effort. There are many different types of tamales and most of them are salty. They can be filled ith spiced meat, cheese, vegetables or fruits and wrapped in fresh banana leaves or dried corn husks and steamed.
Oaxacan sweet tamales are easy to make!
I must admit most of the salty tamales I tried (better – I tried to try) were too spicy for me, but I did fell in love with sweet and yummy version. Yes, tamales can be whatever you want them to be! When we were coming from Mexico, we brought two packages of corn husks for tamales. Just in case, if we ever decide to make them. Luckily, they have no expiration date and year and a half later they were waiting for us.
We got a real Mexican masa harina (special corn dough they use for tamales and tortillas) in Pekinška patka store here in Zagreb. They also have corn husks if you need some. For the tasty Oaxacan sweet tamales, we also used homemade pork fat, red food coloring, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon powder and canned pineapple.
It takes around 30 minutes to make the dough and 30 minutes to roll the tamales. From 1/2 kg of flour, we got 10 tamales, which was more than enough to feed 4 persons. If you plan to serve it only as a snack or dessert, you can even serve one tamal per person. Once they are made, they need to steam for around an hour. We used the real steamer as well as improvised on the stove and both did an excellent job.
- 1/2 kg / 1 lb corn flour (masa harina)
- 1 tea spoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup of pig fat
- 8 spoons of brown sugar
- 1 tea spoon of cinnamon
- 10 drops of red food colouring
- 1/2 can of pineapple, cut into small pieces
- Put the corn husks in the warm water, to soften so you could roll them. If you try to do it with dried ones, they would immediately break.
- To make the dough, combine the flour and the spoon by spoon warmed pig fat and knead it all the time. When the dough is not sticky anymore, you can add the baking powder, cinnamon and sugar. Add more sugar than you initially think, because the steaming process will reduce some.
- Divide the dough into pieces big enough to fit into corn husks and color each with some red food coloring. They should just be partially colored - that is how Mexicans marks the sweet tamales among all the others.
- Take the corn husks out of the water, dry them a bit and fill with the dough and cut pineapple pieces. Do not overstuff them because they need to be rolled in a nice bundle.
- Roll each tamal and close it well from each side. Wrap them as the little presents using the food thread or pieces of corn husks.
- Put them in the steamer and cook for approximately 1 hour. Take out one tamal and let it cool little bit. Try if it is already cooked - it cannot be chevy - and let them cook a bit more if not. Be careful not overcook them because they can easily become too dry.
As for all the other wonderful Mexican recipes, for this tasty Oaxacan sweet tamales recipe we can thank my mother in law, Jaime’s mom. Participating in Tamales day is an excellent and tasty way how to keep Mexican traditions alive.
Are you in love with Mexican traditions? You will just adore their colorful Day of the Dead celebration and Mexican Independence day celebration. Check out how we celebrated it in Croatia or how piñatas are connected to Christmas.
Did you already try tamales? Which ones do you prefer – sweet or salty?
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Thanks for sharing.