by Bella Sasse
My mom’s family is from Nicaragua, a small Latino country in Central America. They have very unique food like Naca tamales. My great- grandmother, Toti, loved to cook these exceptional tamales. One of my favorite memories I have of her is when Toti, my grandma, my mom, my siblings and I all sat around my grandma’s table and assembled what seemed like hundreds of tamales.It was a chaotic mess: our hands were covered sticky in masa, and rice was all over the floor, but it was an amazing experience I will never forget.
Unfortunately, my great-grandma passed away this May. I never really knew her that well due to the language barrier and the distance,(she lived in California) but I will never forget making these tamales with her. They were exquisite, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to have spent time with her making these tamales.
They have a corn base called masa; it’s my favorite part. It has a slight sweetness and seems to melt in your mouth. Mixed in with the masa is a rainbow of red and green bell pepper, onion, and garlic. When you start building your tamales, you add beef or chicken, green olives, potatoes, rice, and a slice of tomatoes to top it off. You’re probably thinking they sound repugnant, with all those different flavors, but when they are cooked they all blend together to make a delicious, rich, filling tamale!
Toti had a very difficult life. She moved here from Nicaragua, her husband was extremely abusive, and she was pregnant ten times but lost two of them from her husband’s abuse. In the midst of all these struggles, preparing this recipe was one of her favorite things to do. She would work for hours and hours when family would visit to make sure everyone got some irresistible tamales and a piece of her love. My whole family loves them and will always remember Toti’s tamales and how much she loved all of us!
Here is Toti’s recipe translated into English:
Then add ½ a green bell pepper, ½ a red bell pepper, 1 small onion, 4 cloves of garlic, and half a bottle of bitter orange. Boil it all, stirring constantly. When it starts to bubble, it’s cooked.
You have to marinate 4-5 lbs. of meat ahead of time and cook it how you like. Then the fun begins: building the tamales! You start with a square piece of banana leaf and put it in the center of a larger piece of foil. Add ½ a cup of masa, 2 green olives, a few pieces of potato, ¼ cup of rice, 3 to 4 cubes of meat, a thin slice of tomatoes and onion, and top it with a mint leaf. Fold it tightly, tie it off and put it in a large pot to steam for an hour.
This post was written by Jesse Conrad