Guatemala’s Unique Tamales

guatemala tamales recipe photo

Every year the Southern California city of Indio has a Tamale Festival.  There are several dozen stands with vendors selling every kind of tamale imaginable.  There is a carnival to go along with it, rides, bouncy castles, a beer garden, and live music.  I’ve never been able to eat more than a couple of tamales, so it’s tough to choose the ones I want to try.  My favorites are shredded pork tamales, and the ones with green chile and cheese.  If I had a bigger appetite, I would have been tempted to try all the gourmet fillings like shrimp and chorizo, mushrooms, artichoke, avocado, chicken mole, bbq chicken, Texas style brisket, or potato.  I did try one of the desert versions, but they didn’t really trip my trigger.  Some of the sweet fillings include chocolate and cherry, blueberry and cream cheese, pumpkin with Jamaican rum, fresh pineapple.  There aren’t tables anywhere except in the beer garden, so it’s best to choose a few tamales and get a $5 chelada to enjoy with them.


One of the vendors claimed to be selling Guatemalan tamales, but they didn’t taste anything like the ones I enjoyed while living in Guatemala.  At Christmas time,  my mother in law and her housekeeper would produce a massive batch of tamales that she would deliver to friends and family.  I’m still waiting for her to share that recipe with me!

In Guatemala,  there are about 100 different kinds of tamales.  Two of my favorites are Chuchitos and Paches.  Paches means short, and they are little packets of mashed potato.  Chuchitos means puppy or little dog, and they are made like Mexican tamales in a corn husk.



2 lbs potatoes
3 cups water
1 lb tomatoes, sliced
2 large scallion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red bell pepper, minced
1 large jalapeno, minced
6 tbsp butter, melted
2 cups tortilla flour
2 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp achiote, dissolved in
2 tsp hot water
aluminum foil


Cook the unpeeled potatoes in 2 cups water until they are soft about 20 minutes.  Cool, peel, and mash.  Combine 1 cup water, tomatoes, scallions, garlic, bell pepper, and jalapeno in a pan and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.  Blend until smooth, and strain through a metal sieve to remove lumps.  Combine the mashed potatoes and sauce with the remaining ingredients.  Put 3/4 cup of this mixture onto foil and fold tightly into a rectangle.  Steam the tamale over moderate to high heat for 30 minutes. Serve warm with a squeeze of fresh lemon.  Serves 6



2 lbs corn masa
2 lbs chicken, cut in small cubes
1/2 lb butter
Salt to taste
Chicken broth for the masa mix

For the sauce:

15 tomatoes
2 tomatillos
2 onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece of bread
4 whole cloves
2 guaque chiles
1 pimiento chile
4 oz pumpkin seeds
2 oz sesame seeds
1 cinnamon stick
Achiote, salt, and pepper to taste
2 large packages of corn husks


Soak and rinse the corn husks in lukewarm water. Set aside.

Mix the masa with the butter and a little chicken broth until it is like a sticky dough.  Blend the tomato, tomatillo, onion, garlic, chiles into a puree. Carefully toast the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and cloves in a pan over medium-low heat.  Add this mixture along with the bread to the sauce.  Blend and then pass through a sieve. Saute the sauce in a tbsp of hot butter, add the chicken.

Dry off the husks and tear a couple into strips to use as ties.  Put a tbsp of dough in the center of a husk and spread it out in a circle like a tortilla. Top with some chicken and sauce, then fold up the husk and tie it closed. Steam the chuchitos for about 1 1/2 hours on lower heat. Chuchitos are small enough you can serve them as Tapas.

Makes about 50

E. Evans is a world travel and culinary journalist. She lives in CA with her daughter and spends her days discovering new recipes.

Tamales photo by World to Table


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