Guatemalan Tamales with Ancho Chile Sauce

  • Serves

    makes 10

These banana leaf-wrapped tamales are covered with an outer layer of foil, which ensures that they stay closed when steamed. Alternatively, the foil may be omitted and the tamales tied with kitchen twine. (Parchment paper may be substituted for the banana leaves, as well.)


  • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 (1-lb.) piece boneless pork shoulder
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 4 plum tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 1 small white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 13 14" x 14" pieces fresh or frozen and thawed banana leaf, trimmed of hard edges, rinsed, and patted dry
  • 1 achiote paste (ground annatto seed and spices); optional
  • 2 cups masa harina (corn flour for tamales; preferably Maseca brand)
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 14 cup capers, rinsed
  • 15-20 large pitted green olives
  • 12 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced


Step 1

Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season pork with salt; cook, turning occasionally, until browned, 10–12 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Cut pork into 3"–4"-long slices about 1⁄2" thick and set aside.

Step 2

To make the chile sauce: Purée tomatoes, garlic, chiles, onions, and 1⁄4 cup water in a blender. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Slowly add purée, vinegar, sugar, and salt; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 40 minutes. Set sauce aside.

Step 3

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Toast 10 banana leaf pieces in skillet, one at a time, turning once, 20–30 seconds. Transfer to a plate. Alternately layer banana leaves, dull side up, with 14" squares of foil; trim protruding leaves.

Step 4

To make the corn-flour dough: Put achiote paste and 1 quart warm water into a bowl. Mash paste with your fingers to dissolve. Add masa harina, rice flour, remaining oil, and 2 tbsp. salt; whisk. Transfer mixture to a medium pot; cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until dough is very thick and pulls away from sides of pot, 6–8 minutes. Transfer dough to a bowl.

Step 5

To assemble the tamales: Place about 1⁄2 cup dough into middle of a banana leaf; form dough into a 4" square. Top with 2 pieces pork, 4–5 capers, 1–2 olives, 2 slices bell pepper, and about 2 tbsp. chile sauce. Fold sides of banana leaf over filling to make a snug rectangular package. Repeat process with remaining dough, pork, capers, olives, peppers, and a little chile sauce to make 10 tamales in all. (Reserve remaining chile sauce for another use.)

Step 6

Place a large collapsible steamer inside a deep wide pot; pour in enough water for a depth of 1". Line steamer with the 3 remaining banana leaf pieces. Arrange tamales in steamer, standing them upright. Cover pot; boil. Reduce heat to medium and steam tamales, covered, until firm and cooked through, 45–50 minutes. Unwrap; serve tamales hot or at room temperature.

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