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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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tamales (the singular in Spanish is tamal, in English tamale) are an important feature of Mexican and Latin American food and date back to pre-Columbian times. A specially prepared cornmeal dough, usually stuffed with something but sometimes cooked ‘blind’, is steamed inside little (or not so little) packages of carefully trimmed corn husks or similar wrapping such as banana leaf.

The dough is, for the most part, made from a particular kind of ground nixtamalized corn kernels, and pure lard (which was not used, of course, in pre-Columbian times). It produces what could be described as an aromatic bun with the consistency of firm polenta. Sometimes they are made with fresh corn, for example, in Chile, where they are known as humitas, as well as in Mexico and other parts of C. America.