The best way to make Spanish learning for kids easy and joyful is to do a fun activity, like cooking. That way, children won’t just have their heads stuck in a book repeating and memorizing words. There’s nothing more boring for a kid than that! Doing everyday activities that encourage language learning is the best method, because it’s the same way that they learned their mother tongue.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s important that they go to school. But if you can make their after-school study time more fun, why not do it? They’ll be more eager to learn, you’ll see their language skills improve, and they’ll thank you later.
The Spanish language is spoken in over 20 countries! So, you can imagine how many different traditional Spanish recipes exist all over the world. This makes cooking one of the coolest activities to acquire this language. And the best thing is that TruFluency Kids has the perfect Spanish recipe for you to make tamales with your kids! Check it out and learn some language along the way.
How Cooking Will Help Your Kids
Cooking? Seriously? How is such a common, everyday activity for adults going to help your kids learn Spanish and other important things? Here are some reasons:
- By cooking, kids are learning a basic life skill that they’ll use when they grow.
- They also spend quality time with you! And just like kids need an academic education, they also need time with their loved ones. Cooking is an activity that a lot of adults have to do anyway. Including your kids will make it more fun, and you’ll share that special moment that you all need in such a hectic life.
- Like we’ve said, cooking will help them learn a new language, which will bring many benefits for them. The best thing is that they’ll acquire useful, everyday vocabulary, like Spanish words for food.
- Food says a lot about a country; it’s part of people’s traditions. So, by cooking and tasting a dish from a Spanish speaking country, kids will also learn about new cultures.
History of Tamales
Tamales are pieces of masa wrapped in corn husk or in the leaves of other vegetables. Oftentimes they’re filled with different ingredients, like meat or chicken, and sometimes they also have a sauce. So, as you see, there are tamales of many different flavors.
Tamales are varied because people all around Latin America eat them, and each country has their own names and versions of tamales. That is why the origins of this dish are a bit unclear. But when writing about Mexico, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan missionary, described tamales in one of his books. So, it’s known that this delicious dish goes back to pre-Hispanic Mexico. And so people believe that maybe tamales were born in Mexico and later commercialized to other Latin American countries. But nothing is 100% proved; it could’ve been the other way around. Whatever the case, they’re highly celebrated by many nations.
We can’t teach you how to cook all the different versions of tamales in just one blog. So, this time we will only teach you how to cook some of the most popular tamales in Mexico. We’ll see tamales verdes, de mole, y dulces (green, mole and sweet tamales). Be sure to soak the corn husks in a bowl of hot water for 30 minutes or until softened.
Time to Make the Dough!
- 4 Cups of Cornmeal (Masa Harina) – 500 g de harina de maíz
- 3 Cups Water or Broth – Agua o caldo
- 2 teaspoons Baking Powder – Polvo de hornear / polvo para hornear
- 1 1/3 Cups Vegetable Shortening or Lard – Manteca vegetal o manteca de cerdo
- 1 teaspoon Salt – Sal
You can find the cornmeal/masa in any supermarket. In Mexico, there are also markets that have special stores named nixtamales. There, you can find cornmeal, corn husk, food coloring, and many other things to make the tamales.
- In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the lard/shortening and 2 tablespoons of broth until fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
- Next, combine the masa, baking powder, and salt n in a separate bowl, then stir into the lard mixture and beat well with an electric mixer.
- Add the broth, little by little to form a very soft dough, and beat on high speed for several minutes. The dough will be slightly sticky and spread almost like creamy peanut butter. You can test the dough by adding a small amount into a glass of warm water. If it floats, it’s good. If not, mix in more broth/water, a little at a time.
- Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel to keep the dough from drying out while you make the fillings and sauce.
Now, the Filling
Tamales have different fillings; some don’t even have one. But most of them have chicken. So, let’s do that.
- Cook a chicken breast.
- Shred the chicken you just cooked.
Prepare the Sauce
The very popular “tamales verdes” are filled with chicken and go with a green sauce.
- 1 Onion, chopped – Cebolla
- 3 Cloves of Garlic – Ajo
- 2 jalapeno peppers or serrano chiles – 2 jalapeños o chiles serranos
- 6 green tomatoes/tomatillos (husks removed) – 6 tomates verdes
- 1 tablespoon of butter – manteca
- Place the ingredients in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook until tomatillos are soft, but not falling apart (3-5 minutes).
- Drain, reserving some water, and blend in a blender until smooth. If needed, add a small amount of the reserved liquid to blend.
- Heat a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the blended sauce. Cook until the sauce has slightly thickened (3-5 minutes).
