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Costa Rican Christmas Tamale Recipe

December 24, 2022

Tamales are a Christmas tradition in Costa Rica and a favorite amongst guests at Tulemar. These delicious and savory little guys can be found all throughout Costa Rica during the holidays — and sometimes even year-round, especially in touristy areas.

If you can’t make the trek to Costa Rica for Christmas, but you’re craving this delicious Christmas tradition, fear not! We found a recipe from our friends at Costa Rica Guide so you can make holiday tamales at home!

Costa Rican Tamale Recipe

2 lbs instant corn masa mix
3 lbs (1.4 kg) pork shoulder roast -or- beef roast -or-
boneless chicken

¼ lb (110 gr) pork lard (or vegetable shortening)
1 cup (240 ml) corn oil
1 batch (~5 cups cooked Tico style rice, see ingredient list and recipe below)
2 ¼ lbs (1 kg) potatoes
8 cloves of garlic
½ lb (225 gr) sweet or hot peppers to taste
1 large onion (optional)
2 ¼ lbs (1 kg) banana leaves (corn husks can be substituted, or if desperate aluminum foil)
coriander leaves (cilantro), salt, black pepper, cumin, oregano, achiote (annato)

Regional Tamale ingedients
Tamales often include little regional surprises like olives or garbanzos

If you are adventurous and demand complete authenticity, you must start from raw corn ground for tamales (3 lbs, 1.4 kg Maíz cascado, malido crudo). Soak the flour in water then rinse it well, cook with a tablespoon of achiote, and a little of the garlic and peppers in salted water to just cover until tender then stand overnight. The next day, knead it into dough. You should probably have a demonstration first if you’re going to try this method. For first timers we’d suggest the Masa version described below.

Chop the meat into large (2″, 5 cm) chunks then brown on high heat in the ½ cup lard or vegetable oil. Add the chopped garlic, peppers, onion, 1 teaspoon salt, 1teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt for the last minute or two of browning, then cover with water and simmer until very tender (2-3 hours). Remove the meat from the broth and reserve the broth. When the meat is cool shred it finely. While the meat is simmering prepare the potatoes and rice.

Peel the potatoes and boil with salt, cilantro, and oregano to taste until soft. Cool and cut into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes.

Rice Tico style

3-5 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaf)
1 small or half a medium onion
½ small red or yellow sweet pepper (optional)
3 cups (700 ml) chicken broth or water
2 cups (350 ml) white rice
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil

Chop cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine. Add 1 Tablespoon oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium high flame then add the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and sauté another 2 minutes. Add water or chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender (20-35 minutes).

To prepare the masa, allow the meat broth to cool until it is just warm. To the dry masa add 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon ground achiote, and mix dry. Then add the vegetable oil, mix with your hands while adding the warm broth. It should take about 2 1/2 cups to make a paste the consistency of mashed potatoes. Mix and add slowly, and if you over shoot on the broth and get it too thin, add a little more masa.

Wrap the Tamales & Steam

Diagram to fold tamales in banana leaves
Diagram for folding tamales in banana leaves

Wash the banana leaves then cut them into ~15 inch (38 cm) squares. Spread 2 tablespoons of masa paste in the center, add 1 tablespoon each of potatoes, rice and meat. Fold as shown and tie with cotton string. Cook the tamales in gently boiling water for about one hour.

If you substitute corn husks, you will need to make slightly smaller tamales, pack the pot full and steam them rather than boiling them, because the husks won’t hold together while floating around.

We hope you enjoy these delicious tamales, and happy holidays!

Pura Vida,


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