Guatemalan Tamales

Tamales are typical of Guatemalan cuisine and are essentially flavorful mixes of dough, meat, and sauces steamed in large leaves. They are perfect for food on the go as they are delicious and easy to transport. What’s more, making tamales is a fantastic way to bond with your loved ones, and even if you don’t make the full recipe, it’s a delicious dish regardless!


At the core of the Mayan diet; tamales have a deep history. Tamales were the fuel for their warriors and travellers; they provided food for weeks on the go. When the Spanish came to Guatemala, they introduced new flavours to the region, inspiring a mix of New World and Old World ingredients that are incorporated into tamales found in Guatemala today.

Amazingly, evidence points to tamales being consumed by the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures. The earliest tamales were simple, made with beans and squash and roasted over a fire. When Europeans brought other ingredients such as chicken, pork, olives, raisins, and other foods to the New World, the tamales became more elaborate and varied.

As with every dish there is numerous versions of Guatemalan tamales. The differences can be found in the size, the leaves used for steaming, flavours of sweet or savoury, and the ingredients of the dough (or masa). 


On a recent trip to Los Angeles a dear friend taught me this amazing recipe! This recipe makes 50 tamales, so you have plenty of delicious food to share with your loved ones…

Ingredients and Method

Part 1- Sauce

  • 2 bunches of coriander

  • 3 fresh by leaves

  • X2 pasilla chilli

  • 8 large red tomatoes

  • 1 ½ celery stalks

  • ¼ one large onion

  • X2 California chilli pods- deseeded

  • 1 red bell pepper


  • Put all the ingredients in a pan cover with water cook for 45 min

  • Blend it when cooked

  • Add chicken stock powder

  • Put banana leaf into boiling water 15 min on each side  to soften them to fold easier

  • When they ready, cut into squares and set aside

Part 2- Sauce

  • Pumpkin seeds 120g

  • Sesame seeds 120g

  • Roast on oven tray

  • Add half of the roasted seeds in the blender

  • Half of the tomato mix above

  • 1-2 cups chicken stock

  • Cinnamon stick

  • Annatto/achiote 1 tbsp (Annatto is an orange-red condiment and food coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana) native to tropical regions from Mexico to Brazil.

  • 2 cloves

  • 1 tsp black pepper

  • 1 tsp garlic powder

  • 1 tsp meat seasoning

  • 2 tbsp chicken stock

  • 1 tsp salt


  • Blend the ingredients well

  • In a pan add 2oz butter add the blended ingredients to butter in pan and cook down/reduce

  • Towards the end 1 tbsp  chicken stock

  • 1 tsp salt

  • Cook for further 15 minutes then take off heat

  • Add chicken bouillon towards the end

  • 1 cup of veg oil in sauce when cooking

  • 50 pcs aluminium foil cut into 10 x10 inch rectangles


  • Cut foil into squares same size as banana leaf

  • Place the square of banana leaf, washed hard spine removed and cut into 10x 10 inch rectangles- onto foil

  • Put one large spoon of rice on the leaf it serves as a base

  • Onto of the rice place chicken and sauce on-top /can put the chicken pieces in sauce before or shred it whichever you prefer

  • Garnish with peppers and raisins and prune are optional

  • Fold the top edge of the banana leaf down over the filling.

  • Bring the bottom edge of the banana leaf up over this.then fold in both sides to make a rectangular package. (Be careful not to wrap it too tightly or the filling will squeeze out.)

  • Flip the package over so it is seam side down.

  • Finally, place them in a pan with a colander so they can be steamed.