Tag Archives: tamales


For years, making tamales has been a Christmas Eve tradition in our family. The tradition has been carried over to our children and their families. This year, we are spending Christmas with our daughter, Carol, and her family in Los Angeles, but we decided not to make our own tamales but rather get them from a well-known Los Angeles institution where many of the locals get their Christmas tamal fix.  We drove to Downey where one of three branches of Porto’s Bakery is located.

We tried to get there early, but 8:30 was not soon enough, especially since the store opened at 6:30. We were warned that on Christmas Eve morning the line would be long, but we were not prepared. The line started at the corner next to the traffic light, stretched down the street to the alley, past the bank building on the corner, back up the sidewalk, and a cross a courtyard. Not to worry, we were told, the line would move fast. And it did. After an hour in line, visiting with strangers, accepting business cards from others, and generally having a good time, we made it to the front door.

Inside, there were yet more lines: one for those who wanted only cakes and another – much longer – for those who wanted pastries and other baked goods. The line was cleverly and artfully arranged so that the final pass before you were beckoned to one of the many clerks was right in front of the pastry display. After that, how could you resist ordering one of everything?

Carol placed her order to include caramel eclairs, deep-fried potato balls, and several versions of tarts and cakelets. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Porto’s had run out of their famous tamales.


Our Christmas Eve meal was saved by my forethought to bring some frozen tamales from Santa Fe, but the memory of all of that sugar lives on. We also plan to have green chile stew. Carol does not like onion, an essential part of green chile stew, so for this version, the onion will be pulverized in a food processor, but you can just chop it if you prefer.

For Christmas Day, we will be more unconventional. Carol’s oven is seriously broken, so traditional turkey or goose is out of the question. Instead, we will feast on shrimp and grits. Perhaps we have started a new tradition.

In any event we wish all of my blogging friends a very Merry Christmas.


Green Chile Stew


  • 2 pounds pork stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 7 ounces canned chopped green chiles
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • water, enough to cover meat and onions
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 large avocado, diced (optional)
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)


  1. In a large,  heavy-bottomed pot brown the stew meat in the oil. When it is well-browned, remove to a plate, and dd the onions to the pot, adding more oil if needed. Cook covered over medium heat until translucent but not browned. Return the stew meat to the pot.
  2. Stir in the green chiles and garlic, cooking for a few minutes before stirring in the flour. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, to remove the taste of raw flour. Then add enough water (Use chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer) to cover the meat and onions. Bring the pot to the boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer covered for about an hour or until the pork is tender.
  3. Stir in the cubed potatoes, adjust the level of liquid with more water or stock as needed, and return to a slow boil for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and more cumin and oregano if needed.
  4. Serve in bowls with diced avocados, grated cheese, and sour cream for garnish.


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Our family has lived in the Southwest USA long enough that we have adopted many of the local traditions, especially those that have to do with food and with Christmas. For many years we have gathered around the kitchen table on Christmas Eve to make and then eat tamales.

The event is festive, with everyone laughing and each person assigned a particular task. Susan usually prepares the masa – always with lard, and beaten until the dough floats on water to show that it has enough incorporated air. I prepare the corn husks in hot water so that they are pliable and can be used to wrap up the dough and filling. Others make the filling. Our favorite is chicken. The recipe came from the back of a bag of masa harina from many years ago.

Pork in red chile is more traditional, and we sometimes make those, too, but our family favorite is chicken with an unusual ingredient – olives.

After the filling and dough are prepared, the teamwork and fun begin.  Some spread the masa dough on the corn husks. Others put on the filling. Others wrap up the tamales. We try to make things come out even with just enough filling for the masa dough. Usually it doesn’t, and we have a little of one or the other left over. Even at that, we always wind up with enough tamales for everyone to get their fill.

Finally, the tamales  are stacked on a trivet in a big pot to be steamed. The steamer pot is put on the stove, and the tamales are cooked to perfection.

While we wait – it may take an hour or so – we sit around the Christmas tree and enjoy a mug of home-made eggnog. Then the feast begins before it is time for bed and dreams of Christmas Day.

This year, Sarah and her son will join us for a few days before Christmas while Carol and her family will arrive on Christmas Eve so we won’t be able to have our tamales party. Instead we will make them ahead, freeze them, and then thaw and steam them for each of our visiting families.





  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ cup taco sauce, canned or homemade
  • 1/3 cup black olive slices
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups shredded cooked chicken


  • 1 cup lard (may substitute vegetable shortening)
  • 2½ cups masa harina
  • 2 teaspoons ground red chiles (do not use chili powder)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1¾ cups chicken stock

Corn husks for filling (about 2 dozen, soaked in hot water)


  • Sauté onions in oil. Then add taco sauce, olives, cumin, salt, and chicken.  Combine well, cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then set aside.
  • In a stand mixer, cream the lard (or shortening) until fluffy. Then add masa harina, chiles, salt, and chicken stock. Continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy enough that a small piece of the dough floats in water.
  • Divide the masa into 24 balls. Spread each of the dough balls onto a soaked corn husk so that the dough comes to the edge of the husk. Place a good-sized tablespoon of the filling on the dough, fold over the two edges of the husk so that the dough completely covers the filling. Then fold over the two edges of the corn husk so that the dough completely covers the filling. Fold the tail of the folded husk over the tamal.
  • Stack the finished tamales on a trivet over water in a large kettle
  • Steam, covered, over gently boiling water for about one hour or until the masa does not stick to the corn husks. Serve warm with your favorite chile sauce or molé.
  • If you choose to freeze the tamales, thaw them completely before steaming.

Don’t try to make the dough without a mixer as the dough is heavy and it really does need to float in water before you quit beating. That’s hard on the modern wrist. You can use vegetable shortening if you wish, but the tamales are never as tasty as those made with lard. Choose your own degree of heat with the ground chiles. Personally, I prefer “hot”, but some in our family are incredibly sensitive so we choose “mild”. You can always douse your personal tamales with hot sauce.

IMPORTANT: Remember to remove the corn husk wrapper before you eat the tamal.

There should be about 2 dozen tamales.


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