Tamales – Costa Rican Style

by | May 2, 2012 | Fun Events, Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Our friends Ernie and Diane were heading to Costa Rica for 4 months to help out a congregation in the small town of Sarchi; so of course, any excuse for a party! We decided to try out some Costa Rican recipes to prepare their bellies for the adventure ahead. There aren’t many cookbooks featuring Costa Rican cuisine available, so I found a few recipes online and sent them to the guests for a potluck. After our ravioli-making day, we planned to have a tamale-making day, so on this occasion we made the standard pork tamales and Costa Rican tamales. What sets the Costa Rican tamale apart is the addition of potatoes and rice to the filling, they are wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks, and are boiled instead of steamed.

Arroz con leche, Costa Rican tamales and pork tamales fill the stovetop!

We searched high and low for banana leaves, an ingredient not often used by us Californian’s, and Diane finally found them in the freezer section at Ranch 99 Market.

A staple on the Costa Rican’s menu is Gallo Pinto (beans and rice). A couple who spent a number of years in Central America and the Caribbean brought a pot of these herbed black beans and rice, something they had eaten plenty of during their stay in the tropics. Another friend brought a delicious Ensalada Palmito, a light fresh salad of hearts of palm with a homemade mayonnaise dressing.

Ensalada Palmito with homemade mayonnaise

Also on the menu was Ensalada Rusa, a hearty salad of potato, beet and carrot (turned bright pink from the freshly roasted beets!), along with Tico Rice and for dessert Arroz con Leche, a sweet rice pudding. I made a batch of Picadillo, a vegetable chorizo mélange.

Picadillo with chorizo and chayote

This was the first time I had ever purchased a chayote, and couldn’t figure out why each chayote came in a little plastic bag. Good thing I looked it up on google, as you can have an allergic reaction to the skin, it’s best to wear gloves to peel.

We all shared in making the tamales, an all-afternoon affair, plus some preparation in advance. A number of us cooked huge pork butts (actually shoulders) the day before, low and slow, along with the Tico Rice and potatoes for Costa Rican tamales. Chef Bruce (you met Bruce previously in Nonni’s Ravioli blog!) taught us all how to make the masa using lard, homemade broth and cumin.

Spreading the masa in traditional tamales

We used the same masa for both varieties of tamales, making batch after batch after batch throughout the afternoon, as dozens of tamales were assembled and rolled!

Tanner and Bruce on the tamale line

Costa Rican Tamale Recipe

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder roast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • coriander leaves (cilantro), salt, black pepper, cumin, oregano, achiote (I didn’t have this ingredient on the hill!)
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • ½ lb sweet or hot peppers to taste
  • 1 large onion
  • 32 ounces chicken broth
  • 2 ¼ lbs potatoes
  • 2 lbs instant corn masa mix
  • 2/3 lb lard
  • 5 cups cooked Tico style rice
  • 2 ¼ lbs banana leaves (corn husks can be substituted, or if desperate aluminum foil)

Rub the pork roast with olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon black pepper. In a deep roasting pan add the peppers, onion, garlic and chicken broth. Roast at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the skin browns, then lower the temperature to 300 degrees and roast until very tender, 3-4 hours. Reserve the broth. When the meat is cool shred or chop finely.

Chopping the roasted pork

While the meat is simmering prepare the potatoes and rice.

Peel the potatoes chop into ½ inch cubes. Boil with salt, cilantro, and oregano to taste until soft, about 10 – 15 minutes.

Rice Tico style

  • 3-5 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 small or half a medium onion
  • ½ small red or yellow sweet pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 3 cups chicken broth or water
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Chop cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine. Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium high flame then add the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and sauté another 2 minutes. Add water or chicken broth and salt, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender, 20-25 minutes.

Tamale fillings ready to roll: roasted pork, potatoes and tico rice

To prepare the masa, allow the meat broth to cool until it is just warm. To the dry masa add 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and and mix dry. Then add the lard, mixing with hands or machine, while adding the warm broth. It should take about 2 1/2 cups to make a paste the consistency of mashed potatoes. Mix and add slowly, and if you over shoot on the broth and get it too thin, add a little more masa.

Wash the banana leaves then cut them into 15 inch squares. Spread 2 tablespoons of masa paste in the center, add 1 tablespoon each of potatoes, rice and meat.

Costa Rican tamale ingredients ready to wrap

Fold as shown and tie with cotton string, or strips of corn husks.

Little wrapped packages ready for the pot!

Cook the tamales in gently boiling water for about one hour. If you substitute corn husks, you will need to make slightly smaller tamales, pack the pot full and steam them rather than boiling them, because the husks won’t hold together.

A plate packed with our Costa Rican cuisine!

They made it! Diane & Ernie in Grecia’s central park, Diane and Linda shopping at the market in Sarchi Costa Rica!

Pura Vida!   Nancita the hungry gringita