Hot Tamales!

I made tamales for the first time last night. Well I should say I heated pre-made tamales last night.

I’ve travelled through Mexico a bit and eaten a wide variety of traditional dishes, but this is the first time I’ve served tamales. It’s not like I haven’t heard of them–like enchiladas or refritos, they’re almost iconic in Mexican cuisine. For those who haven’t come across this dish before, a tamale is a seasoned centre filling (usually chicken or pork) surrounded in a thick masa dough that is packaged and cooked in dried corn husk skins or plantain leaves.

We picked up ours at a local Mexican food wholesaler/retailer, El Comal, where they make a wide assortment of authentic Mexican food plus some of the best tortillas north of the 49th parallel. We grabbed a half dozen ready to heat chicken tamales pre-wrapped in their familiar dried corn husk “skins”. The daughter of the owner at El Comal said that you could microwave, steam, bake or grill them–anything but boiling. I opted to grill them over a low flame–turning every 4-7 minutes for a total of about 15-20 minutes. I was flying a bit blind having not been given any instructions other than “heat and serve”, but the results were very good–at least to my eye.

They were, well… nice. Not “exploding with flavour” nice, but more of a wholesome “comfort food” nice. Once removed from the husks and drizzled with a yogurt/salsa picante sauce they made a good protein/carbohydrate centre to the family meal. My children were especially enthusiastic about them, eating four of the six tamales between them.

Tamale Meal for Four

  • 6-8 Tamales
  • Yogurt and salsa picante sauce
  • Oaxacan black beans (recipe below)
  • Feta stuffed mini bell peppers
  • Sliced oranges
  • Milk for the kids, red wine for us

To make the yogurt and salsa picante sauce, simply combine very spicy thin salsa with 3.5% MF yogurt to taste. The bean recipe shown below was a nice addition to the meal.

Recipe: Oaxacan Black Beans

  • 19 oz Can of black beans (sometimes called Turtle beans)
  • 2-3 Strips of bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 Tbs Olive oil or butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Water or chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Rinse beans in a fine sieve removing the liquid and any fine particles
  2. Melt butter or heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat
  3. Saute onions and chopped bacon until onions become translucent
  4. Add cinnamon and beans to the pan stirring to coat the beans in oil and combine the ingredients well
  5. Lightly mash a small portion of the beans using a wooden spoon and stir gently to combine
  6. Continue cooking for a few minutes stirring frequently to prevent the mixture from sticking to the pan
  7. Add water or stock to create a saucy consistency and simmer for five minutes stirring frequently
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste
  9. Transfer to a bowl and serve warm

Notes: I make this dish quite often. This simple bean recipe makes a nice accompaniment to any Mexican inspired dish. It adds protien and complex carbohydrates to the meal and fills in the gap when serving smaller portions of a main dish.

Adapted from, Sunset Books, Mexican Cook Book: Simplified techniques 155 classic recipes, 1983.*


*My wife has a collection of these quirky 1970’s books covering everything from architecture to home repair. This one looks and feels like it was written by a Mexican homemaker as opposed to a restaurateur–basic “home and gardens” stuff. There’s lots of treasures to be found in old cookbooks such as these and I’m not about to turn my nose up at a book just because it wasn’t authored by a celebrity chef.