Nacatamal is a bigger version of the Mexican Tamale. It is a popular stable and large parts of central America where it can be bought on the streets and in super markets. Every one have their own favorite nacatamale and if you ever find yourself at a border in central America it is very likely that you will see the customs seizing nacatamales that someone has bought at their favorite place and are trying to smuggle home to their country. It is very common to bring nacatamels home with you when you have visited your family.

The recipe below will teach you how to make a simple nacatamal. It is up to you to experiment with the recipe until you find a version you love. Try using different vegetables and different seasonings. You can try adding garlic and other types of union, different cheese and pretty much anything else you can think about. The only thing that sets the limits is your imagination.

The Nicaraguans eat Nacatamales all your round and it can be served as dinner, lunch or breakfast. Other central American countries such as Honduras only eat them at special holidays.

Masa de Harina

Masa de harina is a special type of corn flour. It is maid from dried corn that as been treated in a mix of calcium hydroxide (lime) , ash and water. This makes the corn softer and releases certain nutrients in the corn (vitamin B3). Vitamin B3 is essential for human survival and this process have played an important role in allowing the native tribes to survive on a corn based diet.

Try to find fresh masa in a local store. You will usually need to go to a specialty store to find it. If you are unable to find it you can buy masa de harina instead. An alternative if you are unable to find either in store near you is to buy corn tortillas and grind them to to a paste together with some water. This works as a substitute for Masa when you make Nacatamales but might not work in all other recipes. You can find corn tortillas in most supermarkets.

The dough

Dough ingredients

  • 6 cups of masa or substitute
  • 1 cup of lard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup sour orange juice or lime juice ( sour oranges is a different fruit than regular oranges)
  • 4-5 cups chicken broth

Making the dough

  • Mix the masa, salt and lard. It can be easier to a little at the time rather than all at once. Nicaraguans do this by hand but you can choose to use an electric dough mixer.
  • Add the juice and most of the chicken broth. You want to make a very wet thought. The consistency should be a little harder than mashed potatoes.
  • Work air into the dough for a few minutes to make it fluffier.
  • Let the though rest for half an hour.

The filling

Filling ingredients

  • ¾ cup of rice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 pounds of pork but
  • 2 sweet peppers
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • ½ pound of potato
  • 1 bunch of mint (if you like mint)

Making the filling

  • Start by soaking the rice in warm water. About 30 minutes is usually right.
  • Slice the pork in very small pieces and add the salt and pepper
  • Cut the tomatoes and potatoes into thin slices. ¼ of an inch or thinner.
  • Slice the tomatoes and sweet peppers.
  • Remove the water from the rice.

Before you continue you need

  • 12 banana leafs
  • 12 pieces of 10×10 inch aluminum foil.

If you are unable to find banana leafs you can use any other large non toxic leaf. Different leafs will give different flavor. Some works great other don’t. The only way to know is to try. Many stores sells frozen banana leafs.

Putting everything together

  • Cut a 10×10 inch square out of the banana leafs. This squares should not include the spine.
  • Place the banana leafs with the top (smooth) side up.
  • Start working on one leaf.
  • Put on cup of dough in the center of the leaf and spread it out.
  • Sprinkle ½ cup of pork on the dough.
  • Sprinkle rice on top.
  • Add 1-2 slices of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and onions. Add mint if you want to use it.
  • Fold the leaf (and everything else) like an envelope. To not fold to tight or the filling might leak during steaming.
  • Tie a string around the envelope.
  • Put the envelope on a piece of aluminum foil with the folded side upp.
  • Repeat until you have finished all nacatamales.

The aluminium foil it not necessary but makes the process easier for novice chefs.

Steaming nacatamales

You need a larger steamer that is large enough to make all nacatamales at the same time. They need to be steamed for 3-4 hours. Doing them in batches is not a good choice.

  • Place a metal rack in the steamer and place each nacatamal in it spot.
  • Add water to the pot. 3-4 inches is good in most steaming pots.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat and put on the lid. Let steam until finished. Add more water when necessary.

The nacatamal can be served right away or reheated at a later date. It should be server in its unopened banana leaf.