There are also “tamales de pollo con mole” (tamales of chicken and mole). Mole is the name of a Mexican sauce and it’s also the name of the dish. The dish usually goes with chicken and the mole sauce goes on top. But there are many different types of the mole sauce and the process of making it can be hard.
There are many brands that already sell the prepared mole in the supermarkets, so you can just buy one of those.
Finally, Let’s Make the Tamales!
- The corn husks that were soaked in hot water for around 30 minutes, drained and dried should now be softened.
- Grab 2 corn husks, put them one on top of the other and spread some dough on it, filling it up to about 2 inches from the bottom and 1/4 inch from the top. Spread on the smooth side of the husk. Depending on the size of the husk, you will use about 2 tablespoons of the dough, Adjust as needed.
- Add some of the shredded chicken. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just a few of the chicken strands. If your tamale is “tamal de dulce” (sweet tamale), it doesn’t go with chicken.
- Then, add a bit of the green sauce or mole, depending on if the tamale is “tamal verde” or “tamal de mole”. Sweet tamales don’t go with a sauce.
- Wrap the tamale.
- Place a steamer insert into a deep pot and fill with water to just below the bottom of the steamer. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat to a medium simmer. Add tamales with the open side up (upright) and cover with a lid. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook until filling is heated through and separates from the husk, about 1 hour (you can also use an InstantPot instead of a steamer, just Google for instructions for your specific model).
- For the “tamales de dulce”, you must add sugar and food coloring to the dough. Some people also add a few raisins, nuts or pieces of pineapple; this is optional as many kids don’t like those things. Maybe you can prepare the salty tamales first, and then, with what’s left of the dough, you can do the sweet ones.
Usually, “tamales de dulce” are pink, so use pink coloring. But, if you want your kids to have even more fun making and eating them, use different colorings. For example: if your children are fans of The Smurfs, use blue coloring instead of pink. Or you can prepare a whole pot of “tamales de dulce”, and they all can be a different color, like a rainbow. It’s your and your kids’ choice.
How to Ask for Tamales in Mexico
Are you and your kids traveling to Mexico City soon? Well, you’ll notice many tamales street stalls very early in the morning and in the late afternoon and at night. If you or your kid want to try a true Mexican tamale, here are some Spanish phrases to buy tamales.
To make your order:
Hola, buen día. ¿Me da un tamal de dulce, dos verdes, dos de mole y tres de rajas, por favor? / Hi, good day. Could you please give me one sweet tamale, two green ones, two of mole, and three of poblano chili strips, please?
If the tamalero (tamale seller) asks you what you’d like to order:
Me da uno de rajas, dos de mole, tres verdes, y cuatro de dulce, por favor? / Could you please give me one (tamale) of poblano chili strips, two (tamales) of mole, three green ones, and four sweet ones, please?
Or it could also be:
Va a ser uno verde, dos de dulce y tres de mole, por favor. / It’ll be one green (tamale), two sweet (tamales) and three (tamales) of mole, please.
To ask for a guajolota:
In Mexico City, people also eat “tortas de tamales”, also called “guajolotas”. These are tamales in a “bolillo” (bread roll). If you want to try this, you could say:
Hola, buen día. Me podría dar una torta de tamal verde y dos tortas de dulce, por favor? / Hello, good day. Could you please give me one green tamale torta and two sweet tamale tortas, please?
Va a ser una guajolota de tamal de mole y dos guajolotas de dulce, por favor. / It’s going to be one tamale of mole guajolota and two guajolotas of sweet tamale, please.
If you want the bolillo apart to take it home and make your torta there:
After asking for the tamales, you should say:
¿Me puede poner un bolillo aparte, por favor? / Could you please put a bread roll apart, please?
Cuánto va a ser / How much it’ll be?
Cuánto es / How much is it?
Muchas gracias, hasta luego / Thank you so much, see you.
Your kids could practice these phrases with you. And then when you go to Mexico, they could buy the tamales by themselves. They’ll impress the locals with their language skills and cultural knowledge!
Help Your Kid Learn More About Hispanic Cultures with TruFluency Kids
Now you and your kid have learned more about the Spanish language and Mexican culture. But if you really want your kid to be fluent in Spanish and bicultural, you should enroll them in Spanish immersion classes. This is the best way they’ll learn useful stuff without feeling bored or tired of the language.
Here at TruFluency Kids we have classes with native Spanish speaking teachers. They’ll make sure your kids learn through everyday activities, like singing, dancing, playing games, and…you guessed it, cooking! That way, children will acquire actual useful vocabulary they’ll use in their everyday lives.