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Tamales, The Epitome of Diversity

One definition of diverse is to show a great deal of variety. Very different. Or the 
Cambridge dictionary defines it as “Including many types of people or things.” Can anyone say Tamales? They are the epitome of diversity.

History tells us that tamales were originally made from masa derived from corn out of a need for survival. Sustainable tamales were the way to go for ancient Mesoamericans when they hunted or migrated. Today corn masa and tamales maintain their sustainability prowess and reach far into the nations of the world to share the wealth of delicious diversity of authentic Mexican food and culture.

Authentic tamales consist of three parts which also have alternate variations. 

Masa for tamales: Can be made fresh  from ground nixtamalized corn. This corn dough also can be used for several other popular Mexican dishes, usually it can be found in Mexican or Latin American stores.  If this original masa is not available then masa for tamales can be made from masa harina. This flour comes from dried masa that is ground into powder. It is different, but not so different and it works very nicely for authentic tamales. Masa for tamales will diversify with the choice of added ingredients : lard or vegetable oil,  liquids: water or broth and salt you add. Masa in Texas style tamales can be made with vegetable oil and still retain their delicious authentic flavors. 

Tamal wrappings: Originally tamales were wrapped in corn husks, but as they were brought to the southern regions of Mexico and into other South and Central American countries, banana leaves were used as tamal wrappings. Eventually even the very convenient parchment paper is sometimes used to wrap tamales in. Each different wrapping changes the style, shape, flavor and texture of the tamales. Texas style authentic Mexican tamales are wrapped in the traditional corn husk wrappings, it keeps them authentic and does not alter the flavor of the masa and the filling like banana leaves do.
Fillings for tamales: Here is where diversity explodes. From my experience, generally, the most popular authentic tamales are the red chile pork tamales, followed closely by green chile chicken tamales. After these “traditional” styles, you’ll see an array of other savory meat and meatless tamales. The creativity is limitless, most likely a new and different tamal will be spurred on by the tamaleras “antojos.” How many times have yummy dishes been created from our cravings?  Stepping right into the “traditional red or green sauce box” tamaleras will add to or tweak these sauces to make a whole new filling with meats other than pork or chicken or no meat at all. The diversity and combination of flavors for delicious sweet tamales is vast, but the options of savory mouth watering tamales is limitless. 

My Dream Tamal
A traditional and delicious combination is “costillas de puerco con nopales en chile verde” Pork ribs and cactus in green chile sauce. In all honesty, the translation almost kills the delicious vibe that this dish has. Nevertheless, it is a popular homemade dish in many Mexican kitchens. One of the outstanding characteristics of Mexican food besides flavorful and spicy, is that it can be tangy. Green chile sauce is made from tomatillos, fresh jalapeños, garlic, onion and cumin- it is an aromatic tangy sauce. Nopales are naturally tangy. Combined with the sweet soft seasoned pork meat simmered to a tender perfection es muy sobroso! Tuck a spoonful into a warm corn tortilla for a delicious taco experience. I just know it would be absolutely yummy in a tamal. Flavorful and perfectly kneaded masa filled with this pork and nopales green chile sauce filling, minus the bones of course. My sister in law who is an experienced and approved tamalera can whip these up for sure. Thankfully I have the privilege of having that family connection.

Despite all the diversification that tamales bring to the table, the value of tradition is always upheld and maintained. There will always be room for delicious authentic red chile pork and green chile chicken tamales and there should always be room at the table for friends and family to enjoy also.

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