Our kitchen is most colorful around this time of the year. Aside from the accentuation of my mother’s Christmas decorations, it’s the making of our tamales that makes everything feel so much warmer in our home; a lot of love and care goes into making them, and it becomes a defining moment for the heart of this house – the heart being our kitchen and my mom.
Once a year, she brings out her deep iron pot, clears away and cleans the marble counter tops, thoroughly disinfects and scrubs down our onyx black sinks, changes her clothes, whips back her hair away from her face, and begins the lengthy and exhaustive process of making our delicious, brick sized Honduran tamales. It’s almost military, if you ask me, and, although I do this, you can’t fool around (you can, but you shouldn’t, but do it anyway because it makes things more fun DUH). Like a sergeant, she dictated her subordinate (that’s me) to follow the number one rule – BE DILIGENT. My first instructions were to gently wipe down the seaweed-green banana leaves, to wash my hands again and again and again and, “did you wash your hands again?” They were rolled up and steamed to ensure they were flexible enough to blanket our tamales.
Kneading the masa (the flour used to make our tamales) is the funnest part of it all, in my opinion, and although it was somewhat strenuous, it was also my favorite thing to do. Adolescent would be the appropriate word to describe how I felt doing this, and I feel that that’s totally justified considering I have to work for corporate America now and wear my big girl pants. Anyway… The goop was squished and scooped, flipped and flopped, slipped through and stuck in between my fingers, cupped from the bottom and slopped to the top and each time I needed to mix some more I would slowly sink my hands back in and swim my fingers through to make sure it was all lump-free.
The masa tastes incredibly good, by the way. It’s savory, soft in texture, melts on your tongue, and is probably hands down one of the best comfort foods you’re likely to have – though, you can get sick from it if you eat enough uncooked; kind of like cookie dough. As I was forearm-deep into the pot, kneading the masa, my mother was beside me on the counter top simultaneously blending the recado. Deep red and lightly fragrant, the recado is pleasantly composed of ripe tomatoes, vibrant bell peppers, sweet onions, roasted jalapeño peppers, salty fried pork rinds, strings of cilantro, enough minced garlic to equal six cloves, some canned tomato paste, achote powder, a cup of water, a sprinkle of cumin, salt, and a dash of pepper. Once that was finished, we mixed it into the masa and perfected the concoction. It. Was. Heavennnnly. Exceptional! We could not stop tasting it. Dipping a spoon and dabbing a dime on our hands just so we could kiss it and taste some more. We were mmmmmm’ing and “oh my god’ing” and smiling at each other with so much satisfaction. I was so proud of my mom, and I could tell she was very proud of herself too.
Finally, once all the pieces of the puzzle were created and brought together, my mom set the stage and began to orchestrate the assembly of our tamales. Scoop a tablespoon full of masa and dab it to the center of the banana leaf, pat it down with your fingers to flatten it like a pancake, spread just enough of the recado to cover the center, place a piece of pork loin in the middle, throw in four potato pieces, some green pees, chick peas, a caper, a green olive (not my favorite, but whatever I eat it), a sprinkle of short grain rice, and then you bundle it up all together to make this burrito-like, brick sized package. Leave in the pot for about four hours and voila!
This was the most I’d bonded with my mom in a while, and I’m so grateful I was able to do that while making a traditional Honduran meal. Not only because it makes me feel closer to my cultural roots (because I’d love to be more in tune with our heritage – being American and wanting to go to Honduras makes things difficult), but also because it makes me feel closer to her. I’ve made it a goal of mine to work on the relationship I have with her because I think it could be better. Not saying that our relationship now is bad, but we’re not as open as I’d like to be and that may be due to our likeness – we’re head strong and enjoy our solitude, but I know she enjoys keeping to herself more than I do (I believe I get my expressiveness and need for affection from my dad). I think by having more moments like these to share and talk, we’ll get there. I’ve realized lately that food is a powerful weapon. Food can bring anyone together.